Liga Preview: Málaga CF vs. FC Barcelona, Saturday 12noon EST, GolTV
Long-time reader and my penya buddy Andrew M agreed to write this week’s preview because the rest of us can’t be bothered to give a rat’s petuitary gland about the Málaga match.
For some, it could not come soon enough, while for others, it causes them to retract in horror as if a rabid badger just slithered up their spine…yes, it is May 21 but no, it’s not the Rapture; it is, in fact, the last match-day of La Primera Liga. Our brave lads will go into this final game against Maulaga “amb dos pebrots” as we are up against a team known to us for their kicking, stomping and generalized violence (Booo Weligton!).
In a largely meaningless encounter, Barça having secured first place and Maulaga being safe from the drop zone, Pep has chosen to withhold a number of first team players from the squad that will travel to Andalucía: VV, Xavi, Messi, Iniesta, Villa, Puyol and Pique. This “core” of our team are being “rested” and left behind to avoid injury, although, according the Barcelona’s official website, they will be doing Champions League preparations behind closed doors at the Ciutat Esportivo on Saturday.
The players that are making the 2 hr 15min trek south are: Pinto, Oier, Busi, Pedro!!, Banjo, Maxwell, Afellay, Adriano, Alves, Abi, Keiteeee, sMasch, Jeffren, Andreu Fontàs (my twin), Thiago, Jonny Two-Saints, Bartra and Sergi Roberto.
I honestly expected to see the big boys given the run around this weekend to maintain match fitness but as usual, Pep has chosen to ignore what I want/think and go with his own “ideas”. It’s possible that we will see Abi in the starting line-up on Saturday as he needs the match minutes. With Xavi and Iniesta away I imagine that we will see Busi, Thiago and Keiteeee in the midfield, with Pedro, Afellay and Bojan forming an attacking trident up front. Keiteee, having made the most appearances of any player in our squad this season, took the reins of the midfield nicely last weekend, making his 6-legged horse runs from defense to attack and helping to coordinate the often erratic play of the youth in front of him.
This line-up will strongly resemble the starting 11 against Depor, yippee…. But seriously, it is good to see some of the fringe players get some time, specifically Thiago, who is allegedly going to be promoted next season. I can imagine that Pep is using these games to test some of the youth like Fontas and Bartra to see whether or not they would be capable of holding down a first team spot next year and saving us from having to splurge on more CBs. With that said, I think we will see that youthful centre-back pairing tomorrow flanked by Abidal and Alves. We could see Adriano strutting his stuff up and down the left as a substitute for Abidal as he has been given the green light to play after recovering from injury. Pep might want Adriano to get some minutes as I am sure we will see him on the bench at Wembley and not to mention having a fit Adriano as a back up for Abidal is fairly comforting in the event that (god-forbid) anything should happen to our greyhound. I almost feel as if the omission of Messi is Pep’s underhanded way of telling M*drid that he/Leo/Barça do not give a shaved-caterpillar’s eyebrow about this so called “Pichichi”. And while I am on the topic: If Marca can just decide to give this award to the “top” (see Crynaldo’s not-goal goal deflected off Pepe) scorer in La Liga, surely Sport or MD could do the same? Invent the Eto’o. Then Messi can win the Eto’o every year.
It is a shame that Valdés does not make the trip as he will miss his opportunity to pass Zamora himself and set a new personal best goalkeeping coefficient. If he had managed to keep a clean sheet at La Rosaleda, he would finish with a coefficient of 0.48 goals conceded per game or 20 goals in 33 games. As it stands, this season he will finish on 0.627 goals per game which is still incredible and beats his record from last year of 0.63 goals per game. Perhaps next year he can pass Zamora, Ramallets, and ultimately Depor’s Paco Liaño who holds the Liga record at 0.47 goals per game.(Source: fcbarcelona.com)
Málaga (13W-7D-17L), who have won 5 of their last 8 games, will be without 2 of their marquee signings that were made under the Qatari investor Abdullah Ben Nasser Al Thani. “The Beast” Julio Baptista, the scorer of this goal that won the Clásico at the Camp Nou for Berndt Schuster and his EE in 2007, will be watching from the stands as he is ruled out with a muscle tear that he sustained against Athletic Bilbao at San Mames last weekend.
Baptista has been a key player for Málaga this season since his debut in their 4-1 defeat to Barcelona at the Camp Nou. After surgery in Brazil earlier this year, he returned to action on April 16 to score 2 goals against Mallorca to pull Málaga out of relegation and a secure them another season in La Primera. Málaga’s official website rules him out until next season.
Martin Demichelis will also play no part in this game due to suspension after being sent off against Bilbao following two yellow cards. Despite this momentary setback, the Argentinean has spoken out positively of the coach, Manuel Pelligrini, and his time at the club since his signing from Bayern Munich and has subsequently renewed his contract until 2013.
Malaga will also be without Eliseu, who misses the match on accumulated yellow cards while Duda and Camacho make a return from suspension.
The Andalusians’ danger-man this season is Rondón with a not-unimpressive 14 goals in 29 appearances, making him the highest scoring Venezuelan in La Liga history since passing Juan Arango, formerly of Mallorca. Málaga also have Juanmi, the Spanish under-19 International who, at 18 (his birthday is May 20- Happy Birthday Juanmi!) has 4 goals in 13 appearances. Interestingly, according to www.noticias.123.cl, Málaga are looking to reinforce their ranks this summer by making a bid for the ol’ onion-eating, horsey-face himself, Ruud van Nistelrooy. Supposedly, the Paraguay international Nelson Valdez is their other option.
