Sunday, 22 March 2009

Preview : Barcelona - Malaga

Venue : Camp Nou, Barcelona

The excitement of the Champions League draw is yet to die down and the talk of the town remains focussed on the match against Bayern more than 2 weeks ahead. There remain of course, two more league matches to be played before that and La Liga is Barca’s priority this season. First up is another Andalusian side (there seem to be plenty of them this season) in Malaga.

Pep’s boys despite being slowed down by injuries are regaining top form and any visiting team would be forgiven for stepping warily into the Camp Nou expecting a major thumping. Unfortunately for Guardiola, the distraction of the CL draw aside, Malaga are unlikely to conform to the expected norm of petrified defending and damage control Barça are accustomed to, in the Nou Camp.

Indeed they have failed to conform to any expectations one might have of a club riddled with debt, installed arbitrarily with a President who is the son of the owner (former Real Madrid boss Lorenzo Sanz), who buys players he is chummy with and which only scraped through into Primera Division last season. But somehow Malaga have found within this organisational instability, the resilience which sees them sitting within 2 points of a Champions League spot tied on points with Atletico Madrid.

And it has scarcely been a dour and pragmatic defensive approach that has brought them this far. Only Barca, Madrid, Valencia and Atletico have scored more than them this season. Their away record is unspectacular but not altogether too bad with 5 wins and 3 draws to go against 5 losses. Since the start of the year they have lost only 2 matches.

Their scoring chart indicates a good distribution of goals across a number of players including Baha, Eliseu, Apoño(6 penalties+1), Luque, Salva and Duda. For those who like to go into the decimals of the stats, Malaga score 1.67 goals per game and concede 1.48. Away from home this changes slightly to 1.62 goals scored and the same amount conceded. They take away 1.38 points per game away from home against a season average of 1.59.

Barça’s objectives going into the game will be to continue the stabilisation of their defence while also giving a few of the less used squad players a chance to gain confidence. And of course, to re-establish the winning streak they enjoyed earlier in the season. Attacking pressure from Malaga is likely to compress the pitch reducing the space available for Xavi or Iniesta to orchestrate play in midfield. If one of them is to be rested I would prefer Iniesta start this game as his ability to waft easily past defenders will allow Barça to break through a congested midfield. Pep could start with one of his dual role midfielders in Keita or Gudjohnsen to partner Busquets in the defensive half of midfield. That said, the safest option would be Toure and Busquets forming a double pivot to shield the defence.

Gerard Pique’s illness might complicate matters for Guardiola who will then be forced to go into the game with 4 defenders and Botia on the bench for back-up. That would mean a backline of Alves, Marquez, Caceres and Sylvinho with Valdes in goal. They face up to any combination of Salva, Luque and Adrian, all accomplished goal poachers who will look to pressure the make-shift Barca backline into making mistakes.

Antonio Tapia favours a 4-5-1 which has Baha operating deep taking a playmaking role behind the lone striker although he is a doubtful starter due to fitness concerns. The on-form Salva is the favourite to start up front. Tapia also likes his wingers Eliseu and Duda to switch flanks and they will try to take advantage, in turn, of Alves’ forays forward and Sylvinho’s lack of pace. Duda is returning after some back problems and might be replaced by Nacho or Luque. Calleja, Malaga’s regular at Left Back is suspended for this game.

So this is what my Barça line-up looks like :
Valdes, Alves, Marquez, Caceres, Sylvinho, Toure, Busquets, Iniesta, Messi, Etoó, Henry.

Bojan will be hoping for more time on the pitch after his two goals in the last game and Guardiola will do well to indulge him, sufficiently early in the 2nd half. Barça will look to impose themselves at home and push Malaga back but Malaga have an uncanny habit of scoring early and the Barça defence is badly hit by injuries. Guardiola will be hoping Pique recovers in time to be available for the game.

The team will be expected to turn on the style at home and come up with a big win. Champions League rivals Bayern have meanwhile eked out a 1-0 win at home on Saturday and will sitting with their eyes glued to our game on Sunday hoping to identify the weak spots in Barca’s armour.

Prediction : Barcelona 3 – 1 Malaga.

kamikaze kontiki


Anonymous said...

Why doesn't Barcelona buy Duda? He is a cheap replacement for Xavi and a better free kick taker and shooter. Also, his passing is almost as good as Xavi's

groga said...

Midfield seems the only uncertainty now that Pique is out. I think it will be the cantera trio Xavi-Busquets-Iniesta.

Another thing: why does Madrid always plays before Barcelona??? Gives them an advantage in my eyes. Would like to see them deal with some extra pressure by playing after we did.

Anonymous said...

groga- I agree this system in Laliga is silly. Fixtures should be moe or less random. Teams have to face barca and real back to back, Either real or barca has the advantage(debatable), but either way theres some unfairness with this system.

Anonymous said...

also i want to add teams seem to play shit against real this season. They are lucky to still be in the race

Marc4barca said...

i agree with all of you... it's like is a conspiracy against us for playing so well. spain referee's and teams have always favoured real anyways, cause barca don't like to call themselves spanish but catalonians. real have all the advantages and still behind lets hope it stays this way.

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