Skip to content

Offshore drilling, Spain: Barcelona 3, at Málaga 1

Jan 13, 2013, 11:14 PM EDT

Malaga CF v FC Barcelona - La Liga Getty Images

The typical formula for combating Barcelona is absorb their attack, stay very deep and compact, and on rely on counters. While the approach rarely leads to results, teams like Celtic, Chelsea, and Rubin Kazan have had success. Only José Mourinho’s Real Madrid has been able to go blow-for-blow with their rivals (and during the Special One’s first year in Madrid, it was too close to literal blows).

That’s why it’s surprising when a team like Málaga not only plays Barcelona straight up but is able to compete with Spain’s runaway leaders. For over a half on Sunday, only an aberrational first half mistake separated the two sides.

In the second, however, a Cesc Fabregas goal doubled Barcelona’s lead, and although Málaga again dialed up the intensity after a brief period of shock, Barcelona a superficially comfortable 3-1 victory.

It’s not exaggeration to say this game could have gone either way. Ignacio Camacho’s ill-advised first half back pass (after a collision between Málaga teammates on a Willy Caballero goal kick) gifted Lionel Messi the half’s only goal. Before that, Málaga was almost as dangerous as Barcelona, frequently able to get at their opponent down Barça’s right flank.

Given the tenacity with which Málaga was playing, the game may have broke differently were it not for one unfortunate, atypical mistake.

Man of the Match: Barcelona was playing, right? OK, then: Lionel Messi was Man of the Match.

The choice is both the default and justified. While the opening goal was gifted — Camacho’s backpass easily intercepted before Messi rounded Caballero at the edge of the area to finish into an open net — Messi assisted on each of Barça’s other goals. In the second half, a nice 20-yard diagonal allowed Fábregas to race past Sergio Sánchez and finish against Caballero’s left post. On Thiago Alcantera’s 82nd minute goal, Messi laid off a pass to the substitute midfielder ahead of his 19-yard blast.

(MORE: Video of Messi’s goal Sunday)

By Messi’s standards, it was an average day. He less dominant than opportunistic, but in match where Málaga’s tenaciousness held most of his teammates in check, the Ballon d’ Or winner was still the game’s best player.

Threesome of knowledge

1. Beware Málaga in Champions League - Spain-based Guardian and Sports Illustrated correspondent Sid Lowe was high on Málaga’s chances to go far in Champions League when December’s knockout round draw was made. Manuel Pellegrini’s team had cruised through their group, but against a floundering Milan, a Zenit squad in turmoil, and an outgunned Anderlecht, it was difficult to gauge how ready Málaga was for the next phase.

If Málaga plays like they did today, they’ll be a major threat in the knockout round. Few teams have players like Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernández and Sergio Busquets in midfield. The elite talents of that trio were the only thing that kept Barcelona in control at the Rosaleda. Were it not for the midfielder-esque skills of central defenders Gerard Pique and (to a lesser extent) Javier Mascherano, Barça would have been thrown off by high pressure from Roque Santa Cruz and  (and Jeremy Toulalan and Camacho in behind them). Less talented teams would have crumbled.

Even Real Madrid at their best — as talented but slower than Barcelona — would have had trouble. Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are capable of dealing with Málaga, but teams like Manchester United, Juventus, and Paris Saint Germain? They’d struggle.

Porto – Málaga’s Round of 16 opponent? They’re in trouble.

2. That extra dimension of Andrés Iniesta – Were it not for Andrés Iniesta’s ability to turn upfield and move the ball vertically, Barcelona may have been relegated to knocking the ball sideways to try and get around Toulalan and Camacho. But at various moments in the match (most importantly, during Málaga’s last surge in the middle of the second half), Iniesta’s ability to dribble through Málaga’s initial pressure was the only thing that allowed Barcelona to keep the ball.

It was an example of the exquisite balance in Barcelona’s midfield. Neither Xavi nor Busquets are capable of carrying the ball like Iniesta, yet Iniesta can’t run a game like Xavi. And neither man’s capable of providing Busquets’ support.

Today, Barcelona needed Iniesta to shine. When teams pack it in, they’ll need Xavi to unlock them. And against teams that can win the ball and counter through the middle, Busquets will need to step up.

3. Barcelona’s defense coming around – Early this season, Barcelona’s defense looked suspect, but because their opponents rarely had the ball, the goals allowed numbers stayed low. Yet when you watched Tito Vilanova’s team you couldn’t help but wonder what teams like Bayern Munich would do to them in Champions League.

Now the defense is coming around. During Málaga’s first half advances, the back stayed organized as attacks into the space behind Daniel Alves forced the defense to reorganize. Gerard Pique (playing right-center half) calmly forced the play away from goal, where Sergio Busquets dropping into the back left the team prepared to deal with Málaga’s followup.

Instead of seeing their defenders isolated and desperate, Barcelona fans saw their team coolly deal with the type of attacks they’ll see against the world’s better teams. And with their defense playing better, those fans have reason to expect their guys will hold up.

