Camp Nou, Barcelona
1st June, 2013, 19:00 hrs CET
Match number 38. Final match-day of the season. FC Barcelona have won the league and Malaga will have to fight for a place in Europe. With all the attention focused on new signing Neymar, the hullabaloo about the 100-point season has taken a backseat. However, beneath the garb of a supposedly stunning transfer, perhaps lies the deep dark ambition of Rosell to strengthen his position for the next presidential election. But has he done enough? The club has been humiliated in Europe, by Bayern Munich – a team which got decimated at half-time even a few years back. This Bayern team is certainly better than that one, but the 7-0 (over two legs) shows how much Barcelona has fallen. It’s not marquee signings (read Neymar) but resurrection from this mess will only ensure Rosell a place in the history of Barcelona.
Malaga has been in a lot of problem this season. Their exceptional outing in Europe was brought to a halt by the eventual finalists, Borussia Dortmund. However, they did not go down without a fight. As good as their European campaign has been, their domestic stint has been equally appalling. They lie 6th just two points above Real Betis. Betis play their last match, away against Levante and a win will take them one point ahead of Malaga, should the latter lose to Barcelona. Moreover the financial fair play embargo, the potential loss of Manuel Pellegrini and a host of other stars in Inso, Joaquin, et al, will not only hurt the team in Europe(if they qualify), but also domestically. All in all, one of the finest seasons in Europe for Malaga has come to an end and it may quite some time, before they get back there.
Last time Barcelona and Malaga played each other, it was at the La Rosaleda. Malaga played well but Barcelona ended the first half of the season with their 18th win. Messi and Fabregas earned them the lead in the first 45 minutes. Thiago extended it further in the 80th minute and in the end the only consolation goal for Malaga was by substitute Buonanotte. That match gave Barcelona a historic 18-point lead over then 3rd placed Real Madrid – it was perhaps then that the league has been won. Many would claim that the inertia of the Guardiola era might have taken the team over the finish line, and not many will be about to counter the argument.
Team News and Tactical Brief
The major concern that Vilanova will have is perhaps reaching the 60% mark for Thiago. Apparently if Thiago features in less than 60% of Barcelona’s matches this season, his release clause will be a meager 18 million Euros. Thiago has now played 35 games out of 59, which is 59.32% – and it is for sure that he will start against Malaga to make it 36 out of 60 – perfect 60%, to take his release clause to 90 million Euros, which is quite a steep price. Thiago’s stay at Barcelona is important, for he offers something which none of the members in the squad do. Moreover his ability to take a shot from a distance is perhaps as good as it gets and it’s time Barcelona exploit those. In the midfield, Xavi and Busquets are expected to do their normal duties alongside Thiago.
At the back, Dani Alves has already flown home to join the Brazil national team on international duty. Adriano is likely to start and beside him will be Pique and Mascherano, who has recovered well from a knee injury and Alba. Victor Valdes will start at the Camp Nou. Up front Lionel Messi will be absent. He has won the Pichichi, and in his absence, the offensive duties will be entrusted on Fabregas, Sanchez and for one last time on David Villa. The former Valencia striker has suitors from England and in order to keep his claim, for a berth in Spain’s national team, alive, he needs regular football, which at this moment doesn’t seem likely at Barcelona – more so after the acquisition of Neymar. As a sign of tribute, Vilanova should start Villa as the captain of Barcelona for this match.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Valdes; Adriano, Pique, Mascherano, Alba; Thiago, Busquets, Xavi; Fabregas, Alexis, Villa.
Here too a host of players might just be playing their last match for the Andalusian club. Manuel Pellegrini has already signed off from La Rosaleda and this match will be his last in Spain as a manager of a Spanish team. Malaga is the more desperate team of the two and they will not sit back at the Camp Nou. Up front, Javier Saviola is expected to lead the Malaga offense with Julio Baptista just behind him. Isco and Joaquin will assist from either side and this offensive combination has all it takes to open up the fragile Barcelona defense.
Further down, Jeremy Toulalan and Manuel Iturra are expected to act as the double pivot and provide balance to Malaga’s shape. The duo will work in tandem to stifle the Barcelona midfield and also spray passes to the offensive players. Coming fresh from a comprehensive 3-1 vistory over relegation-threatened Deportivo, Malaga will be confident to deal with the Barcelona, who are jaded and might just the motivation.
In defense, Jesus Gamez and Eliseu will start on either side with Weligton and Demichelis at the centre. Willi Caballero, a prospective candidate to replace Victor Valdes, will start under the post for Malaga.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Caballero; Gamez, Weligton, Demichelis, Eliseu; Toulalan, Iturra; Isco, Baptista, Joaquin; Saviola.
Key Match Facts
- Barcelona have won their last 14 home matches in La Liga.
- Barcelona have scored at least 2 goals in 31 of their last 34 matches in La Liga.
- Malaga have lost their last 4 away matches in La Liga.
Player To Watch Out For
Thiago Alcantara ( FC Barcelona )
This is his chance to show that Barcelona do have a terrific young talent, whom they may not have identified properly. Thiago will provide the spark in the midfield which is essential in a match like this. His spirits can help the team to step up and go for the 100-point mark.
FC Barcelona 2-1 Malaga
The match is at Camp Nou and the home crowd will act as the 12th man. Malaga have lost the last 4 away matches and this one looks to follow suit. However, in football it’s always a matter of one particular day and Malaga certainly has the potential to make matchday 38, that day.