Barcelona wasn’t able to score against Málaga last season. Nor at La Rosaleda neither in February at the Camp Nou. Messi and Neymar didn’t even get the chance to shoot on goal in both matches. In the most recent clash, with a Luis Suárez in action, Javi Gracia approach managed to even deactivate Messi passes from the right side, the subtle and lethal alley-oop play. The Andalusians avoided the trident hazards by placing one fullback close to Messi giving him the right flank space, with the opposite fullback prepared to intercept Messi’s passes and not moving to the inside.

Once again, Málaga chose to trench in their inner zones without barely pressuring the centre-backs’ game build-up, with Amrabat and Cop covering Busquets’ passes. However, Barça kicked off the match in tune. The Blaugrana team reached the rival area with ease and had numerous choices given their good rhythm and mobility, commanded by a superb Andrés Iniesta who combined his usual intelligence with inspiration.

Yet Málaga’s defense succeeded to hold back the culés in those first 15 minutes, even after Weligton’s injury. It was a leveled match with Messi’s crossed passes as Barcelona’s only attacking instrument. This time around he created little unbalance, though, mainly because Jordi Alba was higher than usual on the pitch, placed closer to Neymar thus limiting each other spaces. The Brazilian couldn’t drag his markers to the inside like he frequently did last season, thereby deactivating the favorable situations produced by these passes. Furthermore, he wasn’t able to take advantage in one on one duels, surely after his inactivity in the last two weeks because of the mumps. He has a rather peculiar dribbling ability because unlike the classic winger, who dribbles opponents to get to the goal line or to shoot with his non-dominant leg, Neymar dribbles and conducts to the inside, sweeping the whole attacking front looking for a combination near the penalty area. Málaga’s positioning in these zones nullified most of his attempts and created more chaos than actual danger.

Despite all of this, when Neymar was on the verge of beating Kameni’s goal, he was tackled by Miguel Torres, who slid on the turf and touched the ball with his arm. A few minutes later, Angeleri knocked down Luis Suárez on the penalty area, without any repercussion to the game. The stands and players protests wound up at halftime with the 0-0 on the scoreboard.

Even with Messi’s known quality and efficiency, the alley-oop play sometimes seems too predictable. It’s advisable from time to time, to not change the attacking flank with that play but to connect with Iniesta in order to circulate the ball and contribute with another attacking options. Even the most accurate punches must be landed at the right time.

Barça was back in business when they realized the win was in jeopardy. Sergi Roberto confirmed what we witnessed in San Mamés: his good timing to attack, taking advantage of his teammates passes, especially from Messi, who by this point had moved to the playmaker position. Messi reached Kameni’s area up to three times but failed to score. The Blaugrana attacks were more about quantity than quality yet Málaga were up to their necks by then and they had lost the good game showed in the first half. It was Vermaelen himself, who had been spotless in defense, that scored the winning goal after a deflection by Kameni. The Belgian wasn’t effusive in his celebration, maybe saving some energy for a demanding match. Barcelona has had to wait a whole season to find Vermaelen and to decode Gracia’s strategy.

Barça considered the match over after scoring the goal, forgetting their competitiveness and almost conceding the draw in a final chance by Charles which was cleared by Jordi Alba, who was very consistent in defense and displayed an excellent physical condition. Several years have passed of Barcelona’s philosophy to keep attacking even with a favorable scoreboard. However, this time they stopped at the 1-0.

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Article translated from Spanish to English, originally published at the Perarnau Magazine by Daniel Cana.

WRITTEN BY: Perarnau Magazine

The Perarnau Magazine was founded by Martí Perarnau, former high jump athlete, currently working as a journalist and known author of "Pep Confidential". The magazine is one of Grup 14 partners, publishing their content in English and Spanish.