La Liga Preview: Barça – Valencia, Or, Rotations Around The Messi AxisBy: Ade C. | September 1st, 2012
If La Liga is a two-horse race, Valencia is the donkey from Shrek; it occasionally transforms into a legitimate contender, only to return to its natural state and arrive at the end of the season on the wrong side of a 20-point gap.
But it’s too early in the season to make judgements like that; after all, Real Madrid are dangling precariously just above the relegation spots and Valencia are dangling precariously above Real Madrid. That and Barça being ‘leaders’ right now is as meaningless as the Sport front pages celebrating the fact.
After a couple of uninspiring performances (although I personally enjoyed the second half of the Supercopa return leg better than that dreadful win against Osasuna), it’s time for Barça to step up their game and leave us with a nice memory to keep us warm during the international break. What use is having the best player in the known universe, the Best Player in Europe, and a bunch of other tolerably-talented guys, if the end result is more ‘drunken frat guys playing table football’ than ‘tiki-taka’?
This would be a really good time to test Tito’s ability to manage the team into shape… if only the RFEF hadn’t suspended him for two matches for telling the fourth official than an offside move was offside. Oh well. At least he can still choose the starting XI.
Injury-wise, things are going pretty well for Barça… did I jinx it? Excuse me while I knock on wood… as I was saying, pretty well. Thiago has been declared fit by the medical staff. Dani Alves, after the Supercopa scare, had tests that revealed nothing is wrong and has been training with the team. And even Puyol, broken cheekbone and all, has been doing part of his daily workout with the group and could conceivably play tomorrow. And since neither Fontàs nor JDS left on the transfer window, Barça’s squad has not been reduced to the depth of a wading pool!
So, Tito has a lot of options to play around. Yes, it doesn’t make much sense to rest players against a tough visitor like Valencia with an international break in the horizon… until you remember that Spain alone has called up nine (9!) Barça players and -knowing Del Bosque like we do-, they will probably play, over dodgy grass and against kick-happy oponents. Don’t be surprised, then, if we end up discovering the concept of ‘rotation’, once and for all.
Cesc, for example, looked antsy on the bench during the Supercopa return leg; granted, he’s been invisible at best, useless at worst, when he has played, but Tito has faith in him, so it’s likely he’ll get another chance to prove himself. It’s also possible (and also refreshingly sensible) that Tito won’t risk Alves from the start, which opens the spot for Montoya. In Puyol’s case, it seems silly to make him play before his Phantom Of The Opera mask has arrived from the upholsterer’s; it’s either the dynamic Masche-Piqué duo again, or the unlikely arrival of Bartra (or Fontàs) to provide fresh legs.
Song for Busquets seems like the kind of thing that we wouldn’t write even under threat of bodily harm, but Busi has been at less than his best lately, and Tito himself has admitted that our infamous DM is tired; Song did pretty alright in his debut at the Bernabéu, and depending on how Valencia play, his un-Barça-esque style might be an advantage for us.
Up front, I think it’s time we brought Villa back; I don’t want to jump on the Alexis-hating bandwagon, and the Chilean has been putting lots of energy into his work lately, but he’s just not cutting it for me. If Villa is not up to being a starter yet (and, after waiting so long for his recovery, we can wait for a couple of weeks more), then Tello deserves a spot next to Messi and Pedrito, whose resurgence this season we have been observing with almost as much pleasure as Piqué’s.
I chose Xavi over Iniesta because -as seen against Osasuna-, Iniesta is not firing on all cylinders (hideous trophies notwithstanding), and Cesc and Song are going to need a combination metronome/nanny if we don’t want our midfield to collapse in on itself.
It’s risky, but it could work. Or it could leave Barça wide open to the depredations of one Roberto Soldado. But let’s think positive, for once. Even as early in the season as it is, to mantain a healthy point difference with our eternal rival would be morale-boosting, if nothing else.
What do you think? Will Barça be able to get 9 out of 9 points in spite of their irregular form, or will Valencia prove too much of a tough bone to chew? I lack Kage’s soothsaying properties, but I’m going to go with a 2-1 Barça win, with a Soldado goal because the Barça defence cannot stop a counter to save our hearts, and Messi and then Pedrito hauling in a result. I also predict that Jordi Roura will be even more unreadable on the sidelines that Tito, and that people will spend a lot of time asking who he is and what he’s doing there.