Just three days before the Champions League clash at Manchester City Barça play hosts to Malaga at Camp Nou (Saturday 4 pm) in another must-win league game. With fifteen games remaining in La Liga 2014/15 the Catalans remain just one point behind leaders Real Madrid and as the title race hots up Barça are looking the more in-form team.
Leo Messi spoke this week about a change of attitude in the team since the defeat at Anoeta, and while Luis Enrique claimed in today’s press conference that the players have maintained the same direction since the start of the season there is little doubt that the team has played more consistently over the last six weeks while Messi has been performing exceptionally well (In a TV poll yesterday 55% said he is in the best form of his life). Although he spoke of the team, perhaps the change in attitude is in Messi himself and he seems to have put last year’s problems behind him. What is most remarkable is that Messi is thriving again after returning to the right wing, especially as we’ve always been told that he prefers to play through the middle.
Luis Enrique deserves credit for changing his tactics and restoring width in attack. Messi and Neymar benefit from the room they find on the wings, they can recieve the ball more easily and both players can surprise opponents when they come infield as they are so difficult to mark. Suárez does a great job of occupying the opposing central defenders which also helps to open space for his team-mates and as a result the goals are flowing in.
Andrés Iniesta received medical clearance this week which means only Douglas and Vermaelen are unavailable against Malaga. Luis Enrique may have an XI in mind already for the Etihad on Tuesday and he may decide to start Iniesta on the bench tomorrow with City in mind while Busquets could be another candidate to be reserved. Besides that the Barça coach seems likely to put out his strongest team, no doubt with the hope of building up a good lead in order to sub off key players in the second half.
Malaga gave us a difficult time in the 0-0 draw at La Rosaleda back in September. They are 7th in the table on 35 points, however, they are not as strong away from home and their recent form, with two consecutive defeats against Levante and Espanyol, suggests they are not in their best moment. Both Nacho Camacho and Nordin Amrabat miss the game through suspension though Javi Guerra should be fit in time to lead the attack.
Barça have an excellent record against Malaga at Camp Nou. The Andalusians have played 33 times here in La Liga but have only managed two wins and a draw. Last season Barça won the game 3-0 with goals from Piqué, Pedro and Alexis, while the last Malaga win came in November 1999 (1-2) when Winston Bogarde scored Barça’s consolation.
Barça: Bravo; Alves, Piqué, Mathieu, Alba; Rakitic, Mascherano, Rafinha; Messi, Suarez, Neymar.
Malaga: Kameni; Rosales, Angeleri, Weligton, Boka; Recio, Darder; Samuel, Juanmi, Castillejo; Javi Guerra.
My bet: correct score – Barça 5 Malaga 0 (current odds 11.00). The best odds for soccer betting are at William Hill.
Date: Saturday 21 February 2015. Kick-off 4 pm local time.