Note: The first part of this was written by Isaiah, but due to unforeseen circumstances (read: excessive drunkenness and cop punching), Luke is having to finish it up
In the run up to the Superclassicopa’s first leg, I predicted a 3-1 loss for Barcelona. I don’t know that I was particularly wrong in predicting that given the game that took place, but it’s obvious that I didn’t trust the team enough. David Villa came through with an utterly amazing goal and Messi did what Messi does best: score. I’ve seen that Villa goal at least 7 times since the game ended and it thrills me to pieces every time. Audacity and talent. What a combo.
Even with a makeshift lineup: Mascherano and Abidal in defense together? Alexis Sánchez playing his first minutes for the team? Thiago, Keita, and Iniesta teaming up in midfield? Messi vomiting like some Exorcist remake? All of that happened and the team drew 2-2 against a firing-on-all-cylinders Real Madrid that nearly lost its head (and the game) with late tackles. For all of Teixera Vitienes’ absurd (no) calls and terrible inconsistency (and Marca gave him a 5 out of 10), Barça came out with a draw and 2 valuable goals.
Given Mourinho’s penchant for trying to nab a goal on the counter, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Madrid batten down the hatches and try to ride out an early Barça surge, but in the Bernabeu they showed unprecedented attacking willingness, if also extreme profligacy in front of goal. I wouldn’t expect that to happen twice in a row.
Luckily, we don’t have to expect it to happen again, but it still might. The good news first: I attribute most of the issues with Sunday’s first leg to Keita playing woefully out of position at the DM. Against another, less offensively powerful side, Keita might likely be serviceable in that position, but not against Madrid. Also at fault was the less than full strength back four, which will be bolstered (and was greatly bolstered on Sunday) by the return of Pique. This does nothing to diminish my point that Barcelona has a fully capable defense in reserve, like they showed on Sunday, by holding a rampant Madrid side to two goals, neither of which could have been stopped easily, it’s just that stronger options are now available.
Now the bad news for Wednesday: Barça has played exactly zero full strength games together since the end of May. Four of the starting eleven from Sunday had been on vacation for nearly a month (a well-deserved break mind you) before the game, having not practiced with the team fully. Two days is not going to solve this issue, and the addition of Fabregas, while positive, might only serve to complicate matters further. Additionally, the team is obviously not at its highest training levels yet. This will come with time and will reduce the tiredness that led to Messi vomiting and players losing steam in the end, but not by Wednesday. I attribute this to the problems of losing the ball more often than we fans are accustomed to seeing. issue is only solved by more training and more games, so two days is unlikely to work the magic either. Then again, I’ve seen Guardiola do a whole lot with less time and more troubles, so maybe I’m looking at this all backwards.
I can usually make at least a semi-tangible argument for either side when Barcelona plays a world class caliber team, though usually I predict the Fighting Peps to come out on top. However, this is truly a coin flip game. Barça starts with a crapshoot lineup, Madrid comes out firing and the game ended 2-2 when it could have easily gone either way, even in a route to Madrid. Does any of this hold as precedent for the second leg? I wish I knew.
Part of me believes Mou will bring Madrid out on the offensive again, eschewing the normal defense-first counter attacking for his Sunday approach, which made many a Barça supporter nervous. The other half believes he will sit the team back, allow them to poach, and try to play it like he has in past match-ups. I cannot say which would be better for the home team because after watching 5 minutes of the first leg I assumed the game would end 37-0 to Madrid, Barça looked that bad. And yet, here it sits, with Barcelona holding a distinct advantage in the form of 2 away goals and a draw.
What I can say is that Madrid will again by physical, mostly in the embodiment of Xabi Alonso, Carvalho, and our old friend Stampy Pepe. Mou’s Madrid teams are not shy about attempting to make a physical mark on the game and Pep’s Barcelona teams, either as a form of controlling the game or of intimidation. Though the game was light on this aspect for the first 60-75 (well, relatively light), the end of the game reminded us that there is a reason Pep rarely makes it through these games un-carded. Not that this has been statistically proven to have much of an impact on the final score.
The team news has been positive since Sunday with Pique, Busquets, and Fabregas all training normally, meaning that the squad is at full strength save for the immense talents of Afellay, Puyol, and Maxwell. This would usually lead a fan to conclude that Pep will trot out a lineup consisting of Valdes-Alves-Pique-Mascherano-Abidal-Busquets-Xaviniesta-Villa-Messi-Sanchez. But we love Pep for many reasons, and one of them is a great deal of lineup flexibility. My best guess at a starting 11 looks something like: Valdes-Alves-Pique-Abidal-Adriano-Mascherano-Xavi-Thiago-Iniesta-Messi-Villa. The question many are asking, whether Cesc will start, is, I believe, a nonstarter. I don’t doubt he could contribute, but I see it more as one of Pep’s patented late-in-the-game, screw you subs. One that has no bearing on the outcome, but is done for purely personal reasons, and it would be mildly humorous to see Cesc play 2 minutes and win silver, after 5 years without, no?
Prediction: Um, blind shot in the dark says 1-1, goals by Messi and Benzema. I’ve been going back and forth, so I played it safe. There will be scares on both sides, but I think a stalemate holds and Barça wins its first silverware of the new campaign. Incidentally, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one go 3-1 in the bad guys direction either, it’s really a toss up.
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images Europe