Finally, we are back. I know it’s been extremely quiet on barcacentral for the last weeks, but in truth, we could not find much motivation during this international period. We talked about doing a piece on the games and how are players were involved but alas, it just did not happen. Nic and I especially are both avidly against these breaks and find them hopelessly boring and uninspiring. BUT, the next two months of club football are simply awesome. It’s the best period of the year so I hope we can get active here in our discussions and view points!
In case though people did not quite follow us the past few weeks, I’ll do a mini brief here. Spain won both their games, first at home against the Czech Republic 2-1 and then away in Lithuania 3-1. I unfortunately could not watch the first game, but in it, David Villa scored both goals and therefore became the undisputed all time leading goalscorer in Spanish national team history. He over took Raul, and managed to do so in basically half the number of games, a brilliant achievement. From all accounts Barça players did quite well in that game. I did watch the second game, which was played on easily the worst football pitch I have ever in my many years of regular football viewing ever seen. The game itself was reasonably dull with Spain doing the bare minimum to win and Lithuania trying very hard. Barça wise, Pique, Xavi, and Villa were involved. Pique was solid enough, Xavi was the same, but sadly Villa again did not look sharp at all. I was really disappointed after his 2 goals versus the Czech. Otherwise, Afellay scored in Hollands first 3-0 win against Hungary and other than that off the top of my head nothing much special to report.
Probably the most exciting, and at least important piece of news since Getafe on March 19th, was the official renewal of our special right back Dani Alves. I was legitimately joyful when I read it and it truly is important. He may be somewhat wasteful, but at the same time, it is also a byproduct of the huge amount of ball he receives in games. He is absolutely vital to our system, I cannot stress that enough. So that was really an excellent piece of news. It never seemed Dani himself wanted to leave and I always felt it was the agent hardballing, but still, it is great to see him sign on despite the fact he knew he could earn a fair amount more at Manchester City. Still, he is being paid in the bracket of the likes of Xavi and Iniesta, in the second tier of salaries, so I reckon that’s fair enough. By the way, Pinto also signed, and yes I do recognize how much of a footnote that looks like, but well, what can you do.
Then there was this strike business. If you did not know, there was a chance, though I never thought it would happen, that tomorrow’s match may not have even gone ahead. So basically, a delegate of clubs from La Liga (but by no means all of them, more on that later) took a petition to a court asking to be able to strike and not play the league fixtures this weekend. This stems from the fact that there is an agreement in place (of its history I am not sure) where one match per weekend is shown for free on the public government television channel. So you’re thinking, “one game, come on”. However the argument of these clubs is that this unique situation only happens in Spain and there is no reason they should forfeit that revenue. Well, their petition to strike was turned down by Judge Puyol (yes) Wednesday morning. But it is more complex than this. Really, the only clubs that really wanted this were Real Madrid and ourselves, which many have looked at as intense greed considering these clubs still get the majority of TV revenue (as compared to England where the revenue is very democratically divided) despite the new agreement made a few months back. In fact, Sevilla, Espanyol, Villarreal, Zaragaoza, Bilbao, and Real Sociedad, were taking legal action against the other clubs trying to prevent them even petitioning for the strike. Sevilla’s Del Nido was particularly vocal. Now one can argue either side of this case, but I will not, and after all that, there is no strike and the game will be played.
And what a tasty encounter it is! Aside from us, Villarreal play the most attractive style of football in Spain, in fact, on some weekends I’d wager they are more entertaining to watch. Matches between us are always very aesthetically pleasing and contain pretty much just attacking with both teams trying to outplay the other. We have had some very entertaining matches at El Madrigal, and often some really clutch wins (the 09 game where Thierry took charge comes to mind). Earlier this year we won at home 3-1, comfortably at the end, but for the first half Villareal were very much in it. They contain a fantastic top two in Rossi and Nilmar, both players who we have been heavily linked to purchasing during the summer. In midfield they have Spanish international Cazorla, who on his day is a real menace as well as Cani, who despite not being a big name, those with La Liga knowledge will know he is a very talented player who also on his day can be top drawer. In goal they have Diego Lopez, who is leading the Zamora charts. They also have an excellent set of wingbacks. Capdevila, the undisputed first choice Spanish left back, has been excellent ever since leaving Depor back in 2007 and recently they signed Brazilian right-back Cicinho. Cicinho may have only been in the big spotlight during his one year at Real Madrid, but during that time he looked quality. He may not be the best defender, but going forward he has very real natural talent. Since leaving Madrid he had a decent spell at Roma and now has come on loan from the Italian club. Then in the midfield they have Borja Valero who has made it to the national team and deservedly so, as well as Bruno, a young defensive midfielder who has taken the reigns from Senna. Bruno has also recently made it to the national team. They also have that touch of experience at the back with Carlos Marchena, though I’ve never rated him much before and less so now. Marchena may be as tough as Spanish defenders get, but technically he isn’t great and can be exposed for pace.
So yeah, basically Villarreal are actually rather good or at least contain a squad packed with quality. They sit 3rd place though a decent amount off even 2nd place (19 points in fact). Nilmar however may not play as he is recovering from injury. Otherwise, the team should be at its best and I’m sure very motivated to win.
And finally, Barça. Now before I get into team news, there is a bit of a media storm going around thanks to a Rosell comment along the lines of he can see this being a 5-0 win. Now I’m sure it was a very off the cuff remark and he meant nothing by it, because really, Rosell is not one to make these sorts of comments. But the media are enjoying taking it to shreds, particularly the Madrid bias Marca and AS. Of course, Mourinho got in on the action too with something like, “Yeah if Rosell says it is fine, but if I do I get punished (he said in fact go to jail)”. Anyway, I think its silly to blow it out of proportion but it’s also silly for Rosell to say it as it gives our opponents extra motivation.
This is a rather important match folks. We are still 5 points on top, but winning tonight could be a big mental blow to Madrid. They are very much hoping the gap will be 2 when we travel to the capital in two weeks time. And really, beside the Clasico, this is our only true difficult game left before the end of the season, while Madrid still have to travel to Valencia, Sevilla, and Villarreal as well as face us. A win tonight would go a long way.
And then there is Champions League to think about. But, I do not think that factors into Guardiola’s plans tonight. I think he realizes how a win tonight could in a very real way indirectly lessen Madrid’s hopes. Plus, it isn’t Pep’s style to rest players in big games. So, I expect a very first team. Xavi is suspended after picking up a fifth yellow. Injury wise, Busquets got a small knock versus the Czech but all reports are that he is fine to play. There was also a Messi injury scare but he seems fine and did not play Argentina’s other friendly game as only a precaution. Bojan however did pick up an ankle injury in the U-21 game but in truth, that doesn’t make one gasp. So it should be Valdes, Alves, Milito, Pique, Maxwell/Adriano, Keita, Busquets, Iniesta, Villa, Messi, and Pedro. However, I could see Mascherano getting a start tonight. The major concern still is Puyol and there has been no reports or indication about when he will be ready. It would be great if he makes a surprise appearance tomorrow, but in truth, I have no idea how likely or improbable that is.
So there you go guys, hope you enjoyed. Honestly, as I wrote this, I got more and more excited for this game because there really are a lot of interesting stories and situation going into it.