La Liga Preview: FC Barcelona vs Atlético de Madrid, Or, The Messi and The TigerBy: Ade C. | December 15th, 2012
About three things I am certain.
First, Atlético de Madrid will always roll over and play dead when they have to face Real Madrid, regardless of their current form.
Second, Atlético de Madrid will always manage to dredge up an amazing performance when they have to face Barça, again regardless of their current form.
if you recognise where this came from, I am disappointed in you Atlético de Madrid will always sell their best players to the highest bidder, because apparently that’s how you build a successful team?
Barça are in their rightful place at the top of La Liga table, but Atleti are clinging to the second position on the strength of Falcao’s goals and Simeone’s motivation, so this meeting promises to be even more exciting than previous occasions… and those have been memorable indeed.
It’d be easy to make this preview all about Messi and Falcao, all about Mr Breaking Records One Brace At A Time and Mr Scores Manitas All By Himself, but I’ll try not to, because there’s so much more to talk about!
Like… like how the Barça defence hasn’t looked capable of stopping a bunny rabbit lately, let alone a tiger. Like how teams are starting to learn how to pressure Barça’s midfield so that it disrupts the ball distribution forwards. Like how no Barça forwards that are not called ‘Lionel’ are allowed to score, on pain of having to have their hair styled by Pinto. Like how even Tito admits that “we feel more comfortable if we defend away from our box”.
You know, important things.
Oh, and injuries. Of which there are none, for now, to report, with Dani Alves, David Villa and Jordi Alba all apparently recovered from the knocks they picked up against Córdoba, and no one having hurt themselves training (the number one cause of injuries at Can Barça). So, full squad ahead.
The problem with Atlético is that Barça’s usual system of hogging possession and waiting until the other team gets tired of chasing us around might not be much use against a team that has, as Falcao does, the virtue of scoring with a startingly high percentage of the shots he takes… unlike our sainted forwards, who need to shoot ten times before they even condescend to hit the goalkeeper.
Maybe if we accept that we’re going to concede, we can focus our attention somewhere else. We should do like we did on those early Liga matches, when the team showed a propensity to concede in increasingly odd ways (giving away penalties, scoring own goals, etc…), and just try to score more goals than our rival.
Which brings us back to Messi and Falcao, inescapably. “Messi and Falcao are united by their capacity to score, but they are different footballers,” said Tito, ever the master of obviousness.
But, apart from Messi, who should Barça play tomorrow?
Through the vagaries of injuries, worrying dips in form, more injuries, and more injuries still, we haven’t had a strong back four in ages, and what used to be our strongest combination of defenders is no more: personally, I’d choose Puyol (for inspiration purposes), Piqué (based on his good performance against Córdoba), Jordi Alba on the left and… Adriano on the right. Frankly, Dani Alves has been disappointing lately, and Montoya, though more disciplined, lacks the aggression than Adriano brings to the right flank (though, surprisingly, not to the left); our lesser-known Brazilian should take advantage of the days he’s fit, since he has so much trouble with injuries.
Further on, Busquets (of course), Xavi and Iniesta; Cesc won’t be fit until 2013, and Thiago has not done enough since his return to injury to merit a place in the starting XI for an important match (and Song… don’t even talk to me about Song).
And for the attack? Apart from Messi, our forwards have not set the world (or even a measly stadium) on fire lately. Villa, Alexis, Pedro, Tello… not much to choose from, is there? But Pedro has the advantage of being very good defensively. Has it come to this, I hear you ask, when we choose forwards on their defensive capabilities? Well, I answer, it’s not like we can choose them for their scoring abilities… when was the last time one of them contributed to the scoreline? And, I guess, Alexis does make a good job of distracting rival defenders, if only by his chronic problems with gravity.
The problem with this, our strongest XI, is that there’s not much left on the bench in case we need a second-half game-changer. Villa? Nowadays, I’m glad when Villa is offside, because at least I don’t have to see his disappointing shots on goal. And Tello’s routine of running at his defender and then crossing into the box is so obvious by now that his effectiveness has dropped to the negative numbers. Maybe the best sub would be Thiago in for one of the forwards, and move Iniesta into the left wing -a move I used to hate, but that has proved very effective lately.
In any case, and whoever Tito decides to play, it promises to be a crazy, goal-filled game. Prepare yourselves to swear a lot at your screen, criticises Valdés permanently (maybe you’d prefer Pinto instead?), and hope for a Messi goal or two to make things right. Oh, and before the match, the club will celebrate three well-known faces: Deco, Sylvinho and Keita (who is training with the team in preparation for the African Cup).
As for the score prediction… I’d rather leave those to Kage. I’m terribly bad at them. But you can leave your own in the comments section, with a promise of fleeting internet fame if you guess correctly!