Realistically, I expect to see a game that will be duller than a donkey ride through a city of clones. Passing, possession and general tika-taka with little enthusiasm will be the hallmarks at La Rosaleda. Some players will be trying to avoid injury while others will be playing their heart out trying to secure a place in next year’s squad.
The spotlight instead this weekend will fall onto the six burras teams in the relegation zone. We know for certain that we will see Hércules and Almería in La Segunda next season to be replaced by Betis and possibly Rayo Vallecano, who have a 9 point cushion in second place, 9 points above Elche, who have the one up over Rayo in head-to-head. One point for Rayo send them up to La Primera, meaning two exciting teams which I welcome back to Primera Liga football.
According to Sid Lowe, there are 8 possible permutations at the end of match-day 38 in which 2 teams finish level, in which case they get ranked on head-to-head and then goal difference.
There are also 7 possible combinations in which 3 teams finish level and 2 possible combinations in which 4 teams finish level. Despite the La Liga haters (you know who you are, England), we have seen a very close-fought relegation battle with only a handful of points separating rock bottom from the first half of the table.
To simplify this a little, here is some direct explanation of possible outcomes:
- If Zaragoza loses to Levante, they are relegated.
- If Zaragoza win and Deportivo do not get anything against Valencia, then Depor goes down.
- If Zaragoza win and Depor draw or win, then the Getafe vs. Sociedad becomes a playoff to see who goes down into La Segunda.
- If any of Zaragoza, Depor, Getafe or Sociedad wins, they guarantee themselves safety.
- Sociedad can afford to draw and stay up.
I predict that Zaragoza will beat a Levante who have nothing but pride to play for as they are safe and that Valencia will beat Deportivo sending them to the second division for the first time since 1991.
The betting site, William Hill, interestingly enough Málaga’s former kit sponsor, dropped as sponsors because gambling is against Al Thani’s religion, make Valencia 6/1 favorites to beat Deportivo while Getafe are marginal favorites to beat Sociedad at 19/10. Strangely enough, or indeed, not so strangely going on the form of our last two games, we are pegged at beating Málaga with odds of 11/10 for us to win, 23/10 for a draw and 5/2 for a Málaga win.
My official unofficial lineup: Pinto, Alves, Mascherano, Fontas, Abidal, Busi, Keite, Thiago, Pedro, Bojan and Afellay.
I expect Adriano will replace Abi later on in the second half and Jeffren will come on for Pedro to preserve his precious legs (and teeth, now that it seems he has had them fixed?).
Official Prediction: 1-2 to us. (Rondón, Thiago, AFELLAYYYYY)
In other news:
Pep says that seeing Abi return to the pitch is his highlight of the season so far. Abidal says, unsurprisingly, that Cancer has changed him. “I thought that I wouldn’t play again, It was during a short period of time, when they detect a tumor you immediately think the worst and it was the first thing I asked the doctors.” He told journalists. He went on to mention his diminishing materialism that has led to the sale of all of his cars, “When you suffer a problem like mine, all the cars you have don’t serve for anything. For this I’ve sold them and the money will go to the fight against illnesses with some associations that I have had contact with.” #Ilovethisman
Liverpool are said to be preparing a bid for Jeffren, who says he would prefer to hang around and fight for a place in the squad. Considering our squad depth, or lack thereof, it might not be a bad plan to hold onto him, especially if he is willing to ride the bench for long spells. Some believe we should sell him should Liverpool be willing to pay top dollar, around 12-15million Euros.
When I went to the Meadowlands just outside of NYC to watch Barca vs. New York Red Bulls, they fielded a number of youngsters, two of which stuck out to me: Pedro and Jeffren. Jeffren is fast as lightning and I firmly believe if he could remain uninjured he could be an incredibly valuable player to have in the squad. He is to Pedro what Victor Vazquez was to Messi: equals when young, but held back by injury allowing the other to blossom.
Messi is said to have submitted an official recommendation that we pay the 30-40 Million asking price for Palermo and Argentina attacking midfielder Javier Pastore. This transfer would surely prohibit the club moving forward on the Cesc bid, due to price and also because the players share many similar qualities.
According to the Catalan rag, Sport, we have come to agreements with Cristian Tello, Sergi Gómez and Oriol Romeu to renew their contracts. Sergi Roberto and Martin Montoya are next in line.
Javi Martinez has renewed with Bilbao, wisely removing himself from the transfer rumor list.
We were the only team in Europe to retain our league title this year. Holler!
Sergio Ramos said something, Christiano Ronaldo did something, Dive Maria is still in desperate need of a feeding (#feedthatboy) and Kaka and Benzema swear that they are not leaving Madrid for greener pastures and more playing time. We will see…
Enjoy the game as we will: shout, scream and hurl invective, just don’t do anything I wouldn’t do…wink wink. Our little Brooklyn Barcelona Karlovačko $5 Penya will be welcoming @emcardenas this weekend as our special end-of-the-season guest while I have it on good authority that @analogmina is making cookies in the shapes of players and The Camp Nou including individual fan detailing. Isaiah has warned all of us not to touch his Xavi cookies. In fact, he warned us in a text message using all caps! Scary stuff.
It’s been a roller coaster of a season and I know many of you have been broken by the incessant Clásicos, but how about it for a final hurrah as the boys stretch their legs one last time before the big Finale in London.
Visca el Barça, Visca el Campeon, y vamos a por Wembley!