Barcelona star Mascherano won’t be running scared against Arsenal
Javier Mascherano has one abiding memory of his matches against the team he will face in the Champions League last-16 second-leg at the Camp Nou tonight
“I played Arsenal many times when I was in England,” he says. “They always made me do a lot of running.”
Now playing for the team whose shadows the rest of Europe have been chasing for the last two and half years, Mascherano is set for a rare start and a role reversal — tonight the plan will be that Barcelona do the attacking and Arsenal do the running.
“I played them in the league many times, they knocked us out of Europe and I played them in the League Cup,” he said.
“We usually drew against them and I remember that they always had control of the matches and we always tried to organise ourselves well defensively and hurt them on the counter-attack.”
Former foes such as Mathieu Flamini, Kolo Toure and William Gallas have moved on, but Mascherano believes the heartbeat of the team remains the same.
“I played against Cesc a thousand times. He has that different touch on the ball; that something a little bit special that reminds everyone where he came from.”
Tonight Argentinian Mascherano will face Fabregas with the Arsenal man arguably better suited to wearing the red and blue shirt than Barca's current number 14.
Jumping from the counter-attacking style under Rafa Benitez to Barcelona's constant pouring forward has landed Mascherano on the bench more often than on the pitch.
He started the first home game of the season when Barcelona suffered their only league defeat against little Hercules, has only been named in the starting line-up for 10 league games since and only plays tonight because of Pep Guardiola's injury crisis.
Sergio Busquets will step back into defence to cover the absence through injury and suspension respectively of both Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique.
That will give Mascherano a rare chance to fill the boots of the player who looks like keeping him out of the first team indefinitely. The accusation that he was forced out of Liverpool was the undercurrent to his presentation at Barcelona last August.
“Roy Hodgson knows the truth. This is a happy moment for me so now is not the time to say it, but a lot of lies have been spoken about me,” he said.
The idea that he was forced out of Liverpool doesn't quite sit with something else he said on his first day at Barcelona.
“Last year Liverpool would not let me leave. There was no way they would sell me. They would only let Xabi Alonso leave.”