There may be a lot of drama surrounding FC Barcelona after former President Sandro Rosell officially resigned, as per the team's official website, but life goes on. The club is coming off a disappointing 1-1 draw against Levante on Sunday in their last league match and really need a good result this weekend.
This Sunday, Barcelona will be hosting Malaga at the Camp Nou, and nothing short of victory will be acceptable.
Tata Martino’s men need three points to keep their lead at the top of the La Liga table alive, and this match presents them with the perfect opportunity to make a real statement. But just who will be featuring for La Blaugrana?
Let’s take a look at how Barcelona should be lining up against Malaga.
No doubt about it, Victor Valdes will be starting in goal for Barcelona. The Catalan keeper is in incredible form this season and will have to lead the back line in order to ensure victory at the Camp Nou.
Dani Alves now appears to be fully recovered from injury as he played all 90 minutes of Barcelona’s 4-1 victory in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals against Levante midweek. However, Martino will need to play it safe with the Brazilian.
Though Alves should be perfectly fine to start on Sunday, Martin Montoya has been playing exceptionally well and should receive the nod at the right-back position.
Martino has two solid players to choose from for the left-back position, but with Adriano having played during midweek, all signs point to Jordi Alba being in the lineup. The Catalan has also begun to form a wonderful pairing with Montoya which could help Barcelona in this must-win match.
As far as the center-backs are concerned, there seems to be no doubting that Gerard Pique will start. He has been Martino’s No. 1 choice in every big game, and that won’t be changing on Sunday.
The real question is whether Javier Mascherano or Marc Bartra will start alongside Pique. Both center-backs featured during the week, meaning either could be selected.
Bartra should find his name in the starting lineup due to his pace and form this season. His partnership with Pique has been impeccable all year, and Barcelona will need their best defense unit against Malaga.
As usual, fans should expect to see Sergio Busquets in the Barcelona midfield. His importance cannot be overstated, and the Catalan features in nearly every game for La Blaugrana.
After picking up a knee injury against Atletico Madrid a few weeks ago, it is unlikely that Andres Iniesta will return on Sunday. His partner, Xavi, will likely still be in the starting lineup, but someone will have to replace the 29-year-old.
All signs seem to point to Cesc Fabregas lining up beside Xavi to create a very creative midfield pairing. The duo should do a good job of dictating play and keeping possession, but Fabregas will have to provide the extra spark that will be left vacant by Iniesta’s absence.
Martino could opt to go with Sergi Roberto in the Barcelona midfield, but the 21-year-old will likely be overlooked due to the club’s need to have a big showing.
With a midfield trio of Busquets, Fabregas and Xavi, there should be little to worry about for Barcelona. However, the direct attacking presence that Iniesta provides will be hard to replace, meaning that Lionel Messi will have to drop deep at times.
Barcelona need to score goals against Malaga and make a big statement. That being the case, Martino won’t be taking any chances in his selection of the front three.
Messi is expected to be in the starting lineup, and there is really no need to even question that. The club’s best player is in great form and is always a game changer.
On either side of Messi will be Alexis Sanchez and Pedro. Both wingers have been scoring goals this season and fighting for a place in the starting lineup, but with Neymar ruled out, they will be able to play together.
Messi will, as always, be the focal point of the Barcelona attack. Yet, Sanchez and Pedro have proven this season that they are major threats and can contribute a lot in other ways.
Though Messi will be the centerpiece for Barcelona, the game could come down to how well Sanchez and Pedro support their Argentine teammate.
What will the outcome be on Sunday?
As stated, this is a must-win game for Barcelona. They need to make a big statement and will be looking to do so in front of their own fans.
I cannot see anything other than a big win for the Catalans with Messi leading the way. Fabregas should also prove to be very important during the match, while the defense will have their fair share of attacks to deal with.
In the end, Barcelona will just overpower Malaga. La Blaugrana are in a title fight, and Malaga may be nothing more than a casualty.
Final prediction: Barcelona 3-0 Malaga.