This may look like a match between the title favourites and a mid-table team, but any clash between Malaga and FC Barcelona is always a tightly-contested affair.
The fact that the Catalonians have always found it difficult against the Albicelestes means that Luis Enrique and his men have to devise new strategies to break Malaga down. In their match earlier this season, FC Barcelona managed to nick it 1-0, but evidently struggled to find the back of the net despite appearing to be in control for much of the game.
Meanwhile, for Malaga manager Javi Garcia, it is a matter of squeezing some points out of a fixture in which most of the other teams in the league have been conceding goals by the dozen.
Javi Garcia and his tendency to squeeze out results
The former Villarreal midfielder is a person who sets his team up well — a well-drilled unit that has often managed to eke out results this season. Malaga have been one of the hardest teams to break down, and this has resulted in Garcia’s side having the fourth-best defensive record (conceding just 17 goals in 20 matches) in La Liga so far.
Malaga’s main worry is going forward in attack, but Garcia would probably not want to worry too much about that ahead of the match against FC Barcelona. However, it is important that Malaga set out to attack FC Barcelona on the counter, otherwise the Blaugrana would just grow more and more in confidence. He would be looking at the likes of striker Charles and winger Gonzalo Castro to provide the attacking impetus, while the midfield and defence tries to absorb the pressure form their illustrious opponents.
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Luis Enrique expecting to lay a siege
The biggest piece of news coming out of the FC Barcelona camp is that forward Lionel Messi is fit again, after hobbling off in the match against Athletic Bilbao. This will give a huge boost to an already potent FC Barcelona attack.
On the flip side however, Enrique may end up without the services of Brazilian star Neymar, as the latter has reportedly missed a practice session in the week. However, even if the Brazilian is unavailable, former Atletico Madrid star Arda Turan is set to pick up the pieces from the left wing. Enrique still has a strong enough team, and would be expecting his players to lay siege on the Malaga goal.
Welington Oliviera vs. Luis Suarez
Luis Suarez has been on top form this season, and the Uruguayan has been scoring goals by the dozen. Few teams have been able to stop him, but encouragingly for Javi Garcia, Malaga was one of these sides when they met at the Camp Nou in August last year.
However, it was a stellar performance by Lionel Messi that saw them through, as Thomas Vermaelen scored the only goal of the match. Malaga vice-captain Welington Oliviera has been a key component of the team so far, and would need to bring his A-game to the pitch in order to stop the wily Uruguayan.
Gonzalo Castro vs. Dani Alves
Castro is a new recruit arriving from Real Sociedad in the January transfer window, and would be looking to bolster the team with his darting runs down the left wing. Garcia would be hoping to use the Uruguayan’s pace in attacking transitions, particularly if Malaga are able to win the ball in dangerous positions.
However, Castro will also have to keep an eye on Dani Alves, who himself will be going on the overlap many times in the game. This would be an interesting battle, as Alves might find himself out of position in counter-attacking scenarios.
Charles Oliviera vs. Javier Mascherano
This could turn out to be a rather intense Brazil vs. Argentina battle in the middle of the pitch on Saturday night. In a goal-deprived team like Malaga, Charles has often been the singular ray of hope, netting eight times in La Liga this season.
He would be looking to link up with the midfielders and wingers to latch on to a long ball or a clearance, to get a chance to run at the FC Barcelona defenders. However, Javier Mascherano is not one that will let the Brazilian go that easily. The Argentine can be expected to mark Charles tightly whenever Malaga try to break on the counter.
- One of their key modes of play is the set piece, and it is no surprise that Malaga have scored a third of their goals from set pieces this season. They also possess a very good threat from direct free kicks, with the presence of Welington in their side.
- The Albicelestes have been as strong as ever at the back, having only conceded 17 times in 20 La Liga matches.
- One key way to beat Malaga is through the aerial duels, which they have markedly not been very good at. Altough FC Barcelona have also been poor at this aspect of the game, they do have agile forwards in the form of Suarez and Messi to make a good leap and beat the Malaga defenders in the air.
- On of the biggest problems with Malaga has been their inability to put away their chances properly. Having scored just 15 goals from 20 La Liga matches, their attack seems to be tremendously poor. Garcia has brought in Castro to bolster the attack, and it will be interesting to see how the Uruguayan performs.
- As they play a possession game, FC Barcelona are expected to use a lot of the width that they get down the wings, to increase the space to create their chances. Neymar may not be available, but they also have Arda Turan, and the Turkish attacker has the chance to show that he too is a perfect fit for the Catalonian side.
- We can expect a flurry of through balls in the attacking third of the pitch by FC Barcelona. These through balls may be on the ground or aerial, but this is a key characteristic of their game — something that the Malaga defence needs to be very careful about.
- One thing that the FC Barcelona defense just has not been able to do is lay a proper offside trap. Playing the opponents offside is an important aspect of the game when a team is playing a line as high as the Catalonians, but their defenders just do not seem to have mastered that skill.
- FC Barcelona are very poor while going for the aerial challenges. Their main play is with keeping the ball on the deck, but when it comes to getting the headers, the Blaugrana are found wanting.
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