And here we are, the end. The 2012/3 La Liga season (finally) reaches its conclusion for FC Barcelona tomorrow evening at 19:00 local time versus Málaga. With the league having being secured ages ago, off the field stories have taken center stage in the world of Barça, first Neymar’s confirmation, then the emotional and polarizing press conference of Èric Abidal and earlier Victor Valdés’s clearing of the air. But, Football Club Barcelona is at its crux a sporting institution and for now we return focus (what little is left) to just that. So who has more motivation tomorrow? The pseudo-importance of the 100 point record for the blaugrana or having already qualified for a competition they likely will never compete in for Málaga? The most important part of the evening won’t even be the match, it will be the final sure to be teary adieu to Èric Abidal. Details after the jump.
Málaga seemed a sure bet for the financially rich 4th spot just several months ago, irrespective of the UEFA ban. Manuel Pellegrini had them drilled into the best defensive unit in the league, conceding only 16 in the first 19 matches with nine clean sheets. Yet a similar story has been at play, one seen so many times before. The very success Málaga was having in the Champions League became their downfall. During that intensive February to April period, a thin squad both quantitatively and qualitatively could not handle the rigors of both competitions and Málaga began to suffer domestically. In the second half of the season they have conceded 30 goals and managed only four clean sheets. The correlation is actually startlingly clear. Málaga lost in three of the four La Liga matches directly proceeding a Champions League tie: first at Betis (0-3), then a home defeat to Espanyol (0-2), and a road loss versus Real Sociedad (2-4). Poor form since February has them now in 6th position and in danger of losing that to Betis should Pellegrini lose at the Camp Nou and Betis win versus Levante in Valencia. Manuel Pellegrini is off to Manchester City, they lost their best player last summer, they are banned from UEFA competitions at this point in time so one can say that thus far Málaga looks the runt of the nouveau riche litter.
Lionel Messi has travelled to Argentina today with the club’s permission, though they will be monitoring his recovery to ensure Argentina does not push him unnecessarily into playing in the World Cup qualifiers versus Colombia and Ecuador. Carles Puyol will also not feature in the match. Èric Abidal did train and without doubt he will play in the match versus Málaga.
Predicted Starting XI: Valdés; Montoya, Piqué, Abidal, Alba; Thiago, Song, Iniesta; Pedro, Fàbregas, Tello
Match squad: TBA
Spain begin their defense of the under-21 European Championship June 6th in Jerusalem versus Russia but reports indicate that squad members Isco and Ignacio Camacho will participate for Málaga tomorrow. Saviola should return but Martín Demichelis, Carlos Kameni, and Iturra are doubtful.
Predicted Starting XI: Caballero; J.Gámez, Lugano, Weligton, Eliseu; Camacho, Toulalan; Joaquín, Baptista, Isco; Saviola
Match squad: TBA
Barça has a great historical record versus Málaga so another victory won’t come as a shock. The opposing keeper Willy Caballero has been in spectacular form this season and of late has even been linked to Barça (unlikely at best) so perhaps he has some motivation to promote his personal brand.
This match will certainly not be remembered for the result so more than anything let’s enjoy the celebrations in store for Abidal. Sandro Rosell has called on the fans and members to attend the Camp Nou in full force and “show Abi what he means to them” in his final goodbye. Following the match, players will don a “MERCI ABI22″ t-shirt and on the center circle 22 children will create a passage of honor for Abidal, his children and his cousin Gerard, the liver donor. The stadium will then put on a video in homage to Èric with all the best images of his six years, followed by Carles Puyol giving him a commemorative shirt signed by all his teammates and friends. The night will end with Abidal’s final speech which is sure to be emotional and then the team and staff will form one final pasillo for King Èric to leave the Camp Nou pitch for the final time.
Image Credit: fcbarcelona.cat