Barça’s final preseason game ended with a 1-3 victory over a Malaysian XI in Kuala Lumpur today and there is now just over a week to prepare for next Sunday’s league opener with Levante. There was no Leo Messi, who had to pull out of the encounter due to a thigh strain, but his false nine role was taken by Cesc Fabregas who responded with the opening goal of the game. Then after Amri Yahyah grabbed an equalizer for Malaysia, Fabregas turned provider, playing in Neymar to score in stylish fashion and then fifteen minutes from the end, flicking the ball through for Piqué to smash home Barça’s third.
The game finally took place at the Shah Alam stadium with 70,000 capacity due to the poor state of the field at the Bukit Jalil national stadium. After an injury scare to Pinto in training yesterday it has been reported that the players threatened to refuse to play at Bukit Jalil, leaving the organizers with the difficult problem of switching venue at the last minute.
Besides Messi, Tata Martino was also without the injured Pedro but he fielded his strongest available XI of Valdés, Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba, Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta, Alexis, Fabregas and Neymar. For the opening twenty minutes the game was played almost entirely in the Malaysia XI half though there was little penetration into the penalty area from Barça, Xavi, Busquets and Iniesta played the ball around comfortably, Alves and Alba pushed forward to support, Neymar and Alexis showed bursts of speed and the odd clever flick but the crosses were failing to find Fabregas.
Barça’s only shots in this time came from Piqué and Xavi, both from distance and both off target. Then in the 20th minute Malaysia made their first attack down the left, the ball was easily won by the Barça defence but then Xavi lost the ball to the Malaysian forward Norshahrul Idlan Talaha who slipped past Piqué into the area and Valdés was relieved to divert his shot onto the outside of the post.
It was a shock to Barça and for a few minutes some imprecision crept into Barça’s game. However, Neymar was looking dangerous, showing one neat step-over to get to the line and cross, then in the 27th minute Iniesta found him in the area and after dummying a return the Brazilian skillfully dragged the ball inside before firing wide of the far post.
Iniesta curled a shot a yard wide but Barça’s ideas seemed to be drying up. Then on 32 minutes Neymar played the ball inside from the touchline for Alba to dart to the byline and send in a perfect cross to Fabregas whose header squirmed in past keeper Marlias.
The goal should have led to a period of more Barça control but instead Malaysia were allowed to make a couple of attacks which again exposed some weaknesses in Barça’s first-choice defence. After winning a corner on the right Malaysia’s defender Aidil Zafuan Abdul Razak fired a long distance toe-poke narrowly wide. Then in the 40th minute Kunanlan broke up the left and sent a searching pass towards Barça’s area, Alba was sprinting back to intercept but he only succeeded in knocking the ball square to Amri Yahyah who caught Valdés out of position with a first time shot for the equalizer.
Barça’s reaction came quickly. Just three minutes later Fabregas received the ball on the left and sent a low pass into the area to Neymar who showed excellent skill again to nip the ball away from Aidil before sidefooting a shot between Marlias and the near post.
The teams went in at half time at 1-2 but as is so often the case in these pre-season games the second half was somewhat disappointing. Martino replaced Alves, Alba and Neymar during the break but the seven additional second half changes combined with the Malaysian substitutions tended to break up the rhythm. Barça suffered less at the back but failed to create much going forward.
Tello and Busquets had efforts go wide but it wasn’t until the 60th minute that Barça created a decent second-half chance after Fabregas’s neat assist to Iniesta but the shot from the Barça midfielder flew across the face of the goal with Alexis unable to arrive at the far post.
Song, Dos Santos, Sergi Roberto and Pinto were brought on. Then in the 66th minute Adriano cut inside but his shot from the edge of the area lacked power and Malaysia’s substitute keeper Razili got down to save comfortably. Alexis had the next chance after an exchange of passes with Fabregas but Razili came out well to deny the Chilean.
Barça finally got a third in the 75th minute after Song played a pass forward to Fabregas who flicked the ball through to Piqué who controlled in the centre forward position before lashing the ball past Razili. It might have been four-one a few minutes later after a good combination between Adriano and Tello on the left but when Adrian’s cross came in Johnathan dos Santos could only hit his volley straight at Razili.
Near the end Fabregas limped off with an ankle injury which first reports say will see him miss Spain’s friendly in Ecuador on Wednesday. There were late run-outs for Bagnack, Bartrá and Dongou but there was little time for them to demonstrate much. Right at the end Dongou had two successive shots that were both blocked but the game ended at 1-3.
To put the result in context, Chelsea beat Malaysia 1-4 a couple of weeks ago at the same stadium. Today’s scoreline was not too bad in comparison given the absence of Messi though there were some worrying lapses, especially in the first half, while the second half team lacked punch going forward. The preseason has had its ups and downs with disappointing performances in Munich and in Gdansk set against the impressive shows against Valerenga, Santos and Thailand. Which Barça will turn up for the first league game next week against Levante?
Malaysia XI: Marlias (Razali, min.46); Asraruddin (Elds I, min.69), Fadhli (Amiridzuan, min.69), Aidil Zafuan, Mahali (Reubben, min.91), Gurusamy (Mohd Nor Farhan, min.63), Safiq (Nawi, min.91), Amri, Kunalan (Kathiripillai, min.69), Wan Zack y Norshahrul (Sali, min.69).
Barça: Valdés (Pinto m63); Alves (Montoya h/t), Piqué (Bartrá m84), Mascherano (Bagnack m80), Alba (Adriano h/t); Xavi (Dos Santos m62), Busquets (Song m62), Iniesta (Sergi Roberto m63); Alexis, Fabregas (Dongou m84), Neymar (Tello h/t).
Goals: m33 Fabregas 0-1, m37 Amri Yahyah 1-1, m43 Neymar 1-2, m75 Piqué 1-3.