Halfway: Málaga-Barça

Let's hope for better field conditions

Liga Preview: Málaga – Barcelona, Sunday 12noon ET, GolTV

It’s the first week of the season, everyone! Time to celebrate! There’s a full 38 matches ahead of us and we’ve got quite the schedule lined up for the next–wait, what? Oh, it’s actually the midway point, we’re just calling it the first match of the season? Why would we do that? Oh, RFEF is completely insane? Right. I’d forgotten about that.

So it’s Málaga now, the new big boys on the block, or so they’d have you think. The odd thing is, I’m not sure why they’re not doing better than they are. Yet I bet against them before the season started, saying they wouldn’t make the Champions League spot so many said they would. They’re rich, they’re talented, and they’ve got a good manager, but they’re not really a team yet. They don’t have an identity you can point to and say “this is how Málaga rolls.” They don’t roll. They’re just Málaga.

Their offseason additions were something you could nod at and say “Shnikies, that’s some good stuff.” Expenditures topped €50m with Santi Cazorla being prized from Villarreal for €19m on one of the final days of the transfer window. They brought in Joaquin and Diego Buonanotte, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Jérémy Toulalan. Sergio Sánchez and Nacho Monreal. Martín Demichelis and Joris Mathijsen. They offloaded a good many players as well, but none of them brought in a red cent. They were positioning themselves behind Qatari oil money (for shame!) for a big run. They were closing the gap between the Big 2 and the have nots with giant strides.

And now, 18 matches in, they’re in 10th with a game in hand over several of their better-ranked rivals. They’re only a point from a Europa League spot, but that point could be hard to come by given the other teams involved. Athletic Bilbao has leapfrogged them and Sevilla looks more than capable of pushing towards Levante’s 4th place spot. Espanyol may be surprising a lot of onlookers, but they’re not half bad and they seem to have hit a vein of form. Levante could be weakening, but they’re hosting last place Zaragoza tomorrow, which should be 3 more points and could put them almost out of reach for Málaga unless the los boquerones can manage something against FCB.

That’s the point, though, isn’t it? Málaga was supposed to be challenging for something, not hoping to get the last seat at the European table. They put up a fight against Real Madrid, but couldn’t close the deal at 2-0 up in the first leg, eventually succumbing 4-2 on aggregate, but that about sums up their season. They haven’t won a league match since November 28 when they beat Villarreal 2-1. Since, they’ve drawn 2 and lost 3, including matches to Real Sociedad and Sporting Gijon. They’re playing like a mid-table club: 10th in goals scored (21) and 10th in goals allowed (24).

The silver lining is that they’re good at home (5W-2D-1L, 13GF 9GA) while Barça continues to have an up-and-down season on the road (3W-4D-1L, 12GF 9GA). That suggests a pretty good, even match is coming our way. They were called Maulaga for a reason the last couple of years, but now they’re trying to play a bit and they’re no longer playing Weligton enough to warrant a real BFB shoutout to the original Pepe. He’s basically a hipster. He was stomping on Messi before stomping on Messi was cool. So he’s a stompster. Okay, I’m going to do it: Boo Weligton!

Everyone scores for Málaga. Cazorla leads the way with 4 goals, but after that, there are 5 players with 2 goals apiece.

Barcelona are traveling with everyone save the injured Fontàs, Villa, and Afelley and Keita who is on ACN duty. Pedro was declared fit and included in the squad, so he’ll be traveling alongside everyone plus the B-teamers Cuenca, Sergi Roberto, and Jonathan dos Santos. I suspect Pedro will be reserved for a substitute role, but that he’ll make an appearance regardless of what the scoreline is. If we’re down or level, he’ll come on to beef up the attack. If we’re winning, he’ll come on to beef up the attack. It’s how things go around these parts. Though, did you realize Pedro only has 1 league goal this year? Well whether you did or not, he only has 1. Crazy!

With Real Madrid hosting Athletic Bilbao, it’s likely that any slip up on Barça’s part will result in an 8-point gap. That can’t be allowed, as Guardiola has noted. No more points can be dropped if the league is to be contested. What I love about that article is that Guardiola notes the danger Málaga presents. Pellegrini is no fool and he’s pushed Barcelona to the brink with a 96 point league haul when he was managing Real Madrid. That’s pretty much the hotness except Barça got 99 points. Crazy, right? Yup. But that’s how things have been going and it’s why Málaga is having such a hard time breaking into the big crowd. It’s quite the gap to bridge.

Play hard, play well, play correctly. Get 3 points. Make the world swoon. Whatever gets you motivated, do it. Get it going. That motor should be purring because if it’s not, there goes La Liga. And remember, it’s only the halfway stage. That’s how messed up this league is.

Predicted lineup: Valdes, Alves, Mascherano, Puyol, Abidal, Busquets, Xavi, Cesc, Messi, Alexis, Adriano

Official Prediction: 1-2. Bitter game, but we get the necessary points. It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be physical. And it’s going to be Alves and Cesc with the goals.

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in Germany with his wife and daughter.


  1. Srini
    January 22, 2012

    A win is more than mandatory. It is essential. But it is not going to be easy. Cliches done.

    I am more interested about the Athletic-EE game for I think this represents a chance when the gap in points is narrowed. Am otherwise also very intrigued with Marcelo Bielsa’s coaching.

