La Rosaleda, Malaga
August 25, 2013; 21:00 hrs Local Time
The domestic season couldn’t have started on a better note for Barcelona. However, the Super Cup was a kind of rude awakening. While Levate were decimated, Atletico Madrid provided a greater challenge and it is evident that the team needs to work on their execution of the ‘new’ strategies under Martino. The outings against Levante and Atletico were contrasting – in the former, the Catalans dictated the tempo and in the latter they mostly played second fiddle to the Rojiblancos.
Against Levante, Barcelona came close to their goal-scoring exploits in the first round of La Liga that they manifested way back in 1950, against Real Sociedad where they won 8-2 – Luis Aloy Vidal and Miklós Szegedi scored 1 each, Estanislao Basora got a brace and the superstar César Rodríguez found the back of the net as many as 4 times. However, if this is any indication to go by, then the end of the season isn’t going to be to the liking of Cules. Barcelona finished 4th in 1950-51, behind Atletico Madrid, Sevilla and Valencia.
This weekend, the opposition is a stronger one and the match is away from home. Malaga did not start their campaign on a promising note and after a 1-0 loss to Valencia, Bernd Schuster’s side will be eager to get their first points from this match.
Team News & Tactical Brief
They have bled during the transfer window this summer and have lost the likes of Isco (to Real Madrid), Jeremy Toulalan (to AS Monaco), Julio Baptista (to Cruzeiro), Joaquin (to Fiorentina), Javier Saviola (to Olympiakos) – and most importantly, their manager, Manuel Pellegrini, who is now the boss of nouveau riche Manchester City. The Andalusian club has the penchant to draw personnel rejected by Real Madrid and their new manager Bernd Schuster isn’t an exception. Against Valencia, the result could have gone either way, but for Ricardo Costa’s goal, who capitalized on a mistake by Willy Caballero.
Under Schuster, Malaga are playing the in vogue 4-1-4-1 which of course changes to a 4-2-3-1 as per the team’s needs. Last season, under Pellegrini, they played a more fluent and rigid 4-2-3-1 and had Isco – one of the top young players on the planet along with a host of other effective players. Their double pivot comprised Toulalan and Iturra – unfortunately, both have departed the club. Under Schuster, they are playing Fernando Tissone as the defensive midfielder with Sergi Darder. However against Barcelona, they are expected to start the two defensive midfielders to stifle the Catalans at the centre of the pitch. This will be the most crucial part on the pitch, which can make or break the final outcome.
In defense, Antunes and Gamez are to start on either end, with Chen and Angeleri at the centre. While the fullbacks had a decent outing against Valencia, Chen (who moved to Malaga from San Francisco FC, Panama, for a sum of € 400,000) and Marcos Angeleri (who moved to Malaga from Estudiantes de La Plata, Argentina, for a sum of € 230,000) looked unsettled, and Martino will certainly look to ruffle them even further – and this is exactly where the defensive midfield duo – Tissone and Darder will have their task cut out. While it was Willy Caballero’s error that lead to Valencia’s winning goal, he still remains Malaga’s first choice and will be one of the first names on the team-sheet.
Upfront, Roque Santa Cruz will lead the offense and will be aided by the trio of Duda, Morales and Fabrice to assist him. Barcelona still have a makeshift defense – and will remain so, as long as Javier Mascherano is slotted beside Pique, despite the fact that Mascherano was quite decent against Atletico; the Malaga frontmen will know how frail they are to counter-attacks at breakneck speed. Unfortunately for them, Isco isn’t there who could have taken advantage of even the smallest of follies.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Caballero; Antunes, Chen, Angeleri, Gamez; Tissone, Darder; Duda, Morales, Fabrice; Santa Cruz.
A dream start, followed by a reality check in the form of Atletico Madrid, Martino will be wary of Malaga, away from the comforts of the Camp Nou. More importantly, tests have revealed that Messi has a bruised muscle in his left thigh, from Wednesday’s 1-1 draw against Atletico. The diminutive Argentine missed several games at the end of last season because of a nagging right hamstring strain and of late his injuries have been recurring – perhaps signs of wear and tear after excessive football.
The defense has not seen any reinforcement but Martino has promised more rotation, which means more playing time for Bartra and maybe Franck Bagnack of Barcelona B. Nevertheless, it remains almost as fragile as it was last season and Atletico Madrid highlighted it even more in the midweek clash. In defense, Alves and Alba are expected to start. However, there is a slight possibility that Martino may hand Adriano his first start of the season. In the centre, Pique and Mascherano are again likely to start.
In the midfield, Iniesta had possibly one of the worst nights of his career and Xavi looked like age has finally caught up with him. However they are likely to start. Up front Alexis had a great run and contributed to offense and defense. Martino’s liking for Alexis is evident and this term, the Chilean might get an extended run to prove his worth to the world. The new manager has not been coy to take brave decisions and it seems likely that he isn’t going to risk the injured Lionel, so early into the season. This paves the way for Cesc Fabregas to lead the offense at the top. His 5-assist outing against Levante might just be the signal Barcelona fans were waiting for – the Fabregas who was wrested from Arsenal might just come to his usual high standards this season – the time when Barcelona need him the most. Neymar had a great cameo against Atletico and scored the vital equaliser for Barcelona – a goal of top quality. He might not get a start, as yet, but he is certain to feature at some point of time. Pedro is expected to fill up for David Villa on the left.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Valdes; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Pedro, Fabregas, Alexis.
- Last season FC Barcelona scored 115 goals in the domestic league. Malaga scored 53.
- Away from home, FC Barcelona lost 2 matches. Malaga lost 4 at home.
- The aggregate score of these 2 teams was 7-2 (Barcelona 4-1 Malaga; Malaga 1-3 Barcelona).
- Santa Cruz was Malaga’s top scorer last season with 13 goals. Lionel Messi was Barcelona’s top scorer with 60 goals.
Player To Watch Out For
Alexis Sanchez (FC Barcelona)
After a fabulous pre-season, it is apparent that Alexis is one of Martino’s favourite players and with his work-rate, it is difficult not to be one. It may have taken him 2 years, but he finally seems to be the player Barcelona wanted. However, it’s still not clear whether they needed him or not. In the probable absence of Lionel Messi, he will have an added responsibility to find the back of the net. And the Chilean too will be aware of this. His pace and skill may be a little too much for the recently acquired Malaga defense.
Malaga 1-3 FC Barcelona
While Malaga will have the advantage of their home support, Barcelona will be a difficult opposition, especially for a team that has lost some of their key players this summer. They are still in the transition phase and perhaps it is not the right time to face a group of players who are far too incisive for Malaga’s liking. The home advantage might get them a goal but their defense will find it difficult to cope with the continuous onslaught of the visiting Catalans.
Blast From The Past