FC Barcelona wasted a golden opportunity to go top of the La Liga table as they lost two to nil away to Málaga CF. The team was set up all wrong from the start with an obvious eye towards Champions League play on Tuesday as an excuse. Luis Enrique must shoulder a lot of the blame, but the players themselves must take a serious look in the mirror if there is any doubt why the club won’t win the league this year.
After a dominating performance against Sevilla FC with three in the back the club reverted back to the their classic 4-3-3 formation against Málaga. Marc-André ter Stegen started in goal while Jordi Alba, Jérémy Mathieu, Samuel Umtiti, and Javier Mascherano made up the backline. The latter strangely started the match as a right back. An inefficient midfield was made up of Denis Suárez, Sergio Busquets, and André Gomes. As per usual MSN started as an attacking trident up front.
From a Barcelona perspective the first half was known more from the yellows they received rather than the shots they had on target. Alba got a yellow for afters in the 8th minute, Umtiti earned one for a foul in the 33rd minute, and most importantly Neymar got a silly yellow for time wasting by disallowing a free kick to be taken in the 27th minute. Luis Suarez was denied a glorious chance on goal by Barcelona’s vintage foil Carlos Kameni after a delicious long ball from Alba. Gomes wasted the only other decent chance of the half after he was bodied off the ball in the box after a Lionel Messi dribble and beautiful threaded through ball.
Poor lineup choices, ineffective play, and silly cards aside Barcelona always struggle when coming up against former players. When Malaga’s starting lineup was announced one name stood out boldly on the team sheet, former youth and senior side member Sandro was tasked with leading their line. In the 32nd minute he broke the hearts of Barcelona faithful worldwide. With his great speed, he easily beat Mathieu’s poor attempt to play offside and found himself with Barcelona’s entire half at his disposal. After a few strong dribbles he slotted a stinger of a shot low to MAtS left hand side and put Málaga up one to nil.
Changes had to be made at halftime and Enrique obliged with two new faces entering the fray from the tunnel. Sergi Roberto replaced Mathieu and Andrés Iniesta came on for Denis Suárez. Barcelona supporters have to remain puzzled as to why Gomes is repeatedly given chances to fail. He was a step slow all first half yet Denis was sacrificed. Even considering his heavy price tag and injuries to Rafinha and Arda Turan he should not be allowed to constantly put Barcelona in dangerous positions. André was thankfully withdrawn for Paco Alcácer in the 61st minute as Barcelona switched to a 3-3-1-3 formation.
Celebrations were short lived for the club when Neymar earned himself Barcelona’s first red card of the season in the 65th minute after he put in a dumb retaliation tackle after losing the ball. The tackle earned his second yellow of the match. A lot has been made of the Brazilian succeeding Messi as the greatest player in the game in recent weeks. The young player shows he still has a long way to go with poor decisions like these, Messi is still king.
Down to ten men, Barcelona continued to push for the equalizer but were unsuccessful. A series of poor refereeing decisions followed. Málaga were denied an onside goal after a poor call from the linesmen that would have put the game to bed, but blaugrana fans will look to the 79th minute with disdain asking “what could have been?” Sergi was brought down clearly inside the box for an obvious penalty, but Barcelona were awarded a free kick from just outside the penalty area. The game was finally done and dusted in the 90th minute after another former Barcelona youth player, Jony, scored for Málaga on a counter while Barça sent everyone forward into the final third.
Hopefully Barcelona learned a few lessons from this match. If they want to play with four at the back and make the most of Jordi Alba’s talents on the left flank then Sergi Roberto must start as right back. Of all the players on the pitch and even with his limited playing time, the hero of PSG showed the most heart of any Barcelona player. Also three in defense only works if we have Gerard Piqué available to partner Mascherano and Umtiti. Most importantly André Gomes should not be wearing a Barcelona shirt. Why doesn’t Enrique trust Denis Suárez more?