Barcelona return to league action tomorrow with a tricky trip to La Rosaleda to face nouveau riche Malaga. The Andulusian side are on a run of five league games without a win that stretches back to the end of November. Given Barcelona’s recent struggles away from home in La Liga, something has got to give. Question is, will it be a first win in 2012 for Malaga or will it be a long-awaited victory away from home for Barcelona?
Manuel Pellegrini could hand a debut to new signing Carlos Kameni, who we all know was excellent for Espanyol and his presence in goal could make things tricky for the Blaugrana. Factor in the second leg of the Copa del Rey tie against Real Madrid, and it is imperative that Barcelona start well and put enough distance between them and Malaga before half-time. However, the official website calmed my nerves earlier with their earlier post.
Apparently, Barcelona have won all but two matches under Guardiola that have immediately followed a Clasico, while one of the matches was the 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge with Iniesta’s famous goal. The only defeat was to Real Sociedad at La Anoeta, a traditionally tough match anyway, so can we expect Barca to win tomorrow? It all depends on who plays...
Victor Valdes will start in goal after a rest in midweek so Barcelona will be better prepared to build from the back, while I hope at least that any shots aimed straight at him will be easily saved, unlike Pinto in midweek. One thing I noticed in midweek was not that Pinto is a "poor goalkeeper" as some suggest, but I did see that he has very different tendencies to Valdes, and when you play with one keeper for so long, the back-up does take a whole lot of getting used to. Valdes rushes out to deal with danger a lot quicker for example, and neither is right or wrong, but one is more familiar. That familiarity will return on Sunday.
Defensively, it is anyone’s guess, although I would suggest a 4-3-3, with a view to going 3-4-3 on Wednesday. That would mean the standard Barcelona backline, with maybe one or two switches, such as Adriano for Eric Abidal, or for Carles Puyol with Abidal moving into the centre. Alternatively, Abidal could stay on the left with Javier Mascherano filling in the centre of defense. Pace shouldn’t be a problem, depending on Pellegrini’s choice of attackers. For example, Ruud Van Nistelrooy is certainly not going to pose any problems in terms of athleticism, but Barca will require solid defensive work to deny him any opportunities in and around the penalty area.
On the other hand, Jose Rondon is a powerful figure and his selection may cause a few problems for a player of Mascherano’s stature, but obviously Barcelona can defend in many other ways, such as retaining possession.
While Real Madrid opted for a blatantly defensive formation, and still ultimately failed in negating Barcelona’s offensive capabilities, the Blaugrana kept possession in an attacking formation, won, and limited Real Madrid to a single shot on target, that could and would have been saved on another day. Which tactic do you prefer, and which has been more successful? Something tells me that almost everyone wishes they could play like Barcelona...
Integral to that success is the midfield trio, and Barcelona can count upon Sergio Busquets to act as the fulcrum tomorrow, unless Mascherano is deployed further forward of course. Ahead of him is likely to be Thiago Alcantara as Pep will have one eye on Wednesday’s tie, and the final place may go to Sergi Roberto, who was on the bench on Wednesday. However, I doubt that Guardiola will have seen enough from the youngster to throw him into such an important game without either Cesc, Xavi or Iniesta alongside him. Therefore, expect to see Andres Iniesta in midfield tomorrow evening.
Offensively, Barcelona can welcome back Pedro for tomorrow’s match as the winger has travelled with the side to Costa del Sol, and if he has travelled, I see no reason why he will not start. Isaac Cuenca can start on the right, and Lionel Messi is a pretty sure fire bet to claim the other spot. If that’s the case, then I see no reason why Barcelona shouldn’t compound Malaga’s misery by consigning them to yet another defeat.
Match Prediction: Barcelona to win 3-1, with goals from Leo Messi (2) and Thiago, with Santi grabbing a goal for Malaga.