Málaga will find a very hospitable Camp Nou on Wednesday night as FC Barcelona play out the remaining three games of La Liga this season. Conditioning the players for the Copa del Rey final on May 25 will be on Pep and Tito’s minds when deciding the starting lineup. No doubt there still will be entertainment for the spectators as Barcelona players try and defend their crest and honor as the league title gets closer and closer for Real Madrid.
After being put inside a pressure cooker for so long, both Barcelona and Real Madrid players showed chinks in their armor. Both teams bowed out of the UEFA Champions League in almost the same manner. In what must have been one of the hardest weeks for players from both sides, Real Madrid’s quest for La Liga cost them the Champions League. Meanwhile for FC Barcelona, it is the fact that they have been competing in the highest of standards consistently for the past four seasons with Guardiola.
Playing under no pressure, Barcelona performed admirably in Vallecas against Rayo this weekend. Even though the home team left the grass long and at times defended with 8 people in the penalty box, there was just no stopping Messi and friends that night. It is really enlightening to see the team back to enjoying the football without all the baggage attached to it. After the cules have shown their undying gratitude and support to the team by still singing even after Torres scored at Camp Nou, you can sense that the whole club evolved as a whole. The president, players, staff, and supporters all learned to be magnanimous in defeat and appreciate the effort that has been given by everyone involved.
The situation couldn’t be more different for Málaga however, as both Málaga and Valencia are currently sitting at the 3rd and 4th place with 55 points, three points ahead of Levante in 5th. With Levante visiting the relegation-threatened Zaragoza and Valencia squaring off with Osasuna, Málaga will want to seek maximum points so as to ensure qualification for the UEFA Champions League football next season.
Málaga has been one of the teams touted to challenge Barcelona-Real Madrid duopoly after being bought by Qatari Sheikh Al Tani in June last year. They haven’t really splashed the cash for a big transfer, but nearly all their transfers are a success. Santi Cazorla has been far ahead as their best performer, Toulalan as one of their most consistent, and Isco as their most promising. So far this season they rely heavily on set-piece situations and short passing to control the opponent. They are not really known for parking the bus although they are resilient and able to protect their lead quite well.
Speaking about team selection, the recent injuries and weekend derby game against Espanyol will be taken into consideration. For tomorrow’s game, Pique, Alexis, Xavi, Villa, Abidal, and Fontas, all will be unavailable. The team will have ample time to prepare for the Copa del Rey final, which is scheduled for almost two weeks after the league ends.
Defense will consist of Valdes, Puyol, Mascherano, Alves, and Montoya. Montoya did well in the left back slot for most of the second half after Adriano was substituted for Alves and tonight’s game will serve well to further give him match experience needed to grow.
Busquets has been the most consistent performer in midfield this season and he’ll be playing together with Iniesta, who returns after a week’s rest, and Thiago, who has been superb all season, including in the 7-0 romp last week and his performances need to be awarded with another start. Fabregas can feature in second half and the derby game against Espanyol.
Messi, Pedro, and Cuenca/Tello will feature in the front three to complete the 4-3-3 formation likely to be employed tonight. With the dwindling number of central defenders after the injury to Pique, a three at the back formation needs Busquets to be put on the back line. After Keita played the full 90 minutes last weekend, it might not be smart to employ him again in a 3-4-3 formation as it requires more work from him in the midfield.
Unlucky to have suffered two losses and one draw in last two weeks, FC Barcelona looks to get their performance back on track with a weekend win against Rayo. It might have been very harsh on Rayo, but it only shows that the team is still capable of creating chances. Finishing them is more of a mental requirement and Barca has been setting their mind to the right priorities.
|Levante||1 – 2||FC Barcelona|
|Chelsea||1 – 0||FC Barcelona|
|FC Barcelona||1 – 2||Real Madrid|
|FC Barcelona||2 – 2||Chelsea FC|
|Rayo Vall.||0 – 7||FC Barcelona|
Villa, Fontas and Abidal continue to be on the long-term absentee list, meanwhile Pique and Alexis are out of the match squad although both have been training separately. Afellay is available after returning last weekend.
Predicted Starting XI: Valdes – Puyol – Mascherano – Montoya – Dani Alves – Busquets – Iniesta – Thiago – Messi – Cuenca – Pedro
They will be playing with full squad tonight. Not a very reliable performance away from home suggests it will be a daunting task for them to overcome Barca.
|Málaga||3 – 0||R. Santander|
|Villarreal||2 – 1||Málaga|
|Málaga||1 – 1||Real Sociedad|
|Osasuna||1 – 1||Málaga|
|Málaga||1 – 0||Valencia|
Predicted Starting XI: Kameni – Weligton – Demichelis – Gamez – Monreal – Camacho – Duda – Joaquin – Cazorla – Eliseu – Rondon
Isco is out on disciplinary sanction meanwhile Caballero, Baptista, Toulalan, Mathijsen are out because of injury. Maresca is still in doubt after recovering in time to be in the match squad.
Without Isco and Toulalan, Málaga will find it hard to match Barcelona in midfield. The previous meeting ended in a 1-4 win for Barcelona in Málaga, so they will play more cautiously tonight. Málaga is not a team that is aggressive or strong in defense, but they will do so to prevent a total domination from Barcelona. Playing under no pressure, Barcelona players will just play as usual and you can expect a spectacle.
FC Barcelona 3 – 1 Málaga CF
Photo credit: Jorge Guerrero/AFP/Getty Images