Camp Nou, Barcelona
January 17th, 2011, 1:30 AM, IST
Week 19 brings to an end the first round of matches between each side in the Primera Division. Barca will be hosting a new looking Malaga at the Camp Nou. This will be the clash between the first and sixteenth placed team in the league. Barca has won the last 5 matches between these two teams and goes into this match as firm favorites. Malaga has lost their last four matches on the road and faces a huge task at the Camp Nou.
It has been a goal festival every time Barcelona takes the field. They have scored on an average of 3 goals in 2011. Their average possession this season is around 70%. They played their full strength squad against Real Betis, except Victor Valdes, to take a huge step towards securing a semi-final berth in the domestic cup competition during the mid-week. Malaga comes to Camp Nou looking to cause an upset. They drew their last game against Bilbao and are looking to move away from the drop zone. Their new management has brought in a number of players and with the latest addition of Julio Baptista, they are looking to get something from this match.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Week in and week out this team continues to produce amazing football. Pep is well aware of the fact that his side cannot afford to relax. This is evident from his selection as he continues to send out his best possible players, without taking too many risks. Thankfully, goals are not a problem and the comprehensive nature of their victories suggests that the team is functioning well. They are chasing a record 28th successive game without defeat, the longest in their history.
Pep Guardiola has no injury worries and has the full squad to pick from. Xavi has recovered from his injury and is the pivot. Guardiola is expected to field a strong team as he knows that the Copa del Rey match is almost in the bag and he can rest some of his key players during the second leg. Xavi, Iniesta and Messi are all expected to start. Abidal could return back to his favoured left side and Afellay is expected to get a little more time than he actually did in the last two games. With both Xavi and Iniesta in the line-up, he Malaga defense has a tough task at their hands to contain two creative outlets. Messi is in great form and he often drops deep to assist the midfield. Given the fact that Baptista could start for Malaga, Mascherano could start this match to give an extra protection to deal with physical aspect of the Brazilian.
Possible Starting XI: Valdes – Alves – Pique – Puyol – Abidal – Mascherano – Xavi – Iniesta – Pedro – Villa – Messi
Malaga had an inconsistent season so far and they found themselves hovering near the bottom of the league. The new owners have opened up their checkbooks and have brought in a host of players during this winter transfer window. The latest inclusion in the squad is Julio Baptista who could make his debut this game. Sergio Asenjo, Martin Demichelis, Enzo Maresca and Ignacio Camacho are some of the other signings. This gives a lot of options to Manuel Pellegrini who is looking to rebuild and start their journey aiming towards the top. There is no doubting the fact that this team is improving and certainly will be looking to give the hosts a run for their money. To address the Andalucian club’s defensive owes, they are also looking at Gabi Milito from Barcelona. It is believed that the deal is almost done or could be done as soon as the match is over.
Tactically it is hard to see anything other than a very defensive Malaga side at the Camp Nou. They will be parking at least a bus and will be looking to attack on the counter with the likes of Baptista. The main reason being their wretched defensive record this season. Pellegrini has a lot of options for this team but he will be looking to keep it tight at the back. Barcelona will be fielding a strong team given the fact that they can afford to take a breather in the second leg of the Copa del Rey match next mid-week.
With a whole lot of new winter signings both on-loan and low profile permanent deals, it is a difficult line up to predict. Given the defensive fragilities, Pellegrini could start Demichelis in defense and the promising goal keeper Sergio Asenjo will be between the posts. Baptista will lead the attack and could cause some problems to Barca’s defense.
Possible Starting XI: Sergio Asenjo – Demichelis – Oliviera – Micho – Mtiliga – Maresca – Camacho – Dos Santos – Valente – Baptista – Rondon.
1. Barcelona is looking to break the current club record of 27 games unbeaten which was set by Rinus Michel’s side of 1974.
2. Rondon is the top scorer for Malaga with 7 goals and Messi with 18 leads Barca’s goal tally.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Lionel Messi – FIFA Ballon d’Or 2010 (FC Barcelona)
We have reached a point where it is almost impossible to describe what he does on the field. There are not enough superlatives to describe his game and the magical moments he produces almost every time he gets the ball. He is now the youngest player to have won the Ballon d’Or twice. It is scaring to note that he is just 23 years old. An important point to be noted this season is that he has now improved his playmaking skills. He sets up goals for his team mates as much as he himself scores. Messi is almost impossible to defend against and his goal stats are astonishing to say the least. Along with Iniesta and Xavi, unlocking a defense should not be an issue for him.
FC Barcelona 3 – 0 Malaga
Despite Pellegrini’s claims that his side won’t sit back and defend, it is hard to see more than just a defensive Malaga at the Camp Nou. Coming out against Barca will be suicidal as both Espanyol and Real Betis found out this season. The best option for Malaga is to soak up the pressure and use Batista’s attacking ability to find a way to goal. It is a daunting task for Pellegrini to get anything out of this game.
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST