After the morale-boosting win against AC Milan in midweek, FC Barcelona travel to Madrid for the first of a double-header of matches against sides from the capital. The destination is the Coliseum Alfonso Perez and the opponents are Getafe, in a match Barcelona really should be winning. Kicking off after the Madrid derby (Real vs Atletico) will almost certainly put the Blaugrana under pressure as Jose Mourinho’s side will likely be six points clear.
Atletico have a tendency to "slip up" against their more illustrious rivals and are without a win against Real since the 1999/2000 season. Quite simply, it has been an age since Atleti helped us in that regard, and Saturday should not be any different. All it means is that Barcelona can effectively rule themselves out of the title race if they register anything but a win. Jose Mourinho has always gone on to win the league title when he has assimilated a three point advantage, so a six point gap would surely be catastrophic.
In truth, the 3-2 win over Milan did not tell me anything I didn’t already know. The 3-4-3 posed some problems defensively, as expected. The absence of Gerard Pique (why?) and Dani Alves had a huge impact, also as expected. Most importantly, Milan tried to attack the Blaugrana, and ended up getting smoked. Sure, 3-2 is not a comprehensive beating, but just take a look at all the saves Abbiati had to make, or the chances that the team missed. It could have been a heavy defeat for the Italian side.
Not only that, but there is still room for improvement in the performance. It would be fair to say that Barcelona were not at their best, much like the Supercopa triumph over Real Madrid, but in the end it did not matter, and despite a spirited attempt from the opposition neither had an answer for Lionel Messi’s sheer brilliance. The Argentine turned creator on Wednesday; his pass to Xavi for the winning goal was straight out of the top drawer. If there was an award for pass of the season he would surely be a contender, and after his delightful slide rule pass to David Villa in last year’s Clasico, I am sure La Pulga would be looking at a back-to-back win!
Each goal conceded came from a defensive mistake, and the only real question is whether the return of Gerard Pique and Dani Alves into a four-man defense would eliminate the errors completely. Barcelona remain unbeaten for the season, and if you think back to the game on Wednesday, there may have been times where we felt anxious, but at no point did I even consider that the Blaugrana were going to lose.
Anyway, back to the preview for Getafe, and in all honesty, Barcelona are only going to get stronger. Victor Valdes will start in goal, in what remains the strongest defense in all of Europe’s 20 team leagues. Only six times has Valdes been made to pick the ball out of the net in this league campaign, but all of those occasions have been away from the Camp Nou. In fact, every time he has conceded in the league this season, it has led to a 2-2 draw. Keeping a clean sheet will be paramount for the Catalan.
With a bit of luck Guardiola will select the first choice defense, allowing them some valuable game time to adjust to each other’s company. That means Dani Alves at right-back, Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol at centre-back, with Eric Abidal on the left. I will happily accept a correction (with proof of course), but I can only think of one time when Barcelona have lost under Guardiola when starting that backline and it was the meaningless second leg against Wisla Krakow right at the start of his reign.
In midfield I would stake a claim for Thiago Alcantara to get the nod, perhaps ahead of Xavi Hernandez to allow the maestro to rest. Andres Iniesta may or may not be risked, but the midfield will remain strong, with Cesc Fabregas almost certainly taking his place alongside Xavi or Thiago. This gives another dimension the Barcelona attack, or in fact it gives two. The first of which is the runs from deep that are so hard to defend. Cesc drifts in, seemingly from nowhere and gets a chance to score. It may be an English tactic, but it actually works best in the situations Barcelona find themselves in.
Take Getafe for example. They will undoubtedly sit back, and attempt to absorb wave after wave of pressure. To do this they will employ a 4-2-3-1/4-5-1, with at least two holding midfield players. The full-backs tuck in, allow space on the wing for Barcelona to exploit, but pack the middle. Barcelona gradually move further and further up the field, hemming the opposition in their own defensive third, knocking the ball from side to side trying to open up a gap for that killer pass.
However, they pass the ball from side to side, an some of the Getafe players will find themselves watching the ball a little more than the player they are supposed to be marking. Crucially, they will be standing still, or moving extremely slowly; walking to keep up with the passes. Here is where Fabregas becomes effective.
The winger or overlapping full-back has enough space to deliver a cross thanks to the narrow shape of the opposition, but he has no-one to aim for, or no options on the cutback. Fabregas starts deep, but motors into the area, breezing past the static holding midfielders who are supposed to be defending this exact kind of thing. Cesc now has an aerial duel with a defender to win the header and get a shot on target, but it is so hard to defend someone with momentum. Below are two videos, both illustrating the point, but from different situations. The first is Cesc’s header against Viktoria Plzen, and while it is not exactly as I described above, watch how he starts deep, but surges into the box to meet the cross. A better view can be found from 0:27 onwards.
Viktoria Plzen 0-3 Barcelona 01-11-2011 (via MediaproOfficial)
GERMANY vs Spain 0-1 | PUYOL GOAL | WC 2010 SOUTH AFRICA (via IEpicGamingI)
It has been clear that Barcelona have missed Pedro’s versatility on the wing, with David Villa becoming increasingly frustrated by defenders that know exactly what he is going to do. El Guaje is always going to cut inside, where as Pedro offers an air of unpredictability as he is truly ambidextrous. Not only that, but Pedro is proficient with long shots, and against teams that "park the bus", his skills can open up valuable spaces for his teammates.
Getafe are coming off of a 2-1 defeat to Sporting Gijon last weekend, and they have only managed two wins all season, although they were against Atletico Madrid and Real Betis. The summer signing of Dani Guiza has not gone as well as some may have expected, but Miku has started to show promise in the centre-forward position. Coached by Luis Garcia, who did a fine job last season at Levante, the Dubai-owned club will pose a threat, but Barcelona should win comfortably.
Match Prediction: 4-0 Barcelona, with Lionel Messi scoring a brace, Cesc Fabregas grabbing a goal and Pedro getting back to form with a goal (or Sanchez if he starts instead).