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Javier Mascherano Shows his Good and Bad Sides as Barcelona Beat Malaga

The Argentine defender is arguably Barcelona's most controversial player when it comes to fans opinion over quality.

Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Did Javier Mascherano have a great game or a so-so game against Malaga? It's hard to say without revealing what your opinion on the player is in general.

The Argentine defender made two superlative interventions as Barcelona's individual errors nearly cost them in the first half. First, recovering after Thomas Vermaelen's slip to make a heroic last man tackle in the box, then making another superb sliding challenge after a Claudio Bravo pass was intercepted near the area.

With about a half hour gone, Barcelona's clean sheet could be credited in large part to the Argentine. Then, Mascherano was forced into a hurried clearance with Malaga pressing him. The ball went right to the opposition, who quickly capitalized. The Argentine running back almost made another last-minute slide tackle to save his team, but instead he only deflected the shot into the net.

It was a block he had to attempt, and in fairness perhaps Bravo wasn't going to save anyway. And Vermaelen hardly gave a good account of himself in that play, either. But the frustrations some sections of the Barcelona support have had with the player bubbled up again.

There was another mistake late on which gave Malaga an opportunity to equalize with Barcelona leading 2-1. Mistakes happen, and he was far from the worst offender today. But some will inevitably ask, has it gone for too long?

At the end of the match, there were two opinions. One, that he held it together for a team that was in trouble; even if he was not perfect, he was weighed down by a dysfunctional defense. The other, that it was typical Mascherano. He'll save you sometimes, but he'll make a mistake sooner or later.

There's no denying Mascherano is a great footballer. In fact, many said he was better than Lionel Messi at the World Cup, and some even went as far as voting him first for the Ballon D'Or. A rough tackling but undersized midfielder, it's hard not to appreciate his effort.

However, he has been a square peg in a round hole playing for Barcelona, where he doesn't have the passing vision to match the likes of Sergio Busquets in midfield. As a defender, he is one of the very shortest in the elite teams.

Still, it must be pointed out he's been one of Barcelona's starting defenders the past two times the team has won the Champions League. The team has spent money and time looking for a different partner to Gerard Pique. For a month Jeremy Mathieu looked the part. Vermaelen has put in some good matches. Marc Bartra always hold promise. But at the end of the day, are any of them better than Mascherano? No, at least not consistently.

The question at the end of the year is if he is still worth his wages. Barcelona seem intent on signing a young, elite defender to finally settle the question of who partners Pique. Aymeric Laporte of Athletic Club and Adrian Marin of Villarreal are just some of the rumored names.

Until then, Barcelona is likely to persist with Mascherano, for better or worse.

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