La Liga Preview: Barça – Atletico Madrid; 4pm GolTV
This is what playing Atleti is like.
When two sides with extraordinary talent meet, anything can happen. When Atletico Madrid and Barcelona meet, goals happen. There hasn’t been a scoreless encounter between the two in lord knows how many seasons, and I don’t expect this to be any different. There have been 0-6 and 6-0 lambastings as well as 4-3 goalfests like the last time the teams met in the Vicente Calderon. The Copa del Rey last year was a 1-3 and 2-1, both for Barça.
This year, the relative fortunes, while obviously in miniature because there have only been two matches, are quite different. Barça enter having won two of two, while Atleti enter winless. With one solitary point and one solitary goal to show for their “efforts”, Atleti find themselves in 18th, already 5 points behind Barça, who are in the top spot. These early season showings have relatively little do with the final outcome, of course, but if you’re Atleti, you’re probably hoping to grab a couple of points and make up for your early stumbles and lift the spirits of your fans with a rousing victory against a proven squad of winners.
Only they’ll have to do it without Sergio Asenjo between the sticks because he’s at the U-20 World Cup in Egypt (we are missing Oriol Romeu, 17, and Andreu Fontas, 19; and Botia is there too). Being without an excellent keeper isn’t such a loss, it turns out, as they’ve replaced him with 23-year old Roberto Jiménez, who apparently expects they’re going to win 2-0. I’m all for confidence in your teammates and yourself, but when it comes to traveling to the Camp Nou, you might not want to anger The Gods Who Shall Smite Thee. As absurdly nonchalant as Messi has been over the last few weeks (he’s what, pushed/slapped someone in the SuperCup final and has shown tremendous desire so far), is there a reason to rile him up? Is there any reason to get The Yaya to let loose a thunder blot from midfield and cleave you in twain? Roberto, you’re on notice.
Their squad list is: Roberto, De Gea, Valera, Antonio López, Juanito, Ujfalusi, Perea, Pablo, Jurado, Maxi, Assunçao, Reyes, Simao, Cléber Santana, Koke, Keko, Forlán, Agüero, Sinama-Pongolle.
If it’s a question of pure talent, this game is already over, but because it’s not and because they’re like a wounded animal being backed into a corner, Atleti could come out and give us a serious run for our money. Forlan and Aguero are certainly capable and we all know the brilliance of Maxi and Simão. Yes, they’re coming off of a bad league start as well as a horrendous game at home against APOEL in the Champions League, but remember when they put a 2-1 hurtin’ on Liverpool in the preseason at Anfield? I do. Forlan and Aguero both scored in that and you know they love to work the magic against bigger clubs. I wonder if Forlan feels he has something to prove against Barça after he was “snubbed” during the transfer season in favor of this one tall guy. We’ll find out, I suppose, but another tall guy might have something to say about that.
So, turning our attention the blaugrana:
Messi signed a new contract until 2016, which hopefully will galvanize him into scoring like 800 goals this year (and every year after that, come to think of it), starting with this league fixture. Other people it should galvanize: the rest of the team. Why? Because now they know that being the best there is means you get the best contract there is, that being better means you get paid more. And that should put some of those round objects into that net thingy. That’s the theory, anyway.
Either way it goes, I think we’re going to have a good game considering that we just drew 0-0 and we’re not likely to sit back and soak up the glory after that. How often does the squad want to piss off Baby Kxevin in a single week? I suggest attempting to never do it again, if they know what’s good for them.
We’re going to see Chygrynskiy out there again as Dima gets rotated in for Puyol or Pique in a bid not only to acclimate him more, but to get him his first start in the Camp Nou. I expect Puyol to be the one rested simply because, well, he’s getting up there in age. If we can start Marquez and Chygrynskiy, I think that could be very positive for us, even if they haven’t had any real time together. Pique and Dima would probably be the best bet again, with Alves on the right and Abidal on the left to provide maximum support. Then we have a midweek game against Racing Santander in which Marquez can get some serious minutes. Reintegrating Marquez is a priority of mine as long as he’s 100% fit, so putting him out there could be a really good step forward, especially if we can play Iniesta as well and really get some of the team serious reps.
Predicted lineup: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Chygrynskiy, Abidal, Busi, Iniesta, Xavi, Henry, Ibra, Messi
This is a studly lineup, of course, but I think it’s necessary, considering that we can push ourselves in this match, rest a lot of people against Racing, and then pick it back up again against Malaga and then Dynamo Kiev in the CL. I think that this lineup affords us maximum creativity and maximum stability considering that Puyol is a bit busted up and The Yaya could use the view from the sidelines (which he has with his laser vision anyway, but you know what I mean).
Official score prediction: KAPOW 2-0, we bring home the bacon. 3-0 would be lovely, Roberto. We’re still a bit shaky on offense, but on defense we’re as solid as it gets (we haven’t allowed a goal since the Gamper match). Goals by Henry and Ibr, both assisted by Messi.
New York/EST: 4pm
San Diego: 1pm
Sydney, Australia: 6am Sunday
Singapore: 4am Sunday
India: 2am Sunday
If you are interested in meeting the face behind one the names, I will be at Nevada Smiths for this game. Email me at isaiah[at]barcelonafootballblog[dot]com if you’d like to or just show up and scream my name until a dork with glasses answers.
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