La Liga Preview: FC Barcelona v Real Betis, The Must-Win To Start On The Must-WinsBy: Ade C. | January 14th, 2012
Though it seems that way sometimes, not everything in life is Clásicos (or leads to Clásicos). Take this weekend, for example, and our match against Betis. If you squint and try not to look forward to next week, you almost cannot see Real Madrid’s shadow hanging over us.
Real Betis are one of the veterans of La Liga -even if they just managed to claw their way back from Segunda this season- and they have been the definition of ‘inconsistent’: they started the season brilliantly, sitting at the very top for a couple of weeks, only to collapse into a long string of defeats that left them on the brink of the relegation places; then, they picked themselves up enough to sit safely mid-table, but who knows what the future might bring?
Last season, while they were still in Segunda, Barça met Betis in the Copa del Rey and gave them a manita on the first leg, then let the béticos beat us 3-1 on the return leg because, why not, right? You can do whatever you want after scoring a manita. So, they’re not exactly harmless. And even if they were, well, we’ve seen what toothless teams like Getafe can make of Barça when we have a bad day.
And Barça… well, Barça are doing well, but if we keep sacrificing players to the Football Gods in exchange for good results, Messi is going to feel very lonely when it comes down to picking up trophies later in the season.
Afellay (torn ACL in September, heading for the last stage of his recovery), Villa (broken tibia, recovery from surgery), Fontàs (torn ACL, waiting for surgery, almost certainly out for the season), Pedrito (small hamstring tear, out for ten days) and Keita (African Cup) plus Maxwell’s departure means that Barça’s squad has only 17 players right now; we have to borrow kids from Barça B just to make up the numbers, which is almost sad enough that Pep must be wondering about recalling Jeffren, Milito or, Gods forbid, Bojan.
The good news is that we still have enough players to cover all positions, sort of: our first choice goalkeeper, fullbacks, centre-backs and midfielders are all fit and ready, and as long as Messi is up front doing his thing, any two warm bodies that accompany him will look good (this is the guy who gave assists to Bojan, remember). So let’s not despair. Let’s just be very, very careful.
Pep called up Cuenca, Sergi Roberto, JDS and Montoya from Barça B to fill the gaps at training, and one can only assume that, with a Clásico on Wednesday, one or two of them will end up playing tomorrow to preserve the non-renewable resource that is a fit first-team player.
My proposed starting XI would be:
That’s players who are doing well and need to keep their rhythm (Piqué, Adriano), players who need the minutes to get back into shape (Alexis, Puyol), some old stand-byes (Xavi, Messi, Busquets, Alves) and Cesc, who is like having a goal-guarantee these days. Good enough for a win, but with some prudent subbing-out (an art that Pep is discovering, albeit a couple of years too late), enough to preserve energies for Wednesday’s Clásico too.
So, what do you think? Who would you play? Who will Pep play? (answers to those two questions are not allowed to be the same)
In any case, this is a must-win to start a looooong season of must-wins. Real Madrid came the closest to dropping points they are likely to come against Mallorca, but they didn’t, which means that Barça must Not Drop Any More Points Ever and, at the same time, pray for a miracle. And keep an eye on the Copa. Oh, and total concentration on the Champions League. With a 17-men squad and a bunch of kids. Totally do-able, right, guys?
… guys, what are you all doing?! Those are MY reserves of Pepssimism! I’m saving them for later in the season! Get your hands off my Bojan plushie! I’m the only one allowed to be negative around these parts, and if I’m not exercising my right, you can’t either!