    The appointment of Bielsa in Bilbao represented the best move in the offseason in Spanish football for me. There are many reasons to do with the fact that he is a good coach, but there are other meta-reasons. Bilbao with its distinct Basque identity is almost representative of the Basque nation within Spain (in case you didn’t know, Spain is now a multiplicity of nationalities since Franco was done and dusted) and it made sense for them to get Bielsa who gave the Chilenos an identity of their own beyond their nationality. [Although Sociedad, Alaves and Osasuna will not agree entirely].

    Bielsa’s project was to give Bilbao a rebellious spirit that translated onto the football field and bring about an excellence out of it. And so far his project is on the right track. I hope for the sake of the League’s health that this project continues on, for Spanish football desperately needs a third centre of power beyond Castilia and Catalunya. It would then be a truer representation of the country’s political economy/ nationhood.

    That would also mean that referees will be less pressured in a Barca-Real game and less worried about the “national” fallout of every decision. And the competitiveness will mean that there is no longer the fear that every game that Barca/Real play is decisive for the Liga title. Duopoly helps no one.

    Bielsa’s team played wonderfully against Barca – I thought that was the only game when the other team came close to outplaying us in many months apart from one game in the Supercopa against EE. He has instilled a versatility in the squad – shifting central midfielders to defenders, playing midfielders as wingers and so on and has managed the chaos relatively well. Bilbao have been steadily rising up in the table and I expect that they will try their best to overcome recent history against EE.

    La Liga lovers will have a feast tonight in the Bilbao-EE game, I bet. EE will try to get over the Copa disappointment and demoralisation and will not leave any stone unturned, but it will not be easy for them. A game worth watching. Hopefully after Barca cuts the lead to 2 in their own game against Malaga.

    • Helge
      January 22, 2012

      I don’t watch any Real Madrid games because I’ve too often had reasonable hopes that they might drop points against opponent XY – and in the end they always won.
      It’s a lesser disappointment when you only see the result on paper 🙂

      But I wish Bilbao the best of luck, and hopefully you will not have to regret watching the match.

  2. K_legit in Oz
    January 22, 2012

    I’ll just leave this here:

    Translation via: @tancredipalmeri

    Mourinho walking to Sergio Ramos in changing room:”You have killed me in the mixed zone”.
    Sergio Ramos:”No mister,you just read what press wrote.That was not what we said at all”
    Mourino:”Of course. You Spanish are the world champions so your friends in the press they protect you.
    Mourino:”The same it happens with the goal keeper”. ]
    Casillas hears from far and shouts: “Mister,here you have to speak face to face, understand?”
    Bit later on.
    Mourino to Ramos:”What you were doing on Puyol’s goal,Sergio?”
    Ramos:”Defending on Piquè”.
    Mourino:”Here it is,you had to do it on Puyol”
    Ramos:”Yes but we they did the scheme with Piquè so we decided to change the defending”.
    Mourino:”So what are you playing ‘how to be a manager'”?
    Ramos:”No,but depending on situations,you have to change how to defend” “As long as you have never worn a football shirt, you cannot know that sometimes these things happen in football”

    It is surprising that Mourinho is picking on Ramos when quite clearly he wasn’t culpable at all in the Puyol goal (and if anything was one of the better Madrid players in the game)..the fact that Mourinho is blaming Ramos and not his countryman Pepe (who’s fault it was) is not a good sign for them

    • Jafri
      January 22, 2012

      Think it’s legit? This seems like something out of Crackovia to me.

    • January 22, 2012

      I think it’s more important to think about whose agent Pepe has: Mourinho’s. It’s not about Portuguese versus Spanish, it’s about Jorge Mendes clients versus non Jorge Mendes clients.

  3. Chiu
    January 22, 2012

    OT – I just want to say Happy Chinese New Year for all cules here that celebrate it.

    – May the year of Dragon bring a lot of silverware for our Barcelona.

    – May the year of Dragon bring more luck especially in our away matches.

    – May the year of Dragon bless our players and prevent them from injury.

    – May the year of Dragon would mark Pep and Tito contract renewal

    – May the year of Dragon make this community better and better and better

    Gong Xi Fat Cai! Orange for all of you 🙂

    PS: back discussing football.sorry for re-posting

  4. Jafri
    January 22, 2012

    Can I be OT here and say I absolutely loathe the predicted new kit for 012-013? I know it’s been discussed before but I can’t seem to get over how bad it looks. Like something out of Wordart from MS Word 95.

    • BarcaOwl
      January 22, 2012

      It’s horrifying. Looks like someone let a toddler loose with a box of Crayola. If that’s really next season’s kit, I’m getting two of this season’s away kit before the season ends. Puyol’s and Abidal’s most likely.

  5. Boamcule
    January 22, 2012

    loose against malaga and my post classico happiness is for nothing.

    • Ryan
      January 22, 2012

      They’re without a win in 5 games, not exactly in scintillating form.

  6. yassir (Formerly Extreme barca fan)
    January 22, 2012

    I hope and think, that Malaga under Pellegrini are less physical and brutal than they were before, they actually are topping the fair play table. expect to see some good football from them as is the case with Pellegrini teams.

  7. Helge
    January 22, 2012

    haha, RFEF is really a bunch of idiots…

    Calling this the first playday might be considered accurate by some, but not taking any legal actions vs Pepe is a Drogba’ish disgrace!

    I’m not over-confident for this match. Let’s hope Demichelis plays as if he wore the Argentina shirt 🙂 That would make things a lot easier.

  8. blitzen
    January 22, 2012

    “Shnikies?” Seriously, Isaiah? SMH.

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