Malaga vs Barcelona: 5 talking points

Malaga CF v FC Barcelona - La Liga

A lot of eyes were focused on the match up between the Spanish top flight’s most stingy defence and the most prolific attack. Both teams have of late been in the news for off the pitch stuff. Malaga have been in a tough spot of late, with their financial irregularities leading UEFA to ban them from taking part in European competitions next season. The first team to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions league, Malaga have proven that they are a force to be reckoned with, what with Manuel Pellegrini’s coaching pedigree guiding them through all their issues. Barcelona, on the other hand have had a tumultuous last month or so, with the club first rocked by the news that their manager, Tito Vilanova would have to undergo another operation and ensuing treatments to combat a recurrence of his cancer, and then buoyed by the fact that he would be making a return to the touchline for the game against Malaga. Also, Barcelona had Messi winning the Ballon d’Or for the 4th time in a row, and had five of their team chosen in the Team of the Year for 2012.

The game definitely stood up to its expectations, with Malaga putting up a stiff resistance in the first half, an errant backpass leading to Barcelona opening the scoring through Messi. Caballero had been outstanding in goal, and the defensive shape and closing down maintained by Malaga was commendable. The second half though saw their commitment to attack leave huge gaps behind the midfield for the Barcelona attack to exploit, and resulted in Barcelona running rampant and building up a 3 goal cushion. Buonanotte curled in a peach of a free kick to reduce the arrears, but it was too little too late as Barcelona juggernaut rolled on, continuing their unbelievable start to the season, taking 55 points out of a possible 57.

A look at the specific talking points follows:

1. Malaga’s playing style

Malaga CF v FC Barcelona - La Liga

So far, apart from the exception of Real Madrid, Sevilla and Atletico for the first half an hour, none of the other teams have attacked Barcelona. Most teams park the bus when they play Barcelona, seeking to limit the margin of defeat, and the ones that do try to attack, have troubles keeping Barcelona from scoring, as Barcelona have not yet gone a game without scoring so far this season. Malaga played their usual 4-2-3-1 with Isco pulling the strings and Camacho and Toulalan providing the defensive screen. Due credit goes to the tactics and coaching of Pellegrini, as Malaga were able to hold their own when faced with the much vaunted Barcelona attack, and additionally were adventurous in possession, as was seen by Natxo Monreal frequently overlapping Eliseu on the left flank. The defence was in perfect shape, successfully nullifying every threat that came their way and keeping the Catalans’ attacking prowess in check. Caballero was brilliant whenever called on. Apart from a shot dragged wide by Fabregas and the goal that Messi scored thanks to an underhit backpass that gave Caballero no chance, Barcelona could not create much in the way of chances in the first half.

2. That Polka dotted Messi

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Try as hard as one may, it is difficult to contain and yet express Messi’s genius in a few words. Last night, playing as the fulcrum of the Barcelona attack, he controlled the game by creating chances for his team mates, playing the final pass, exchanging swift and deft one-twos and constantly making runs at the defence. His pass for the Fabregas goal was deft and yet marked with deadly precision. He was involved in the third goal too, playing a quick one-two with Thiago before the latter provided a sumptuous finish. If only he could decide what to wear on the red carpet with an ounce of his footballing genius.

3. Barcelona and their sleight of foot

In a game that saw them being put under a lot of pressure by the Malaga defenders, the Barcelona midfield showed the presence of some very quick feet in addition to their awareness and incredible control of possession. On multiple occasions, the Barcelona midfield pulled themselves out of tight corners by demonstrating nimbleness and skill of a very high level. Cases in point being one where Busquets gets out of jail with nimble footwork, and the video below showcasing Iniesta at his very nonchalant best. Watch the Iniesta skill where he controls the air ball without making an effort to do so.

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4. The Golden Boy

Isco has had a brilliant season so far, having already scored more this year than he did last year. His creativity and balance in passing is a joy to watch, and along with Muniain and Thiago, he is the star of the next generation of the Spanish midfield. Against Barcelona, he was not at his best but his exuberance while attacking and the intention of getting everyone involved in attack was admirable. Shackled well by a combination of Busquets and Mascherano, he could not showcase his talents to the maximum and so Malaga were left slightly toothless whenever they attacked, as they could not create many clear chances.

5. The return of Tito Vilanova

It was a welcome sight, seeing the familiar face of Vilanova at the touchline, back after undergoing surgery and treatment for his cancer. He has added a new level of directness to this Barcelona team, as they now look to pounce on any weakness shown by their opponents ruthlessly. Also, he has brought an increased sense of trust in the patented 4-3-3 that the Catalans play. Last season, Guardiola had moved in between the 4-3-3 and a 3-4-3 to increase their threat going forward against teams that might defend stubbornly. Vilanova has in general stuck to the 4-3-3, but has added his own touch of dynamism to it, equipping Barcelona with a counter attacking threat without compromising their possession game. What he has also added to the gameplay is the feature of tactical fouling. With Barcelona playing a high pressing game, it is imperative that the opponent’s attacking forays be contained at the earliest, which is why one can see many innocuous challenges being committed deep inside the opponent’s half, thus depriving them of the momentum. An example of this was Fabregas’ challenge on Toulalan deep in Malaga’s half.

The next 10 days offer Malaga the chance for revenge, as they meet Barcelona in the Copa del Rey over two legs to decide who goes through to the last four. If last night’s game was anything to go by, those two games aren’t going to be easy and will need Barcelona to be at their imperious best to go through with ease. For now though, they are the team with the best record across Europe, having drawn 1 and won 18 of their 19 matches at the halfway stage of the Spanish La Liga.

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Edited by Staff Editor
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