La Rosaleda, Málaga, Andalusia
21 May, 2011; 18:00 BST
They started their campaign as champions and they are ending it on the same note. FC Barcelona’s fantastic run continues as Guardiola’s side manage to win yet another trophy and keep their eyes set on a priceless tenth on the 28th of May, 2011 at Wembley. The team saw everything from the nadir of a home loss at the hands of Hercules, to the zenith of a manita against a neo-galactic Real Madrid and are on their way to play their second Champions League final in three years.
Last time Barcelona played Malaga, the visitors were mauled at the Camp Nou. Goals from Iniesta, David Villa and Pedro sealed it for the hosts. Portuguese winger Duda notched one up for the visitors, but that wasn’t enough. Messi might not have been on the scorecard, but he made his presence felt with two priceless assists. Xavi, for a change, wore David Villa’s hit-the-woodwork boots and did not disappoint. From relegation contenders to a comfortable tenth position on the table, the Los Boquerones have come a long way under the mentorship of former Real Madrid manager – Manuel Pellegrini.
Team News and Tactical Brief
The Andalusians are confirmed a spot in next season’s La Liga and can go into this match without much stress. In fact, against an almost second string Barca, Manuel Pellegrini can even expect a win and thereby bolster his position as the guardian of Malaga for next season. However, the hosts will be without the services of their in-form attacker – Julio Baptista. The former Real Madrid player has a muscle tear last week, against Athletic Bilbao. With nine goals in eleven appearances for the Andalusian side, Julio’s presence would surely have boosted the squad’s aspirations to snatch three points from the Catalans. The host side’s top scorer, twenty-one year old Venezuelan striker – Salomón Rondón – too will be unavailable for the match. Nevertheless, Manuel Pellegrini’s side are unbeaten in their last eight league games and have won five of their last six – this should be reason enough for them to take on Barcelona at their own backyard.
Argentine defender Martin Demichelis, who has been one of the more influential players in the revival of Malaga, has agreed to a permanent contract with Malaga and will be staying till 2013. However, the red card against Bilbao makes him unable to feature in this match. Jesús Gámez, Weligton and Manu Torres are likely to fill up at the back. However, Pellegrini might not take the risk of fielding only three defenders against Barcelona and the Danish Kris Stadsgaard might just find a place in the Malaga defense. Spanish playmaker Apono, who is known for his work-ethics and spot kicks, will be the man who’ll run the Malaga midfield. Against Barcelona’s ball retention strategy, the Spaniard’s strength and stamina will be a decisive factor for the hosts. Assisting him will be winger Eliseu Pereira, who can stretch the Barcelona defense with his speed. Italian Enzo Maresca is expected to complement Apono at the centre, while the Malaga youth product Recio might just get another chance to impress. In the absence of Baptista and Rondón, Spanish striker Juanmi Jiménez is expected to take up the mantle to lead the attack. Uruguayan striker Sebastián Fernández is expected to partner Juanmi.
Probable Starting XI (4-4-2): Caballero, Torres, Gámez, Weligton, Stadsgaard, Apono, Pereira, Maresca, Recio, Juanmi, Fernández
The champions can afford to drop points now and this is evident from Guardiola’s team selection. As many as eight players will be missing the trip to La Rosaleda. The list comprises of – Valdés, Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Villa, Puyol, Piqué and Gabi Milito (injury). This should give little Leo a reason to sulk some more. With the Pichichi literally out of reach, there’s no point in risking the Argentine before a way bigger trophy – Champions League final against Manchester United. However, it’s Guardiola’s prime duty to get Leo in the best of mental shape before he faces Sir Alex’s men, who would be vowing for revenge. Adriano and Alves have received calls from their national team Brazil, to play against Holland and Romania on June 4th and 7th and will be available for the clash against Malaga.
The squad for the Malaga game comprises of the following players: Pinto, Oier, Sergio Busquets, Pedro, Bojan, Maxwell, Afellay, Adriano, Alves, Abidal, Keita, Mascherano, Jeffren, Fontàs, Thiago, Jonathan dos Santos, Bartra and Sergi Roberto. Mascherano, Busquets, Jeffren, Abidal and Afellay should be automatic choices. Marc Bartra, who replaced Alves in the starting line-up against Deportivo, has been quite decent and deserves another start. Fontàs took a heavy blow on his face but showed a lot of courage and stood up to his task quite impressively, and is also expected to start. Adriano might just get a nod as the left fullback, thereby allowing Abidal to move to the centre to mentor young Fontàs. Sergio Busquets, Mascherano and Keita look to be the most likely combination to run the midfield. Busquets’ ability to build the play will be well complemented by Mascherano’s defensive prowess and Keita’s composure. Up front, beleaguered Bojan is most likely to be partnered by Afellay and Jeffren on either side. Amidst rumour of a possible move away from Barcelona, Bojan will be keen to prove his worth. Pedro can expect some playing time as well prior to the epic clash against Manchester United. Pinto, who is suspended for the Champions League final will be the custodian for the day.
Probable Starting XI (4-3-3): Pinto, Bartra, Fontàs, Abidal, Adriano, Keita, Busquets, Mascherano, Afellay, Bojan, Jeffren
1. Guardiola is the first coach ever in the history of the Liga to win 3 league titles in his first 3 seasons.
2. Real Madrid have won 3 times as many penalties as Barcelona in the Liga this season: 12 vs 4.
3. With 1 game to go, Barcelona scored 31 goals in the second round of the Liga. In the first round, they scored 61 goals.
Key Facts courtesy @barcastuff
TheHardTackle’s PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR
Bojan (FC Barcelona)
The youngster is under a lot of pressure and has attracted a lot of attention from other clubs. His apparent lack of form has forced him to go down the pecking order. In the absence of the first team players, Bojan has one more chance to prove that his future lies at the Camp Nou. The youngster has always delivered when it mattered for Barcelona and it is expected that he’ll do the same when it comes to his future as well.
Málaga CF 1-1 FC Barcelona
With the absence of Baptista and Rondon, Malaga have lost their attacking prowess. However, against a relatively inexperienced Barcelona defense, they are likely to find the back of the net. Barcelona too are expected to grab a goal. A draw won’t hurt either of the two sides, who have achieved their goals already.
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST