The next three weeks in La Liga will be an absolute bear. Barcelona this week, Atletico Madrid next week, derby day with Valencia after that. If we can come out of this trio of matches with 4-5 points I’ll be reasonably pleased, 6-7 and I’ll be ecstatic. Due to a delay in their season start because of the obligation of getting smoked 8-2 by Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League, this is Barcelona’s first match of the season, and boy what an off-season they’ve had.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Leo Messi is being forced to stay and finish out his contract by a Barca board that has had 21,000 no confidence votes delivered to it. Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, and Arturo Vidal have all left for basically nothing, Ronald Koeman is under fire despite having not even managed a competitive match yet, and Marc Andre Ter Stegen and Martin Braithwaite are both hurt already. Basically, there probably has not been a better time in recent memory to catch Barcelona in an empty Camp Nou.
And yet... that flea-ish fellow in the 10 shirt can do things that defy all normal sense. We could do every single thing right all night long, and if we fail to score or are only up a goal, Messi just needs one strike of the ball to cost us points. It’s a dangerous way to live.
We don’t know what what tactical features will define Barcelona under Koeman. While at Everton he routinely played players out of position and relied heavily on a midfield with three distinct roles- a deep lying passer, a ball winning midfielder, and a creator. He tends to like wingers that cut inside and once he gets an idea into his head he doesn’t like changing philosophy, so it’ll be interesting to see how much of that is implemented here.
For our part, we have an astounding amount of possession in the first two weeks, and a lot of that is down to the midfield control of one Dani Parejo. I don’t expect the gaudy 59% or 65% numbers we’ve put up the first two matches, but if Parejo and Coquelin can keep the battle for the ball level with the likes of De Jong, Busquets, and perhaps Riqui Puig out there, we should have some advantages in wide areas. Barcelona will probably send Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba at us as fullbacks. Roberto is a natural CM and Alba is past his best. Plus if Barcelona starts Fati and Messi as their ‘wingers’ we’ll face youth and inexperience on one side and a man who likes to roam and not play much defense on the other. Much of this match could come down to these wide battles.
Here’s my predicted lineup for the match:
If you are confused by Funes Mori being out there, click here to read about Raul Albiol and his activity in training. Estupinan looked great in his debut last week, and I expect him to balance out our attack this weekend.
Maybe it’s just a Friday feeling, but I’m in a bold mood today. 2-0 Villarreal (which I think differs from my prediction on the Villarreal USA podcast earlier this week.)