It wasn't easy, but FC Barcelona was able to escape La Rosaleda with a 1-0 win against Málaga on Sunday.
It was the best birthday gift I could get. Thanks guys!
Willy Caballero was terrific for Malaga, as his saves kept Barça off the board. But with just two minutes to go until halftime, Adriano launched curling shot from outside the box, and put it just past Willy for the golazo. It looked like more of a Caballero mistake, but nevertheless, Adriano's goal was pretty sweet.
The final minutes were tough on Tata Martino's men, as Malaga continued to press on, looking for the equalizer. But Barcelona was able to survive and take the three points back to the Camp Nou.
Let's look at the Good, Bad, & Ugly of the game.
Good Great: Victor Valdes and Willy Caballero
The goalkeepers were the stars of this game. Willy Caballero made tremendous saves throughout the game. Perhaps his three biggest saves of the game were his reaching grab of the ball, denying Pedro of a potential goal in the 16th minute, his denial of an Alexis Sanchez header in the 37th minute, and his flying save of Neymar's free kick in the 80th minute.
Albeit he let Adriano's shot go underneath his reach, Willy Caballero had a solid game all around. Why Willy is not called up to the Argentine national team is beyond my comprehension.
What can we say about Victor Valdes? The man was great on the night for Barcelona. VV had a huge save on a Malaga free kick in the 29th minute and plenty more saves in the final minutes to give the win to Barça.
With Vicente Del Bosque in attendance, I'm sure the Spanish national team skipper was impressed enough with VV's performance to earn Victor a starting XI spot for Spain's next match. Valdes deserves it.
The Bad: Barça's last 20 minutes, plus Gerard Pique
The last 20 minutes of the match was a tough stretch for Tata Martino's team. Give credit to Malaga as they continued to cause problems for the Barça defense, as well as midfield. Malaga was able to disrupt the midfield, and continued to put pressure on the right side of the Barcelona back line. You could tell that Gerard Pique and Dani Alves were having a tough time.
Speaking of Pique, Shakira's baby daddy had a bad game. Kept getting beat by the Malaga forwards and looked a bit lost at times. To be honest with you, Javier Mascherano has looked better at CB so far this competitive season-and Masche isn't even a true CB.
I don't know what's wrong with Gerard, but many fans are turning against Pique. Not that he cares about that or that he should, but boy is Pique losing fans. My hope is that Martino and his staff continue to work with Pique to bring the best out of him once again. If Pique continues to be inconsistent in his play, well, we'll just have to live with it, unfortunately. The thinness of the Barça back line leaves Tata with not many choices.
BTW: I hope we see Marc Bartra in a game soon.
The Ugly: The headbutt on Neymar
Jesus Gamez's headbutt on Neymar in the 89th minute of the game was clearly "The Ugly" of the game. Gamez's frustration boiled over after the Brazilian was able to get passed him, and Gamez had to take a foul via wrapping his arm around Neymar and brining him down.
Gamez went toward Neymar and went for the headbutt. Kudos to Neymar for not only taking it like a man, but also for not turning the incident to an even uglier state. After the game, Tata Martino praised Neymar for his (non) action. "Neymar not reacting to Gamez's headbutt? Very good. We talk a lot with him, to focus only on playing. He has a good example (Lionel Messi)."
Good job, kid. And you stay classy, Gamez. I'm sure you'll go
places nowhere with the class that you have.
What Did We Learn?: Barcelona can win without Messi, but more clinical finishing is needed. Luck won't always be there.
No Lionel Messi is always no bueno, but FC Barcelona reminded us again that this team can win without Leo, but more clinical finishing is needed. It's always needed, but whenever Leo is out, I expect the wingers to step it up a bit. Alexis Sanchez had a good game, and if it weren't for a great Caballero save, the Chilean would have scored. Pedro had a bad game, overall, and was replaced by Neymar in the second half. Neymar played well for his time in the game.
I'm not trying to make a big deal out of something that may just be a one-game thing, but Barcelona were a bit lucky to escape with a win. Adriano's shot was good, but Caballero clearly fouled out the save opportunity as well.
Dodged a draw, but let's hope the wingers are able to get the ball behind the net, with and without Lionel Messi on the pitch.
What's Next?: Wednesday vs. Atletico Madrid
FC Barcelona now turns their attention to this Wednesday against Atletico Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup. In his postgame press conference, Tata Martino said he will have his staff evaluate to see if Messi will be ready for the game. Martino also said Neymar may potentially start against Los Colchoneros. Sergio Busquets will start on Wednesday, as he did not play against Malaga.
Other than the status of Leo Messi, the other major thing to look out for is the endurance level of Xavi. The 33-year-old played the entire game against Malaga, and I assume if Messi doesn't start, it would move Cesc Fabregas to the False 9 spot, and Xavi would start. Xavi has played three games within a week heading into the Atletico game.
I'm hopeful that since it's early in the season, Xavi's legs will be fine to play productive football against Atletico Madrid.
Xoel's Final Word
It was a tough battle, but in the end, Barcelona was able to get their first road victory of the La Liga season on Sunday. It was the best present for me on my birthday!
Now the focus turns back to Atletico Madrid and the Spanish Super Cup. The Camp Nou will be loud as FC Barcelona will look to win their first title of the competitive season. If Messi is healthy, we may see Messi and Neymar start together. If Messi is out, this team still has enough firepower to defeat Atleti.
Let's go get that first of hopefully multiple titles this season with a win against Atletico on Wednesday.
Xoel, The Voice of FC Barcelona