Malaga vs. Barcelona: Gerardo Martino to Square off Against Bernd Schuster
Barcelona travel to Malaga on Sunday to take on last season's Champions League quarter-finalists, in a match that sees Gerardo Martino flexing his tactical nous against Bernd Schuster.
Both managers experienced contrasting starts to their 2013/14 La Liga campaigns, with Barcelona thrashing Levante 7-0 at Camp Nou, while Malaga slumped to a 1-0 loss at the hands of Valencia—Los Che scoring via their one and only shot on target.
The reigning La Liga champions fired 22 shots at Keylor Navas during their demolition of Levante at the weekend. Thirteen shots were unleashed from inside the 18-yard-box, and all seven goals were scored from this location.
What makes this statistic even more impressive—remembering that Barca's philosophy revolves around possession and the manufacturing of goalscoring opportunities via rapid passing and the interchanging of positions—is that they managed to create enough space in crowded areas so that 76% of shots were on target.
Even though they possess a midfield full of technically brilliant midfielders all capable of striking a football's sweet-spot, Barcelona are often reluctant to shoot from range due to conceding possession. Therefore, with a squad full of individuals who can slide a pass through the smallest of spaces with the precision of an elite marksman, it's glaringly obvious why they attempt to craft the best chances, in the most dangerous positions.
Malaga should try to find solace in the fact that Barcelona lost two away matches against Real Sociedad (3-2) and Real Madrid (2-1) in La Liga last season. Not much hope to cling onto, but slight hope nonetheless. The daunting truth is that if Barca are on form, unleashing the same ruthless streak that saw Levante brushed aside, then there's not much that Malaga can do.
One final thing to note before I discuss a possible strategy for Malaga, is that Barcelona made 660 successful passes against Levante—a dominance that was also reflected by their fantastic Squawka Performance Score of 2,047. Argentine superstar Lionel Messi also picked up the Squawka Man of the Match award based on complex algorithms, even though fans and media outlets have since highlighted the fantastic performance of 26-year-old Cesc Fabregas.
Since the statistics seem to suggest that the Catalan club are in the mood for total dominance this season, Bernd Schuster will need to devise carefully planned strategy if he's going to clinch at least one point from the encounter. But what to do?
Tactical analysts will point to the possible weaknesses and defensive frailties down Barca's flanks, as Jordi Alba and Dani Alves surge forward to join attacks thus increasing the number of available passing options. Therefore, a formation with advanced wingers could prove fruitful, allowing for quick breaks down the flanks. However, it would seem that Gerardo Martino is already looking to iron out that particular kink in their armour, by instructing Sergio Busquets to cover the forward runs of Alba and Alves (a tactical observation from their 7-0 victory).
If Malaga were to utilise advanced wingers in a 4-3-3 formation for example, Bernd Schuster should be extremely wary of the vacant space that's created in front of the fullbacks—space that can be exploited by Barca's attackers and marauding wing-backs if their advances aren't tracked throughout the defensive transition. Failure to track runs could see 2v1 situations occurring down both flanks, which is far from ideal.
If the Catalan giants continue to show the levels of excellence that we've come to expect from them while under Pep Guardiola's leadership, they're going to take some stopping on Sunday.
Good luck Malaga.
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