On Tap

A couple of good match-ups this week-end in Spain and Italy, with Barcelona traveling to Madrid to meet Atletico and Inter going south to take on fourth place Napoli. In Argentina, San Lorenzo’s early form struggle will be tested once again, this time against visiting Velez Sarsfield who is enjoying a confident Clausura start, while in England the Premiership is on pause for the FA Cup competition.

Much of the discussion around Barca’s trip to Madrid has revolved around all of the defensive absences for the blaugrana. Dani Alves, Abidal, Ya Ya Toure, Czghrinsky and Rafa Marquez are all out through injury or suspension. It will not be a problem. Puyol and Milito will be solid in the middle, Maxwell will fill in capably for Abidal, and on the right side Guardiola has options. One option is launching one of the three young Barca reserve players called up to training during the week, most likely Albert Dalmau. Another option is to move a midfielder back to cover the right side. Iniesta was used at right back during Rijkaard’s era, though he is too valuable in the construction now to sacrifice. If necessary, maybe Keita? More importantly, as the saying goes, a good offense is the best defense. Barcelona will be fine and will take three points.

That’s because Atletico, despite reaching the Spanish Cup final this week and salvaging an otherwise erratic season, is still an inconsistent group. Defensively the colchoneros have big problems and will definitely need to upgrade in the summer. Perea still plays without confidence and will be under permanent stress. The key will be Atletico’s midfield. If they can in any way disrupt Xavi, Iniesta and Messi during the construction phase and not chase shadows the entire game, there is a chance. Kun Aguero, Forlan and Simao must also deliver big games, worthy of their statures. In any event or outcome, it should be an enjoyable match.

Inter boss Mourinho declared himself satisfied with the point earned away at Parma in very cold conditions that did not suit his players at all. It will be slightly warmer at the San Paolo on Sunday, in what should be a charged atmosphere. Napoli’s sensational streak of 15 matches without defeat came to an end last week-end at Udinese, but the club’s spirits were further bolstered by the return of Ezequiel Lavezzi who has recovered from a muscular injury and will be fit for the encounter. Napoli plays an exciting brand of calcio fueled by dynamic young players like Marek Hamsik, Lavezzi, Maggio, Quagliarella and Denis. Inter is a veteran team with tactical superiority. Should be fun to watch.

The match of the week-end in Argentina comes Sunday in Bajo Flores, the poor neighborhood on the fringes of Buenos Aires, where San Lorenzo’s Nuevo Gasometro is located. San Lorenzo is under scrutiny after two consecutive defeats, one understandable but worrisome against Estuudiantes, the other unacceptable. Argentina’s Clausura season is young, but short. With so many high priced veteran players, a lot of questions have been raised about the system employed by “Cholo” Simeone. On paper, San Lorenzo has the most potent roster in Argentina, or is it? Bottinelli, Kily Gonzalez, Leyva and Aguirre have performed poorly thus far, the offensive unit anemic. Simeone is a strong manager, but can he step in and withdraw an ineffective veterans, for instance? This week-end’s match against a good Velez team is a true test of character for San Lorenzo. The best news from San Lorenzo: Pablo Pintos is back. The Uruguayan is phenomenal and it is just a matter of time until he is transferred to Italy or Spain for a ton of pesos.

San Lorenzo Hinchada