Barça travel to Malaga tomorrow for the first meeting of three against the Andalusian club over the next week and a half. The two Copa del Rey games will no doubt be intense with a possible semi-final against Real Madrid at stake, but tomorrow’s league clash is the final game of the first half of the 2012/13 Liga, and a chance for Barça to record the best ever points total at this stage of the competition.
Malaga promise to be difficult opponents. Since being taken over by the Qatari billionaire sheikh Abdullah ben Nasser Al Thani in June 2010 they have risen considerably. Having finished fourth last season they entered the Champions League for the first time this season and surprised many outside Spain by finishing top of Group C above AC Milan, Zenit St Petersberg and Anderlecht.
Coach Manuel Pelligrini has forged a good mix of youth and experience, getting the best out of seasoned professionals like Joaquin Sanchez, Martin Demichelis and Javier Saviola while bringing in and developing excellent youngsters like Nacho Camacho and this year’s Golden Boy winner Isco Alarcon.
Los Boquerones are currently fourth in the table on 31 points and with just thirteen goals conceded they have the best defensive record in La Liga. They have also demonstrated plenty of attacking flair with 4-0 victories over Betis and Valencia, and their most recent big scalp at La Roseleda was Real Madrid who went down 3-2 just before Christmas.
However, Barça are in formidable form at the moment. The first team regulars gave an excellent all round showing in the 4-0 win over Espanyol last weekend, then with Thursday’s thrashing of Cordoba we saw that the ‘back-up’ is in good shape too with especially encouraging performances from David Villa and Thiago.
Playing the same opponent three times in quick succession is always a little tricky and it will be interesting at this stage of the season to see how our rotations work. With the 11-point advantage at the top of the table it could be an opportunity to give more importance to the Copa over the next couple of weeks. However, if players need resting perhaps it would be more suitable for them to sit out of next Saturday’s game at Real Sociedad which is sandwiched between the two quarter final cup games.
With Tito Vilanova continuing his treatment in New York (oh, to have been a fly on the wall at his encounter with Pep!), Jordi Roura will have some important decisions to take. Obviously Roura will talk to Vilanova about team selection but he is now the one taking training and he will have to judge which players look most prepared for each task.
For tomorrow’s game I expect to see a starting XI very similar to the team that beat Espanyol, though Adriano is over his ankle problem and could replace Alves at right back. Two years ago Guardiola’s Barça set the record for ten straight away wins in La Liga, a run than went from the start of the season until February 12 2011 when we drew 1-1 at Sporting. At that time I believed it was a record that would stand for a long time but with nine out of nine on the road this season we can equal that record tomorrow. The team have been giving ten-out-of-ten performances recently, here’s to another one tomorrow to make it ten out of ten.
Possible starting XIs.
Malaga: (4-1-4-1) Willy Caballero; Jesus Gamez, Weligton, Demichelis, Monreal; Camacho; Joaquin, Portillo, Isco, Eliseu; Santa Cruz.
Barça: Valdés; Adriano, Piqué, Puyol, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas; Pedro, Messi, Iniesta.
Prediction: Malaga 0 Barça 2
Date: Sunday 13 January 2013. Kick off 9 pm local time