Saturday, November 20, 2004

Tonight at 10 PM is the big Barcelona-Real Madrid soccer game, which the whole country will stop to watch. Over the past few years Madrid has been a considerably better team than Barcelona, but this year it looks like the momentum has changed. Barcelona has a group of young, hungry players who are all proven professionals and work very well as a team, while Madrid has a bunch of divas who are getting old. Barcelona's coach, Frank Rijkaard, is turning out to have been an excellent choice--he's a class act all the way--and he obviously has what they call here a "project" for his team; Madrid is floundering after another round of coach roulette and doesn't seem to know what it's trying to do. Barcelona was unbeaten in the Spanish league until last week, when they lost 2-1 to midtable Betis, nothing to be ashamed of. Madrid got off to a very bad start and put together their first decent match last week, when they scored six goals against a very weak Albacete squad. Has Madrid received enough of an impulse from the Albacete game that it will give them more confidence against the Barça? Tune in tonight to find out.

I personally think Barcelona is going to win for a variety of reasons, including (very importantly) home-field advantage, with 110,000 screaming culés making monkey noises at Roberto Carlos, as is their habit, and howling "traitor" and "Judas" at Figo, as is also their habit. Barcelona's players are confident, Barça has the better coach, Barça's players are younger and hungrier, Barça has a better bench, and so on. But, I think, if we compare the two teams position for position, we'll see that Barça's players are generally superior.

Goalie: Barça Valdés, Madrid Casillas. No contest here. Valdés is a perfectly decent player who is quite adequate as goalie, but Casillas is the best goalie in Spain. Advantage: Madrid.

Left back: Barça Van Bronckhorst, Madrid Roberto Carlos. R.C. is still fast and powerful and has a blistering free kick, but he's getting old and doesn't play much defense. Van Bronckhorst is a solid player who's good defensively and offensively; his centers often result in goals. Advantage: Barça.

Left defender: Barça Puyol, Madrid Pavón. No contest. Pavón is a perfectly decent player, and at least he's young, but Puyol is the best defender in Spain. Advantage: Barça.

Right defender: Barça Oleguer, Madrid Samuel. Samuel has been very inconsistent so far with Madrid, and he's been gimpy too. Oleguer is young and strong and has won himself a job. Expect to see him around for the next eight years or so. Advantage: Barça.

Right back: Barça Belletti, Madrid Salgado. Salgado is mediocre, probably Madrid's worst regular player. Belletti plays on Brazil's national team. Advantage: Barça.

Left wing: Barcelona Ronaldinho, Madrid Zidane. These guys are both great. Ronaldinho is younger and has more to prove. Advantage: Tie.

Attacking midfielder: Barcelona Deco, Madrid Raúl. Raúl has been in awful form over the last couple of years. Deco is having his best season ever after winning the Champions' League with Oporto and coming second in the Eurocup with Portugal. Advantage: Barça.

Defending midfielder: Barcelona Márquez, Madrid Guti. Guti is sort of a Pete Rose kind of player, gets a lot out of limited talent and lots of guts. Márquez, probably Mexico's best player, has broken out this season. Advantage: Barça. I wouldn't mind having Guti on my team, though.

Organizing midfielder: Barça Xavi, Madrid Beckham. Xavi is another Barça player having a breakout year; he's won a spot on the national team. Beckham is not nearly as good as he is famous. Advantage: Barça. I would consider getting rid of Becks if I were Madrid--the guy is too much of a media circus.

Right wing: Barcelona Giuly, Madrid Figo. Figo is getting old and has been in lousy form over the last couple of years. Giuly is a fixture on France's national squad; he looked so good this preseason that they sold off Luis García, a fine player himself. He has not disappointed. Advantage: Barcelona.

Center forward: Barcelona Etoo, Madrid Ronaldo. Etoo is motivated. Very motivated. Ronaldo is another guy wrapped up in a media circus lifestyle. Not that Ronaldo's not great, but I'd rather have Etoo. Ronaldo is a star. Etoo really, really wants to be a bigger star than Ronaldo. Advantage: Barça.

Bench: Barcelona Iniesta, Larsson, Gerard, Sylvinho, Damià. Madrid Owen, Morientes, Celades. Advantage: Tie, more or less.

It looks to me like Barcelona is clearly superior, position for postition. Of course, now they have to play the game.

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