In case you missed it, we are playing Real Madrid AGAIN on Wednesday night in the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu. I’m actually going to keep this preview shortish because I think we have all debated and thought about not only this game, but the previous ones as well, more than enough. Whether history, or the results in the previous games will matter or if Madrid has more momentum than us, or whatever else you can conjure up, in truth, it means nothing. You just have to sit down for those 90 minutes and see what happens.
So let’s only talk in facts today. We have travelled with a squad of 20, including Puyol and Milito, and from that 2 will fall off. The full squad is:
Victor Valdes, Pinto, Puyol, Milito, Pique, Fontas, Alves, Montoya, Busquets, Mascherano, Thiago, Sergi Roberto, Iniesta, Xavi, Keita, Afellay, Pedro, Villa, Messi, Jeffren. The absantees will be Abidal, Maxwell, Adriano, and Bojan.
And if you haven’t noticed, we now have no fit regular left back. Great luck and timing. The rumors are that captain caveman Puyol will return in that left back role that we has so awesome during the 2008/9 season. But back then, he was fully fit and match sharp. Big difference. Honestly, I don’t know the alternative. Keita can play there but I think that would be an absolute death-wish against the skill and pace of Di Maria, CR, and Higuain. The other 3 should be Alves, Mascherano, and Pique no question. Then the regular Iniesta, Busquets, Xavi, Pedro, Villa, and Messi should follow suit. Like I said post Osasuna, we really can’t look to our bench in this match. Fontas/Montoya are too inexperienced, Miltio is too slow and unfit, Jeffren isn’t good enough, and Afellay does not have the knowledge or experience yet to make a positive impact. Thiago is the only somewhat decent item on the bench, but some of his mental lapses and lazy passes could prove very costly.
Madrid are only without Ricardo Carvalho due to suspension. It is a loss as Carvalho is truly one of the elite defenders in world football. But, they will just call in 15 million and 26 cap Raul Albiol. Or they could put Arbeloa on the right and bring Ramos in the middle with Pepe (my prediction), or Garray if he has done well in practice (less likely). Point is, they got options and one centerback out isn’t that big a deal. However, if Pepe does go back to the center they will miss out on that hack Messi role he did so effectively. Oh wait, they can just bring in top midfielder Lass Diara, or just pair 20 million Khedira with Xabi Alonso. Again, they got options. Upfront they are fully fit and those rather good reserve players Kaka, Benzema, and Higuain all had stormers versus Valencia and could fancy their chances.
Yes, Madrid have a super deep, great quality bench. Still, I’d never trade places with them. I hate the way they hoard and waste/destroy talent. I hate that there has never been a coach more successful at this awful practice than Mourinho.
Let’s be very clear. Madrid has NEVER outplayed us this season. Definitely not in the 5-0 thrashing, or the 1-1 stale mate, and despite the fact most and I agree Madrid “won” the 1st half of the Copa, they did not outplay us. What they did was outhustle us, out muscle us, and out run us. But I never in those 45 minutes felt vulnerable to their football. And in the second half we killed them. The exact same team that outran us the first 45 were tired and confused after the break and we were ripping more than enough holes in the defense to win that game. People exaggerate how well Madrid and especially exaggerate how well Mourinho “handled us” that night.
Let’s be clear again. We are NEVER going to be able to play a top European side (Chelsea, Inter, Man United, Real Madrid) who come out to defend and counter attack and create 20 clear cut chances. NEVER. So please don’t expect it and don’t complain when it doesn’t happen. We will be patient, pass around, wear them down, try and crack their focus, and plan on creating 3 or 4 proper chances. If we convert 2 or 3, we win the game. Simple. Chelsea 2009, we only had one shot on target, but it was enough. Inter 2010; it was a cowardly referee who disallowed a legitimate Bojan goal, that’s why we went out to a 10-man defense. We were a scared Belgian referee’s whistle away from defeating the OH SO MAGICAL AND GENIUS MOURINHO. And against Madrid in both the recent games we created chances we either wastefully squandered or Casillas incredibly stopped.
We have never been outplayed by Madrid this season. We lost because in sport you cannot always win. Sometimes you are unlucky, sometimes your opponent stops you, and sometimes your wasteful. If we eliminate these errors we win both those games easy.
Does that mean we will win tomorrow, no. All I’m saying is we are well within our abilities too. We are still the better football team and unit. Can Madrid expose our defensive and fitness issues? Without question. That will be the danger tomorrow,: counter attacks and set pieces. We are going to have to hope Puyol has a few last ditch monster tackles in him, Mascherano shows his composure at centerback again, and Valdes is alert as always.
Ok, I feel like I’m kind of going in circles now. Let’s not worry about this and that and whether our squad is too small, it’s too late. We have what we have. Let us just support and believe in the starting 11 tomorrow who in the past 3 years have shown us no reason to doubt them. Let’s believe in Pep Guardiola. And if we lose, IF we lose, take a deep breath (unless its like 3 or 4 – 0), remember it’s a two-legged affair, and let’s not point fingers and throw them under the bus. Tomorrow is going to be part one of the most epic UEFA Champions League semi-final I can remember.