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La Liga: FC Barcelona 4-1 Malaga CF: Match Review

A recap of Barcelona's 4-1 La Liga victory over Manuel Pellegrini's Malaga at the Camp Nou in the final match of the 2012-2013 season

David Ramos

FC Barcelona closed out the season in style, demolishing UEFA Europa League hopefuls Malaga 4-1 at the Camp Nou, ensuring that Manuel Pellegrini’s reign ended in defeat. David Villa got the hosts off to an excellent start with his third minute tap-in, and Cesc Fàbregas added a second a little over ten minutes later with a great solo effort. Almost immediately, Martin Montoya extended Barça’s lead further, with a ludicrous volley from the edge of the area and Andrés Iniesta wrapped things up with a long-range effort of his own in the opening stages of the second half. Pedro Morales helped himself to a consolation in the 56th minute, but ultimately, it was too little too late – meaning that Barcelona were able to reach the 100 point milestone after all.






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Tito Vilanova made five changes from last weekend’s victory over Espanyol, as Jose Manuel Pinto, Xavi Hernández, Sergio Busquets, Martin Montoya and Pedro Rodriguez all returned to the starting line-up at the expense of Victor Valdés, Thiago Alcântara, Alex Song, Dani Alves and Alexis Sánchez respectively as Barcelona attempted to become just the second team in the history of La Liga to record a 100 point season. Would they be able to defeat Malaga and reach that milestone, or would the departing Manuel Pellegrini be able to rain on the Barça parade?

The Blaugrana started the match well, and took immediate control of the game with an early goal – taking full advantage of a nervous start from the visitors. Andrés Iniesta won’t be credited with an assist, but it was his lobbed pass that created the chance, finding Pedro in space behind the Malaga defense – and Pedro could have taken the chance on himself. One-on-one with Willy Caballero, Pedro had a golden opportunity to hand Barça an early lead, but chose to square the ball instead; gifting David Villa with a tap-in on what might be his final appearance for the club. El Guaje has been linked with a summer transfer to the Premier League, where Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur are reportedly interested in securing his services – but this was his 10th goal of the La Liga season, and his 16th in all competitions. Surely Barcelona should be doing all in their power to keep a player of Villa’s calibre – provided he is happy with his minutes at the club.

Within ten minutes, Barcelona had doubled their lead – as Cesc Fàbregas responded to David Villa’s opener with a goal of his own. Displaying excellent offensive awareness to receive a pass from Villa, who was under heavy pressure from the Malaga defense, Cesc Fàbregas turned and raced inside; exchanging a one-two with Andrés Iniesta to create enough space for a shot – before powering the ball past the helpless Willy Caballero. With little support from his defensive line, you couldn’t help but feel bad for Willy, who entered the game with the third best record in the league – but it really was an exceptional play from Cesc Fàbregas, who notched his eleventh goal of this La Liga season in the process.

And just as you thought it couldn’t get any worse for Malaga, Martin Montoya added a quick-fire third, less than two minutes after Fàbregas had doubled Barça’s lead – and honestly, it was probably an avoidable goal for the visitors. Barcelona barely ever threatens from corners, especially with Carles Puyol on the sidelines, and this was no exception. The delivery was relatively good – directed of course, towards Gerard Piqué – and Julio Baptista was able to win this particular battle, clearing his lines with a good defensive header. But as Baptista cleared the ball from danger, Malaga should have sprung forward, ready to close down whichever Barcelona player received the ball, or launch a counter-attack – a crucial mistake, which cost them dear. Martin Montoya was afforded enough space, and enough time to make up his mind, so he hit it on the volley – right into the far corner of the net. A sensational strike from a sensational talent, and even at this early stage in the match, it was clear this game was pretty much over as a contest.

With a three goal lead, Barça could afford to take their foot off the gas. Work the ball around defense, into midfield and back again. They’d created enough chances to win the game. Anything else would be a bonus. Malaga on the other hand were creating very little – the closest they came to scoring in the opening period was through former Galactico, Julio Baptista, whose deflected effort hit the side-netting of Pinto’s goal in the 29th minute. However, despite the scoreline, it was Barcelona who had the best chance to score the final goal of the half – as Gerard Piqué was gifted with a free header in the 39th minute, only to miss the target completely. Not that it mattered – Barcelona were well on their way to securing their 100th point of the season.

Roque Santa Cruz was sacrificed at half-time, as Manuel Pellegrini opted for damage limitation by bringing on Pedro Morales, a midfielder by trade. The switch meant that Julio Baptista would move forward into a central attacking role, with Morales picking up the slack in midfield – and it appeared as though the change was going to pay dividends. Julio Baptista was presented with the first chance of the half, and would have scored if not for an excellent save from Jose Manuel Pinto as the 37 year-old demonstrated fantastic reflexes to rush from goal and close down the angle. It was excellent work from the veteran, preserving Barcelona’s clean-sheet and even starting a counter-attack in the process.

Wait, I know what you’re thinking. Barcelona doesn’t counter-attack. That’s more of a Real Madrid thing, which might be true, but you better believe that Barcelona are just as dangerous on the rare occasions they are allowed to stretch their legs on the counter – just as they were tonight. Xavi-Iniesta-goal, it was as simple as that – well, not quite, but you get the idea. Iniesta received the ball on the counter-attack, and proceeded to try his luck from long-range – and we all know how deadly Iniesta can be from long-range – curling the ball into the corner of the net to extend Barcelona’s lead.

It turned out to be Iniesta’s final contribution, as he was soon replaced by Thiago Alcântara, who has been linked with virtually every club under the sun in recent weeks. Maybe Thiago should have started, but I can’t find fault with Iniesta’s contributions, nor with Xavi’s, but equally, Thiago could have made a difference as well. And he still could have, with over half-an-hour to weave his magic in midfield. However, before Thiago could make an impact on the game, Pedro Morales pulled one back for Malaga. It was nothing more than a consolation, but it was some finish from the Chilean substitute – as the midfielder connected beautifully with a near-post volley, rifling Jesus Gamez’ cross into the roof of Pinto’s net.

Chances would come and go for both team, but the closing stages of the match where about much more than this game; they were about the record books, and more importantly, saying goodbye. Eric Abidal was brought on for the final quarter of an hour, receiving a standing ovation as he replaced Gerard Piqué in his final appearance for the Blaugrana. After all we’ve been through with Abidal, and all Abidal has been through with us, it was a rather disappointing end to his career with the club. We all wanted Abidal to stay – just as Abidal wanted to stay with us – because he probably deserves another season. Another chance to go out at the top – just imagine it, Abidal retiring at the club next season after lifting the UEFA Champions League trophy. Probably not realistic, but that certainly would have been a fitting way to mark Abidal’s departure.

Whatever the case, it was fantastic to hear and see the Camp Nou crowd give Abidal such a tremendous ovation and send-off. He deserves the utmost respect for all he has achieved, both on and off the field – from the bottom of our hearts, Merci Eric!

And just like that, the season was over. 100 points, a La Liga title and not much else. Not that I’d complain, at the start of the season, few could have predicted such a comfortable league season for the Blaugrana – and yes, the UEFA Champions League campaign was a disappointment, we can rest easy knowing that Barcelona will be back, and they will likely be bigger and better than ever. Until then, Visca el Barça!

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