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.