FC Barcelona travel back to Andalusia tomorrow evening, as they prepare to visit La Rosaleda to take on one of their least favourite La Liga opponents, Málaga. When the two sides clashed earlier in the season at the Camp Nou, Malaga held the Blaugrana to a goalless draw, and after securing their first win in seven matches in midweek against Sporting Gijon, Malaga will be hoping to build some momentum by upsetting the odds once again.
With a midweek UEFA Champions League quarter-final on the immediate horizon for Luis Enrique’s side, this match arguably comes at the worst possible moment. Sure, Barça are in a rich vein of form and they coasted to a victory against Sevilla on Wednesday, but the looming spectre of a trip to Turin, plus a fixture against a “bogey side” without a number of key players such as the suspended Ivan Rakitic and Gerard Pique, this is a test that frankly we would have preferred to have done without this weekend.
Of course, you can’t pick your fixtures and even with all this being said, this weekend could prove to be a turning point in Barcelona’s season. Real Madrid host their city rivals Atletico in the derby on Saturday afternoon and depending on the result at the Santiago Bernabeu, the title race could take a massive turn this weekend. Certainly I am grateful that we do not have to worry about El Clasico this weekend, or a match against Atleti for that matter.
It will be a test, and our task will be made all the more difficult given our list of absentees, but there’s no reason to be anything but positive. After all, this is the type of match in which a champion would thrive.
The big news emanating out of Barcelona today is that Rafinha Alcantara will play no further part this season. After leaving last weekend’s win over Granada with a knee injury, it was first suspected that Rafinha would be back in a couple of weeks, but further tests have revealed that Rafinha requires surgery and will be therefore be out of action for the next four months.
The news comes as a bitter blow to Rafinha and to FC Barcelona; the Brazilian had established himself as a key member of the squad and indeed of the starting line-up operating on the right-hand side of Luis Enrique’s 3-4-3. His absence will be sorely felt in the coming weeks, particularly as it leaves Enrique rather light on options.
Arda Turan remains sidelined with injury, as does Aleix Vidal. For this weekend’s match with Malaga, both Gerard Pique and Ivan Rakitic are suspended, leaving Luis Enrique with just 16 players available from his first team squad. Once again, Carles Alena has been called up from the B team and if rumours are to be believed, Enrique may be considering utilising Alena in his 3-4-3 this weekend. Marc Carbonell has also received a call-up, although at this stage it seems as though he is unlikely to feature in any capacity.
The question is whether Enrique will continue with the 3-4-3 this weekend, or whether he will revert back to the 4-3-3 given the players available at his disposal. Samuel Umtiti may be rested again in favour of Jeremy Mathieu, as a three-man backline with Umtiti and Mathieu just doesn’t seem viable. Umtiti thrives in the left-central position, and Mathieu is not a like for like replacement for Gerard Pique. I suspect we will see Mathieu and Mascherano together in the centre of defense with Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba in the two full-back positions.
In midfield, Sergio Busquets will start and play the full 90 minutes given that he is suspended for the trip to Turin, and alongside him I expect to see Andre Gomes and Denis Suarez. Of course, Enrique could opt for the three-man backline, with Jordi Alba replacing Iniesta in the left-midfield position, while either Mathieu or Digne fill in at the back. This would enable Gomes to partner Busquets in the centre of midfield, allowing Suarez to be used as an option off the bench.
The only certainty is that the MSN trident will start in attack, hungry to add to their tally for the campaign.
With a midweek win over Sporting Gijon, Malaga not only recorded their 199th victory in the top flight, but they also moved themselves clear of the danger zone as the three points saw them extend their gap over the relegation zone to eight points. The bad news is that the victory was only their second of 2017, and if you can believe it, it was only their second win in 19 matches. The club have been on a huge slide in recent months, so much so that they are onto their third manager of the campaign.
Michel is the man in charge now having inherited the squad from Marcelo Romero, who in turn took over from Juande Ramos – the man who masterminded the draw at the Camp Nou in November. Malaga look heavily towards Sandro Ramirez to score the goals, and it was he who grabbed the all-important winner on Wednesday in Asturias.
FC Barcelona 0-0 Malaga CF – 19th November 2016 – La Liga
An inspired performance from Malaga, and Carles Kameni in particular, saw the visitors earn a share of the points to frustrate the Blaugrana.
Barcelona (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Roberto, Mathieu, Umtiti, Alba; Busquets, Gomes, Denis; Messi, Suarez, Neymar
Malaga (4-4-2): Kameni; Rosales, Hernandez, Llorente, Carlos; Castro, Camacho, Fornais, Juanpi; Sandro, Santos
Malaga simply don’t have the defense to keep this Barcelona strikeforce at bay at the moment; 3-0 to the visitors.