What better to follow a tough trip to the Mestalla than a match at home against Atlético Madrid? And not the less than stable, pretty unpredictable one, but a highflying, confident one. Yes, it’s only 4 games in, and their record is a mixed bag of 2 wins, 1 draw, and 1 loss, but listen to the words coming from the red and white side of the capital. “We have confidence to win at the Camp Nou”, Señor Manzano himself. “We go with the intention to take from them possession of the ball, and dictate the game. We are coming to win, respecting Barça a lot, but without fear”, Mario Suarez. These games are always crackers with heaps of goals. Barça has had a strong advantage recently, with a 5 year home unbeaten streak scoring 17 with just 3 conceeded. With us maybe feeling somewhat wounded from Wednesday, looking to react, and them talking and feeling like Mario Suarez, this one should be full of fireworks.
The 2W, 1D, and 1L however must be looked at somewhat closer. On the first game of the year they drew 0-0 to Osasuna, but it must be noted none of the new signings played. They then lost at the Mestalla, no shame there as we nearly found out. But since then they have recorded back-to-back 4-0 wins, with new €47 million man Radamel Falcao netting 5 of those 8 goals (and upset it wasn’t back to back hattricks – he apparently went to the ref after the last game and asked for the gameball citing he scored a hattrick, the ref told him it was only 2, as one was clearly an own goal from Lora, but Falcao was not too happy). This guy looks the real business. He’s not the tallest at 5’10 but he’s powerful and a real killer. He was sensational at Porto with 41 goals in 51 games in two years! His competition record 17 goals in 14 games, including the only goal in the final, was a massive reason Porto won the UEFA Europa League which completed a mini-treble for the Portugese. He’s also been saying the right things of late, shifting attention to his team rather than taking all the plaudits himself with “On Monday Atlético should be the story, not Falcao”. He’s also been talking up the team’s hard work, unity in the locker room, and belief. The Colombian will be, if not already, a massive fan favourite.
And he’s only one of the new boys brought in to replace Agüero. Diego has come in from Wolfburg and is a genuine natural talent. Yes, his attitude has cost him at times, he really struggled at Juve (though I always felt the league and style wouldn’t suit him), but when he was at Bremen feeling happy and confident, he’s was a real ballplayer. Then there is also Arda Turan. He is a very very good football player, one I’ve always personally touted. If not for his loyalty to home club Galatasaray, he could have been at a Chelsea years ago, despite only being 24. He’s skillful, intelligent, but has that typical Turkish fire. When he was once linked with us, whether truthful or not, it definitely peaked my interest.
They have also made one very astute acquisition in Belgium keeper Thibaut Courtois, to replace De Gea. The 19-year-old actually signed for Chelsea from Genk this summer, but with Cech there this kid was not going to see much action. Madrid arranged a loan deal, and so far have been rewarded with just 1 goal conceded.
Then there is Filipe at left back, who we nearly signed 2 years back before he broke his leg, Athletic defender Perea, hardworking and experienced Gabi, and Reyes. Diego was an injury doubt but has travelled tonight. In summary, we are coming up against a formidable opponent.
On our side, the main story of the week after Wednesday night was the injury to Afellay during training. A torn ACL will see him out 6 months minimum but many report the whole season. It is sad news, as all such injuries are, but Ibi from all reports tries his hardest in training and looks hungry to improve himself as a footballer, because I think he knows he is not at the level he needs to legitimately fight for a place in this team. Will it be a huge miss purely in terms of football? To be honest, and a bit cold, no, but we all wish him well in such a disappointing and frustrating moment. Watch out for the video the club has made for him in support. A classy touch I’d say.
Reports have literally just been published that Piqué has the medical all clear and will be in the squad for sure, and could just start. Though on Pep’s history I wouldn’t bet on it. Either way, its really good news for us big picture wise.
The next question is obviously, what formation will Pep play. He said pre Valencia playing a 3-4-3 would be risky against a good opponent, but then he did it, and we all know how that first 45 minutes went with Masch totally exploited and the middle of the defense exposed when Puyol went right to help Mascherano leaving Abidal stranded in the middle. I really think he will go back to 4-3-3 tonight, the risk of a 3 back against this class trident of Arda, Falcao, Diego/Reyes seems too great. If anything Madrid are historically weak at the back, so keeping the ball, being patient, and finding the spaces seems the right approach. We all know Valdés, Alves, Abidal, Puyol, Xavi, Busquets, Cesc, and Messi are playing but will it be Masch at the back with Puyol, or Abi with Adriano? Pedro or Villa? And is there place for his dearest of dears Keita, the player that made the MOST appearances last season? We will only know for sure Saturday night 10 pm local time. Exciting times!