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FC Barcelona 3-1 Malaysia XI: Match Review

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A recap of Barcelona's 3-1 pre-season friendly victory over the Malaysia XI at the Shah Alam Stadium

Stanley Chou

FC Barcelona were far from their best and missing their best player on Saturday afternoon, but still had enough to defeat the Malaysia XI 3-1 at the Shah Alam Stadium. Cesc Fàbregas started in the centre of attack in the absence of an injured Lionel Messi, and was in inspired form, scoring Barcelona’s opening goal and setting up the other two, scored by Neymar and Gerard Piqué respectively – as Barça finished their Tour of Asia and indeed their pre-season with a third successive victory.

Malaysia XI

Barcelona

Possession

20%

80%

Total Shots

3

20

Shots on Target

2

7

Fouls

11

13

Offsides

1

4

Yellow Cards

0

0

Red Cards

0

0

The big news before kick-off surrounded Lionel Messi, who was forced to sit out Barcelona’s final match of pre-season with discomfort in his thigh. While there was no official word on the severity of his injury, Messi is not expected to miss La Liga action – of course Barcelona’s title defense kicks off next weekend against Levante. In Messi’s absence, Cesc Fàbregas started in the centre of attack with Neymar and Alexis Sánchez in support, while Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta and Sergio Busquets were reunited in midfield. Jordi Alba started ahead of Adriano at left-back, while Frank Bagnack also dropped to the bench, as Javier Mascherano partnered Gerard Piqué in the centre of defense. Would this strong Barcelona line-up be able to record their third successive win under the guidance of new coach Gerardo Martino, or would the Malaysia XI pull off a shock in front of the capacity crowd at the Shah Alam Stadium?

Despite switching venues at late notice, Barcelona quickly found out that the pitch at the Shah Alam stadium was in far from pristine condition, particularly in the two final thirds. Clearly the climate in this part of the world does no favours for the groundstaff; and it was something that the Blaugrana would just have to deal with as best they could. Partly as a result of the bumpy playing surface, and partly as a result of the narrow shape of the Malaysia XI defense, Barcelona quickly identified that attacking down either flank would be in their best interests, and this early emphasis on width created the game’s first "chance".

Displaying a great understanding with his new colleague, Brazilian superstar Neymar extravagantly back-heeled a pass into the path of the overlapping Jordi Alba, before drifting into position on the edge of the Malaysia penalty area – where he received a return pass from the Spanish full-back. With the ball n a dangerous area Neymar went for the spectacular, attempting to delicately lift a shot over the Malaysia keeper with his first touch, only to see his effort drift disappointingly wide of the target.

Maybe the absence of Lionel Messi was having a greater impact than first thought; certainly after a quarter of an hour at the Shah Alam Stadium Barcelona seemed to be some way off their best, even if they were monopolising possession.

And thanks to Barcelona’s relatively unthreatening start to the match, the Malaysia XI began to grow in confidence. Not only was their defensive game-plan working, but it was helping them launch the occasional counter-attack too; something that the Barça defense seemed ill-equipped to deal with. A complacent touch from Xavi in his own defensive third allowed the Malaysia XI to recover possession deep into enemy territory, and they nearly made the most of this rare chance.

Breaking free of the challenge of Sergio Busquets, Malaysia forward Norshahrul Idlan Talaha burst into the Barcelona penalty area and registered the match’s first shot on target, much to the delight of the enthusiastic home crowd. While his effort was saved by Victor Valdés, it was a promising sign for the Malaysia XI – and with a little more luck, maybe Norshahrul’s shot would have crept in at the far post, rather than rattling the frame of the goal?

Barcelona responded to this scare by creating another chance of their own, as yet again Neymar’s unpredictability caused havoc in the Malaysia defense. This time all it took was an agile, if slightly unorthodox turn from the Brazilian forward, and Neymar had a chance at goal – but for the second time this evening, Neymar’s off-balance finish left a lot to be desired. However, even if Neymar couldn’t hit the target himself, his skill was going to make the difference for the Blaugrana – who were just minutes away from taking a deserved lead.

Neymar instigated the move; collecting a diagonal pass on his chest, Neymar helped the ball onto Jordi Alba and the fleet-footed Spaniard provided a much-needed burst of energy for the Barça attack. Racing to the byline, Alba had enough time and space to hang up a cross, which was well-met by the head of Cesc Fàbregas. While Fàbregas’ header wasn’t perfect, it was enough; the Malaysia keeper couldn’t tip it round the post and finally, after over half-an-hour at the Shah Alam Stadium, Barcelona had taken the lead.

Unfortunately, Barcelona’s lead didn’t last long; one simple through ball stretched the Barça defense to their limits and Jordi Alba’s sliding clearance fell kindly to Amri Yahyah, who finished in some style. Striking the ball on the half-volley, Amri’s shot left Victor Valdés with no chance and sent the home crowd delirious – against all the odds, the Malaysia XI had just equalised against the mighty Barcelona.

The Malaysia XI were only level for a few minutes though; Cesc Fàbregas’ pass found Neymar in the area and having freed himself from the defense with a quick turn, he finished with consummate ease at the near post. It was a clinical strike from the Brazilian – and his timely effort at least ensured that the Blaugrana went in at the break with a lead.

Gerardo Martino made three changes at the break; Neymar was taken off, possibly as a precaution as he hobbled off at the end of the first-half clutching at his foot after another heavy challenge from a Malaysia XI player, and he was joined on the bench by Jordi Alba and Dani Alves. In their place, Cristian Tello, Adriano and Martin Montoya were all given 45 minutes to impress the new Barça head coach.

However, the second-half was a quiet affair; over 15 minutes passed before there was any more "action" – and that was just more substitutions. Victor Valdés, Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta were given a well-deserved rest, having been replaced by Jose Manuel Pinto, Alex Song, Jonathan dos Santos and Sergi Roberto respectively.

Barcelona eventually doubled their advantage though, albeit through an unlikely source as temporary captain Gerard Piqué claimed his first goal of pre-season with a superb effort in the 74th minute. Left alone in the Malaysia area, the opposition defense must have thought that a centre-half like Piqué wouldn’t be capable of making a difference at the "wrong" end of the field; boy they were wrong. Controlling Cesc Fàbregas’ chipped pass with his thigh, Piqué lashed home a terrific volley which left the Malaysia keeper rooted to his spot.

With the result all but secured, Gerardo Martino made his final few changes; Javier Mascherano and Gerard Piqué were taken off for Frank Bagnack and Marc Bartra while Cesc Fàbregas was forced off late on with an ankle injury – Jean-Marie Dongou replaced the Catalan in the centre of attack as Barça played out the final few minutes of their pre-season.

Next up, Barcelona begin their defense of the La Liga crown on Sunday (18th) against Levante at the Camp Nou; until then, Visca el Barça!