My two favourite teams play each other on Saturday. I'd find it a lot harder to decide who to cheer for if Riquelme was going to play, but he isn't. Understandably, Roman wants to be present at the birth of his third child. Captain Alvarez picked up an injury in last week's match and will not be available. A shame, as he's been playing well. Also missing for Villarreal are long-term injury victims Pires, Gonzalo and now Nihat.
On the Barca side of things, Motta has a fever of all things and Marquez is nursing a knock from the Levski game. Both are okay to play, but are left out for precautionary reasons. This means that Thuram (or, for a surprise, Oleguer) and Edmilson should probably start. However, Belletti is available after sitting out quite a few weeks because of various injuries. Other than that, long-term injury victims Messi, Eto'o and Saviola are also unavailable, although word on the latter is that he will make a faster than expected recovery from his muscle problem.
It's fair to say that so far this season the form of the Submarines have given me more grief than the form of Barca. It's been incredibly frustrating at times to watch them struggle at a mediocre level when you know what they are capable of. While the same might be said of Barca at times, at least the blaugrana league position does not reflect that. (If you want to see a big side who are really having problems, look down and read my post on AC Milan.) The difference being that Rijkaard's side know how to focus, work hard and grind out results every week even when things aren't going smoothly. This is a game Barca will be looking to take full points from, despite the difficulties Villarreal have given them in the past, especially away in El Madrigal. It won't be easy, but going by past record, it should at least be entertaining.
The big game, though, will be Valencia v Real. Unfortunately David Villa has been added to the incredibly long injury list at Valencia, but there are conflicting reports on whether or not he will play. Doctor's orders recommended at least 7 more days of rest, that's all I'll say. If I were coach Flores I'd use a 4-5-1, kind of like the one he used against Barca, but with Morientes alone up front. (No matter how important this game is, it's not worth risking losing Villa for longer.) Assuming, of course, that he can find 5 fit midfielders. After all, 'El Moro' has a record of scoring against his old club.
Guti is unavailable for Real, being both suspended and injured. The only other relevant injuries for Real (meaning players who are even remotely likely to start) are Ronaldo, facing a late fitness test, and Helguera, who is doubtful.
This is a big game for Valencia, no doubt about that, but it's also a chance for Real to shut the mouths of some critics. If they can win by a comfortable margin, then it would be difficult for anyone to doubt them as a genuine, consistent force this season. Only the most purist of Real supporters would be booing Capello's style after that.
The other interesting game between two 'big' sides is Celta hosting Real Zaragoza. Personally, I'm hoping that Zaragoza end up in Europe next season, because players like Aimar, the Milito brothers, and D'Alessandro deserve to be seen on a bigger stage. But Celta are in Europe now, which could affect their league form this season. They're a great counter-attacking side away from home, but in their own stadium they're obliged to come out and play more, which could create gaps for Zaragoza - also great on the counter - to exploit. Should be a cracker.
a (very short) note on Frank Rijkaard
Ronaldinho says that he can't imagine a Barca without Rijkaard. You hear that, club suits?
Random headline fun
"Messi and Mascherano Followed By Inter"
That's not 'following' in Messi's case. That's called stalking, especially when Barca have pretty much slapped a huge, neon yellow, blinking 'hands off' sign on the young Argentine. Moratti kind of creeps me out when he goes on about how the only player he goes crazy for is Messi, how he dreams about bringing Messi to Inter, etc etc - and he does it all the time.