Packaged for takeaway

  • By the end of the game, Barcelona’s possession number was at a typical 64 percent, though the shots on goal only favored them 4-2. Most of possession came in the second half after Fábregas’s goal temporarily disillusioned Málaga.
  • At times, there seems to be little difference between the team’s two right backs: Spanish internationals Jordi Alba (Barcelona) and Nacho Monreal (Malaga). But in the second half, Alba flashed the quality that sets him apart, coming from nowhere to overlap Iniesta in the box during one mid-half movement. Nothing came of it, but the speed with which Alba joined the attack created a “yeah, that’s what makes him different” moment.
  • Were it not for some strong reads early from Caballero, Barcelona may have rolled out to a typically easy victory. Three times in the first half hour Caballero charged off his line to deal with attacks. Still, it was an early stop on Lionel Messi that really deserves some attention. It wasn’t a leaping save, so you won’t see it in a highlight, but in going to ground on his right arm before reaching across his body to stop the ball with his left, Caballero showed the type of athleticism that’s often overlooked. A lot of goalkeepers can make the leaping stop, but to be able to both divert an attacker and recover to block his followup is something that would ask too much of a lot of pure shot-stoppers.
Latest Posts
  1. Report: Diego Costa could be out four to six weeks with hamstring injury

    Aug 27, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT

    Pre-Season Friendly - "Vitesse Arnhem v Chelsea" Getty Images

    Reports indicate Chelsea striker Diego Costa has suffered a hamstring injury that will keep him out of the side for four to six weeks.

  2. Samuel Eto’o announces international retirement from Cameroon

    Aug 27, 2014, 10:24 PM EDT

    Soc Wcup Cameroon Samuel Eto'o AP

    Cameroon striker Samuel Eto’o has announced his retirement from international football.

  3. Calum Chambers, Danny Rose and Fabian Delph all set for England call-ups

    Aug 27, 2014, 9:36 PM EDT

    Source: Arsenal FC Source: Arsenal FC

    The BBC is reporting that Calum Chambers, Danny Rose and Fabian Delph are all set for England call-ups.

  4. Report: Geoff Cameron injured in Stoke City’s victory over Portsmouth

    Aug 27, 2014, 8:45 PM EDT

    Harry Kane, Geoff Cameron AP

    Lazio is most interested in the American’s services but the recent injury casts doubt on the likelihood of a transfer.

  5. League Cup Roundup: QPR and Aston Villa crash out

    Aug 27, 2014, 7:55 PM EDT

    Romain Vincelot celebrates his goal that knocked out Villa Getty Images

    QPR and Aston Villa followed Manchester United’s lead in crashing out of the League Cup to clubs from the Football League.

  6. Champions League Roundup: Ludogorets defender saves penalty to put Bulgarians through

    Aug 27, 2014, 7:02 PM EDT

    Cosmin Moti, the hero for Ludogorets Cosmin Moti, the hero for Ludogorets

    Ludogorets defender Cosmin Moti took the gloves and saved two penalties to help his side advance to the Champions League group stage.

  7. Transfer needs – Everton, Hull, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester City

    Aug 27, 2014, 6:07 PM EDT

    Falcao Getty Images

    Let’s take a look at five more clubs and how they will wheel and deal before the window slams shut.

  8. Olivier Giroud undergoes ankle surgery, out 3-4 months for Arsenal

    Aug 27, 2014, 5:43 PM EDT

    Olivier Giroud scored the only goal in what was often a rather drab affair at the Emirates. Getty Images

    The loss of Giroud skyrockets the possibility of Wenger soon moving to sign another pure striker.

  9. Report: Xabi Alonso reaches agreement with Bayern Munich

    Aug 27, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT

    arjen_robben_xabi_alonso Getty Images

    Reports across Europe claim that Xabi Alonso has reached an agreement with Bayern Munich.

  10. Xabi Alonso retires from Spanish National Team

    Aug 27, 2014, 3:40 PM EDT

    Spain v France - UEFA EURO 2012 Quarter Final Getty Images

    “The hardest thing is knowing when to say goodbye,” Xabi Alonso said.

  11. VIDEO: Bayern Munich’s Pep Guardiola loses it, shoves Thomas Muller

    Aug 27, 2014, 2:20 PM EDT

    Guardiola

    Guardiola gives Muller a piece of his mind during Bayern’s open practice session.

  12. Tottenham Hotspur sign Argentine international Federico Fazio

    Aug 27, 2014, 1:47 PM EDT

    Press Conference - UEFA Super Cup for UEFA Getty Images

    Fazio heads to White Hart Lane on four-year deal from Sevilla.

  13. UEFA postpone Israel’s Euro 2016 qualifier vs. Belgium due to safety fears

    Aug 27, 2014, 1:14 PM EDT

    Mideast Israel Palestinians AP

    As conflict continues between Israel, Hamas, UEFA has stepped in to postpone qualifier.

  14. PHOTO: British papers rip into Manchester United after League Cup humiliation

    Aug 27, 2014, 12:32 PM EDT

    MK Dons v Manchester United - Capital One Cup Second Round Getty Images

    Following United’s embarrassing 4-0 defeat to a third-tier team, the UK media have not been kind.

  15. $410 million Las Vegas soccer stadium deal closer; next stop, Major League Soccer…

    Aug 27, 2014, 12:01 PM EDT

    Las Vegas

    Soccer in Sin City… why not? Stadium deal gets over next hurdle, hinges on MLS team heading to Nevada.

  16. Report: Arsenal bid $82 million for Edinson Cavani. Remy, Falcao, Welbeck linked

    Aug 27, 2014, 9:42 AM EDT

    Cavani AP

    After Oliver Giroud’s bad injury, will Arsenal spend big to bring in Cavani?

  17. VOTE: Where will Manchester United finish in the Premier League this season?

    Aug 27, 2014, 9:12 AM EDT

    louis_van_gaal AP

    Have your say on where van Gaal’s side will finish this campaign.

Featured video

Balotelli will boost Suarez-less Liverpool