As I mentioned during the Bilbao preview, Pep and the boys have a physically and mentally draining fixture list in the next weeks. As Sport today put it, “Que Locura”, or roughly translated, It’s Crazy or What Madness. In the next 15 or 16 days (depending on the final fixture against Sevilla), Barça will play no less than 5 fixtures, which as an average is a game every 3 days. Now, considering we have been looking rather jaded in recent weeks, I’m not sure such a gauntlet of games is really what the doctor ordered. Or, maybe it is. If I was to play devil’s advocate, I could point out that in our fantastic 2009/10 treble winning season, we had a very tough run in around March with away games at Valencia, Villarreal, Real Madrid, and Champions League on top. But, that year, it seemed only to motivate us to play even better and we were truly special over that tough run of games.
Barça tonight travel to the island of Mallorca to take on Michael Laudrup’s (a former star from our club between 89 and 94) 11th place Mallorca. They have had a regular type of Mallorca season, with a pretty even amount of wins (9) and losses (11). However, if there is one thing this team really does take advantage of, it’s playing at home. They have collected 31 points so far, and 23 of those (74%) have been won at home. Their home record reads 7W, 2D, and 3L compared to away with just 2W, 2D, and 8L. Now, that is far from the awesome feat they did last year under Manzano when I think they only lost 2 the entire season at home, but it’s still pretty good and it is what is keeping them safe from relegation issues. The team is however struggling with scoring goals with just 25 netted in the 24 games thus far. Nevertheless, they are one of the few teams we haven’t gotten maximum points of this season. They managed a 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou in October, which is half of the total draws we have managed this season. For those that don’t know them too well, they have a very solid keeper in Israeli Aouate. He was very good for them against us and when I watch Liga highlights we very often is man of the match for them. Defensively they have some Liga veterans in Corrales and Nunes, who also had a great game against us earlier in the year. The break out player from this team however is without doubt Canadian Jonathan De Guzman. The is a very talented football player and has attracted already many admirers in England (his brother actually use to be with Deportivo). They also have a Spanish under 21 star in Nsue. Otherwise their main goal threats are midfielder Castro and Cameroonian forward Pierre Webo (who personally I think is rather rubbish).
Back to us. The issue tonight is without question injuries. We are currently hit with the worse injury “crisis” all year with Valdes, Puyol, and Xavi all out tonight. Now, look, these are major squad players, wordclass superstars, but, we should have the depth to replace them against a fairly decent side in Mallorca. Gabi Milito, despite his shaky display a few matches back, is still an Argentinean international who impressed us greatly in the back half of last year. And to replace Xavi, well, we can go with a proven international in Afellay who eventually we have to put faith in, we have our super talented youngster Thiago who is chomping at the bit to prove himself, or we can be slightly more conservative with former Argentinean captain Mascherano (though Pep is likely to use his favourite Keita). The point is, as important as Xavi is, we cannot use his absence for a poor result tonight. We are an elite club that should have enough depth to replace one midfielder. And Pinto looked good enough the other night to stand in a few games, especially if we keep the ball and restrict shots on target to just a few.
But can the subs do the job? Afellay looks to me a bit nervous or scared to express himself and the coach must give him the confidence to allow him to play his game. Bojan can also come in if we need a goal, but when is our young prodigy going to be the reliable source off the bench? Can Milito shake off the cobwebs and maybe the thoughts of leaving in the summer and be the defender we know he can be. Or will the very promising Fontas be given another go (whether he is injured or not I am not sure). Those are just a few questions that could be answered tonight. We all know we need 3 points because the way La Liga is currently running anything other than that could be detrimental in the long run with Madrid waiting in the shadows. They actually travel after this game to Deportivo which has historically been their big bogey team in Spain. So here is to hoping we win and Depo play the horrendously boring defensive football they do and maybe sneak a draw.