Few can deny that Barça’s success last season was very much down to the incredible talent of the team’s three most advanced players, Leo Messi, Neymar Jr and Luis Suárez. The three scored an astonishing 122 goals between them on the way to winning Liga, Copa and Champions League but apart from a brief appearance together in the Gamper win over Roma the trident has not played together since the Champions League Final victory over Juventus in Berlin.
Tomorrow the trio should be back in action together as Malaga hit town for the second game of the league season (Saturday 8.30 pm). However, goals may not be so easy to come by against Javi Gracia’s men who last season under the same coach completely blocked Barça out in both league encounters, a 0-0 draw at the Rosaleda and a surprise 0-1 win for the Andalucians at Camp Nou last February.
Malaga’s defensive strength was again apparent last week in their opening league fixture which ended 0-0 against a Sevilla side that managed four against Barça in the Supercup final. There will be a few new faces in Malaga’s team but others, who featured against Sevilla such as Kameni, Rosales, Angeleri, Darder, Juanpi and Duda, also appeared in Malaga’s Camp Nou victory last season. I have to admit I’m hoping that Juankar appears, even if only as a substitute, as it tickles the child inside me to hear his name pronounced. I can only hope he goes to play in England one day!
Barça’s coach Luis Enrique was giving few clues as to his team selection tomorrow but he will have to make do without the suspended Gerard Piqué and the injured Dani Alves. The good news is that Sergio Busquets’s injury turned out to be unimportant and the midfielder should start in his usual holding role. If Neymar is considered fit enough to start we could see an initial XI of Bravo, Sergi Roberto, Mascherano, Vermaelen, Alba, Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta, Messi, Suárez and Neymar.
Considering the small squad available to Luis Enrique until January, it was a relief to get a relatively straightforward group in the Champions League. Bayer Leverkusen, Roma and BATE Borisov will provide the opposition as Barça begin the quest to become the first team to win back-to-back Champions Leagues. If Barça get off to a good start in the first two games, away at Roma on September 16 and at home to Leverkusen on September 29, it shouldn’t be necessary later for the players to overexert themselves too much, allowing sufficient attention to be given to La Liga.
Finally, congratulations to Leo Messi after becoming the first player to win two UEFA Best Player in Europe Awards, yesterday’s vote giving him a clear win for the 2014/15 award to go with his victory in the first edition of the prize in 2010/11.
Possible Starting XIs:
Barça: Bravo; Sergi Roberto, Mascherano, Vermaelen, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Suárez, Neymar.
Malaga: Kameni; Rosales, Albentosa, Angeleri, Boka; Tissone, Darder; Amrabat, Horta, Cop; Charles.
Prediction: Barça 2 Malaga 0
Date: Saturday 29 August 2015. Kick-off 8.30 pm.