BARCELONA, Spain — Barcelona’s home match against Getafe on Saturday promises to be one for aficionados of coaching strategies to savor.
The match not only pits two of the top three teams in the Spanish league, it will also contrast the two most dissimilar playing styles in the competition.
Ever since Johan Cruyff returned to coach Barcelona in the late 1980s, the club has not wavered from its doctrine of dominating the ball and picking opponents apart with an intricate passing attack.
Getafe has surpassed expectations for two consecutive seasons by playing hard-nosed defense that breaks the rhythm of rivals, and wears them down so its forwards can produce decisive finishes.
The game plan and teamwork drawn out of middling talent by coach Jose Bordalas has allowed the small club from southern Madrid to out-perform richer clubs.
Getafe’s budget is less than 60 million euros ($65 million), putting it in the middle of the financial power ranking of the 20-team league. That is compared to around 170 million euros for Valencia and more than 600 million euros each for Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Bordalas’s players tackle hard, hustle to help one another, and rarely leave their defense exposed when they counterattack.
Opponents frequently walk away saying that playing the physical Getafe is just no fun.
“Getafe has a magnificent team and when you don’t go out there to compete you are going to suffer,” Valencia coach Albert Celades said after his team was manhandled by Getafe 3-0 in the last round.
That fourth straight win by Getafe lifted it into third place.
Lionel Messi’s injury-hit Barcelona will face a defense anchored by Togo center back Djene Dakonam and team leader Damian Suarez.
“Barcelona is a great team and we have lots of respect for them, but I don’t want to talk about our rival. I only want to talk about us and how we are going to fight to get a good result,” Dakonam said.
Dakonam and his teammates have been living up to that talk.
With the defense tough, the forwards have delivered consistent scoring. Three strikers share time in Bordalas’ two-man attack. Angel Rodriguez leads with 13 goals in all competitions, followed by Jaime Mata’s 10. Jorge Molina, who is playing some of his best soccer at age 37, has chipped in with seven.
Rodriguez has been included among the small group of players that the Spanish sports media speculates is in the orbit of Barcelona.
Barcelona has asked the league for permission to sign a player outside the transfer window to fill in for the long-term injury sustained by Ousmane Dembele. He will miss the rest of the season after surgery on a torn right hamstring. Striker Luis Suarez is also out for several weeks.
Barcelona coach Quique Setien, a confessed follower of Cruyff’s school, needs a win to keep the pressure on leader Real Madrid. Barcelona trails Madrid by three points. Getafe is another seven points back.
Setien may have some trouble patching together a defense. Clement Lenglet is serving a one-game suspension, while Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti are doubtful due to injury concerns.
That may mean Setien will be forced into drafting midfielder Sergio Busquets into playing as a central defender, or playing with a three-man back line.
Either way, Getafe will be looking to test that defense and pull off a surprise at Camp Nou.