Leo Messi will miss Barça’s league match against Malaga at La Rosaleda tomorrow evening (Sunday 9 pm) due to the bruised femoral biceps tendon in his left thigh picked up in Wednesday night’s 1-1 draw at Atlético Madrid in the Supercopa. Tata Martino has included Sergi Roberto, Marc Bartrá and Adriano in his 19-man squad for the game but there is no place for Martin Montoya.
When Messi was substituted in the first two games against Levante and Atlético, Martino used Cesc Fabregas in the false nine role and it seems likely he will do the same tomorrow. There are other options, of course, such as playing Neymar or Alexis through the middle, though Martino will probably opt for Alexis on the right, Fabregas in the middle and either Neymar or Pedro on the left. Martino left few clues to the Brazilian’s inclusion during this lunchtime’s press conference saying: “just because Messi isn’t playing doesn’t mean that Neymar will start”. The defence and midfield that started at Atlético may well be repeated so we could see a starting XI of Valdés, Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba, Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta, Alexis, Fabregas and Pedro.
Barça have won on the last six visits to Malaga and last season two of our best performances were seen at La Rosaleda. On Sunday 13 January Messi, Fabregas and Thiago Alcántara scored in a splendid 1-3 victory which was the last in the record-equalling ten straight away wins from the start of last season. Eleven days later Barça were back in Malaga for the second leg of the Copa del Rey quarter-final. Following a 2-2 draw in the first leg at Camp Nou, Barça were at magnificent in the return, winning 2-4 at La Roselada with goals from Pedro, Piqué, Iniesta and Messi.
Malaga have undergone quite a few changes since last season. The most important are the losses of coach Manuel Pelligrini to Manchester City and star player Isco Alarcón signed for €30 million by Real Madrid. Malaga’s owner is still the billionaire Qatari Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani but following the one-year ban for European Competitions imposed by Uefa for debts there are signs that Sheikh Abdullah has put a stop to the flow of cash he initially seemed willing to invest. Despite the money taken in from the sales of Isco, Toulalan (Monaco €7 million) and Joaquin (Fiorentina €2 million), Malaga have only spent around €4 million this summer with the biggest signings being the Portuguese left back Vitorino Antunes signed from Paços de Ferreira for €1.25 million, the Ivory Coast midfielder Bobley Anderson bought from the Moroccan team Wydad Casablanca for €1 million and the Panamanian central defender Roberto Chen signed for €750,000 from the Panamanian team San Francisco.
Under new coach Bernd Schuster, Malaga began the 2013/14 season with a 1-0 defeat at Valencia, and this week the German will have to make do without the injured Flavio Ferreira and Weligton Oliveira. Schuster may be the only current coach in Spain who has actually won La Liga but he will have a very difficult job to equal Malaga’s recent finishes of 4th and 6th in the last two seasons. Watch out this season, however, for the 17-year-old Cameroonian Fabrice Olinga Essono who played the 90 minutes last week at Valencia on the left wing in a 4-1-4-1 formation.
For Barça it is essential to build on the excellent 7-0 victory over Levante. It is always preferable to be at the top of the table, and while La Liga looks like being a straight race between Barça and Madrid, the chase is likely to be decided by how the two teams cope in this type of away game. The loss of Messi is always important but despite showing one or two weaknesses in the first half against Atlético, Martino’s Barça should be good enough to take all three points at La Rosaleda tomorrow.
Barça’s 19-man squad: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Bartra, Adriano, Jordi Alba, Xavi, Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Song, Dos Santos, Sergi Roberto, Cesc Fàbregas, Tello, Alexis, Pedro, Neymar.
Possible starting XIs:
Malaga: Willy Caballero; Jesus Gámez, Angeleri, Roberto Chen, Antunes; Tissone; Duda, Darder, Pedro Morales, Fabrice; Santa Cruz.
Barça: Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Alexis, Fabregas, Pedro.
Prediction: Malaga 0 Barça 3
Date: Sunday 25 August 2013. Kick off: 9 pm local time.