Ai?? Ai?? Ai?? Ai?? Ai?? MALAGA CF

Ai?? Ai?? Ai?? Ai?? Ai??v

Ai?? Ai?? Ai?? Ai??FC BARCELONA

Ai?? Ai?? Ai?? Ai?? Ai?? Ai?? La Rosaleda

Ai?? Ai?? Ai?? Ai?? Ai?? Ai?? Ai??Sunday, January 22, 2012

Ai?? Ai?? Ai?? Ai?? Ai?? Ai?? ***

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On matchday 1 of La Liga, Barcelona will travel to La Rosaleda to face Malaga. Yes, you read it right -Ai??matchday 1. After the strike in August 2011, which saw the first weekend of La Liga action postponed, matchday 1 will finally be played this weekend, with matchday 20 (the first of the second half of the season) postponed to May.

This is one of the most difficult away games left in La Liga for the defending champions, who have no margin for error if they wish to defend their title successfully. Ai??Malaga, on the other hand, will be looking to upset the Catalan juggernaut and collect some important points in their quest for a European spot.

Team News and Tactical Brief

Malaga CF

The Noveau Riche team of La Liga hasn’t had a good start to the year. They lost a very tight Copa del Rey tie against Real Madrid, and got only one point in their two La Liga matches, tying 0-0 at home against Bilbao and losing 2-1 at lowly Sporting Gijon. Former Espanyol keeper Kameni was signed a few days ago and it will be interesting to see if he will get to start against Barcelona already, especially after Willy Caballero cost Malaga the Copa del Rey tie against Real Madrid with a shocking blunder.

Manuel Pellegrini has been under scrutiny lately and it is rumored that some Malaga fans aren’t very pleased with him following the latest negative results, and there’d be no better way to put an end to all doubts than with a win (or even a draw) against FC Barcelona.

With Julio Baptista out and Rudd Van Nistelrooy far from his prime years, Malaga have struggled to score lately, despite creating a lot of attacking football, with players like Cazorla and Isco being particularly impressive. Ai??Malaga will hope that Van Nistelrooy can somehow summon his best form in order to trouble Barcelona’s defensive line.

A former Real Madrid manager, Manuel Pellegrini will surely do his best to (even if unintentionally) help his former employers in the title race. His strategy should be similar to the one that almost yielded the desired results against Real Madrid in the Copa – defending as solidly as possible and exploiting the pace of Cazorla, Eliseu and Isco to wreak havoc. Considering Barcelona’s poor away form (for their standards) so far this season, an upset here is definitely possible.

Probable Lineup: Kameni, Sergio Sanchez, Mathijshen, Demichelis, Monreal; Cazorla, Toulalan, Isco, Seba Fernandez, Eliseu; Rudd Van Nistelrooy

Probable Starting Line-up

FC Barcelona

Barcelona will surely be extremely motivated ahead of this match. The Catalan outfit travelled to the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday and got a sensational 2-1 win at the turf of their eternal rivals in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarter finals, with Carles Puyol and Ai??ric Abidal the unlikely goalscorers. The morale boost generated by yet another El ClA?sico victory will surely be very important for Barcelona in the league as well; with Real Madrid currently holding a five point lead at the top of La Liga, Barcelona have no margin for error. If they wish to win their fourth consecutive title, they can’t afford to drop points.

So far, Barcelona’s away record has been far from impressive; in eight away games, the club only won three, tied four and lost one. This is a record that urgently needs to be improved; if not, Barcelona will soon be out of the title race.

Aware of the importance of this match, Pep Guardiola should field a similar lineup to the one who faced Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. The only guaranteed change is that ValdAi??s will play instead of Pinto, who is only used by Pep Guardiola in every Copa del Rey game and when ValdAi??s is injured in other competitions. Ai??There’s also the possibility that Javier Mascherano might start ahead of Carles Puyol, who might be given a rest ahead of next Wednesday’s second leg of the Copa quarters. Other than that, it should be the exact same lineup; with Pedro and Villa both out, Cesc Fabregas, Alexis Sanchez and Lionel Messi are pretty much the only front three that Pep Guardiola can select these days. There’s also Cuenca, but he’s not been in the first team for long yet and it’s unlikely Pep will risk him in such a vital and difficult game.

Barcelona’s strategy will be pretty much the same it has been ever since Pep Guardiola took charge in the summer of 2008; the club has a very clear identity on the pitch and it is not about to change any time soon. Barca will play their usual possession football, looking for gaps in the Malaga defense, and press Malaga all over the pitch as soon as they lose the ball. Pep Guardiola will try to instill a sense of urgency in his players, which has been lacking in some of the away games this season and that must absolutely be there on Sunday if Barcelona wish to take the three points home.

TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR

Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)

Can the world’s best player score at La Rosaleda?

Lionel Messi has recently lifted his third consecutive Ballon d’Or and is once again having an extraordinary season. But in this year’s La Liga he has shown a weird tendency to leave his scoring boots at home. The little Argentine has scored 19 goals so far in La Liga, a spectacular 18 in 10 games at Camp Nou (almost two per game) but only one in eight away games, in added time at San MamAi??s. Ai??Barcelona’s life would be made a lot easier if the world’s best player could start finding his scoring away from home as well, starting this weekend at La Rosaleda.

TheHardTackle’s PREDICTION

Malaga CF 2-2 FC Barcelona

Barcelona are widely recognized as the greatest side of this generation, but given the lack of motivation and relatively unimpressive results in away league games this season, it’s not exactly bold to predict that they might seriously struggle at Malaga. Manuel Pellegrini’s side has the quality to upset the mighty Catalans and that’s what they will do to a Barcelona side who might already have their heads in next Wednesday’s El ClA?sico.

TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST

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