We are almost 100 hours away from the biggest game of the season for Barcelona, the 2nd leg of the Round-of-16 stage at the UEFA Champions League against Chelsea. In the midst of its preparation, we have to deal with a complicated situation in the form of a completely out-of-form Malaga tomorrow at the Rosaleda stadium. One huge positive for us is the timing of this fixture as Malaga are the bottom-most team in the La Liga table and from the looks of it, relegation may well be their fate. It is really a shame given that Malaga were minutes away from making it to the UEFA Champions League Semi-finals not too long ago (in 2012-13) when they gave Klopp’s BVB a run for their money with Isco as their talisman.
Malaga have always been a mid-table side that fights the big guns of Spain bravely both home & away. To see them fail so badly, is really not a pleasant feeling despite the Blue & White outfit being our bitter rivals in the recent past with closely fought games in each other’s favour. The last time Malaga won a game was almost 3 months ago, back in November when they beat Deportivo La Coruno 3-2 at home. Now they head into the game against us with 6 consecutive defeats and this is exactly why it’s a perfect time to face them.
We are at a situation where we cannot afford to play a high-intense game 3 days before we play one of the most crucial games of the season. We were already made to face the brunt of having back-to-back difficult fixtures like travelling to Basque Country to face Eibar before we went to London to face Chelsea. Another example was the trip to the Canary Islands to face Las Palmas before we faced Atletico Madrid at home. Despite Las Palmas not being a very difficult opponent in terms of quality, the 4,000-kilometre journey (2,000 kms one way) was a pain by itself.
Lets look at how we can line-up in order to be able to grab all the 3 points and at the same time, not strain ourselves too much before we face Chelsea at the Camp Nou. It is natural to have one eye on the game against Chelsea but it wouldn’t be very smart on our part to give up the hard-earned lead last week against Atletico and hence a win is a must, no matter what.
My playing XI:
I have been wondering for a while as to why our latest addition to the squad Yerry Mina hasn’t featured as often. The Colombian featured once and that was against Getafe at the Camp Nou. In truth, he looked quite comfortable on and off-the-ball, proved to be an aerial threat and it was more than good enough a debut performance. I would like to see him pair up against Thomas Vermaelen who looks to be back in full fitness once again. Pique has a knee troubled by injuries and it would be too risky to feature him 3 days before the big day. Since we don’t have Nelson Semedo available, Sergi Roberto will have to slot in on the right while Lucas Digne could step in to provide Jordi Alba some much needed rest.
Rotation is good but too much rotation could lead us into losing the team balance. In order to avoid this, the most important piece of the puzzle is Sergio Busquets. Having him in the middle could provide us that calmness, composure and balance in possession. However, I wouldn’t favour him to play the entire 90 minutes and Ivan Rakitic could step in 60 minutes into the game, assuming we would be in control by then. Philippe Coutinho is a no-brainer owing to 2 reasons: Iniesta isn’t available for tomorrow and Coutinho wouldn’t be available for the Chelsea game. The Brazilian also had an impressive performance against Atletico and looks to be in fine form.
As far as the other two positions in midfield are concerned, I would go with Paulinho in the centre and Aleix Vidal in the right flank. I will explain the logic behind the selection of Paulinho a little later while I would go for Vidal for the simple reason that I believe Andre Gomes might be needed in the starting XI against Chelsea. It is still not clear if Andres Iniesta would be fit for the Champions League but if it turns out that he isn’t we might have to replace him with Gomes. (I would prefer Gomes vs Chelsea than Paulinho).
I haven’t opted to go with Ousmane Dembele starting this game as I strongly believe the right time would be for him to start against Chelsea and hence getting some minutes against Malaga by coming off the bench could be ideal. It wouldn’t be smart to start him both against Malaga & Chelsea.
Lionel Messi is a sure selection as we already don’t have Iniesta available for tomorrow, we cannot afford to bench Messi as it might stifle our creativity. I would rest Luis Suarez for this one as the kind of effort he put in against Atletico was massive. I would like him to be all charged up for the Chelsea game and not allow Malaga to tire him out. We have made the mistake of not resting him enough before Champions League games and paid heavily for it in the previous years. We need to look to avoid this and this is why I went for the inclusion of Paulinho. Without Suarez, we might just be missing that fox in that box type player and the Brazilian might just help us overcome that with his occasional runs into the box.
Ideally, we need to be looking to substitute Roberto, Busquets & Messi off to the bench by fielding in Rakitic, Suarez and Dembele. We can always have Dembele play on the right flank and push Vidal back into defence to replace Roberto. All these substitutions would be possible only if we gain control of the game early on and we are able to score a goal or two within the first half. We must be looking to do that in order to not have a lot of stress towards the end of the game.
Hoping to finish this one comfortably and charge ourselves up for Chelsea.
Visca el Barca ❤