?League leaders Barcelona host bottom of the table Malaga at the Nou Camp on Saturday evening.
The home side will be looking to maintain their unbeaten start to the season, with second place Valencia closing the gap to just three points after Atletico held Barca to a 1-1 draw last time out.
Malaga have endured a torrid start to this season’s campaign, losing all but one of their opening eight games. They’ve scored just four goals along the way, with three of those coming in their thrilling 3-3 draw with Bilbao, in which they grabbed their only point of the season.
This fixture proved a difficult one for Barca last season, with Blaugrana failing to beat Boquerones on both meetings. In November, they were held to a goalless draw at home, while later on in the season they slumped to a 2-0 defeat at La Rosaleda.
In the latter, they missed the chance to move level with Real Madrid at the top of the table, which ultimately cost them in the coming games as Los Blancos stayed top until the end of the season. Those results were largely Carlos Kameni-based though, and…he left in the summer. Along with the rest of Malaga’s good players.
Lionel Messi vs Luis Hernandez
The former Leicester City centre back, who left England in January, will have to be on the top of his game to contain Lionel Messi, whose rampant goalscoring habits continue to transcend footballing logic.
The Argentine has scored 50 goals in 48 games in 2017, and recently grabbed his 100th Champions League goal in Barca’s midweek victory over Olympiacos.
Considering Malaga’s defensive record this season (they’ve conceded 18 goals), you wouldn’t bet against Messi adding to his 11 league goals on Saturday.
Barca have a reasonably full squad, but Jordi Alba had to sit out their midweek clash with Olympiacos due to a knock to his thigh, and it is unclear whether the Spaniard will be fit for Saturday’s game.
Long-term absentees Ousmane Dembele and Rafinha are still suffering with injuries, while Arda Turan, Thomas Vermaelen and Aleix Vidal all miss the match through injury. Malaga’s Spanish central midfielder Recio misses the game through suspension.
Barcelona will see this as a must-win, especially with Malaga sitting rock bottom of La Liga.
After an impeccable start to the season, the league leaders will want to stay one step ahead of Valencia, who managed to close the gap to three points last weekend.
Malaga could cause a huge upset if they defend with God-like resilience, but a trip to the Nou Camp is never an easy experience.
Prediction: Barcelona 4-0 Malaga
?Barcelona will be looking to extend their lead at the top of La Liga with a win against bottom of the table Malaga, who are without a victory all season.
The Blaugrana haven’t lost a game this season, and currently sit three points above Valencia, who narrowed the gap after Barcelona’s hard fought draw away to Atletico Madrid last weekend.
Ter Stegen will remain in goal, as is customary for the first choice keeper.
With Alba missing the Champions League clash with Olympiacos midweek, the Spaniard is doubtful for Saturday’s ?game. Lucas Digne came into replace him at left-back, grabbing a goal during an impressive performance from the young Frenchman.
Sergi Roberto also played in the midweek game, so it is likely that Ernesto Valverde will rotate by putting Nelson Semedo in at right-back, with the Portugal international impressing so far since joining in the summer.
Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti will remain in the centre, with the former looking to redeem himself after being sent off during Champions League action.
Sergio ?Busquets and Andres Iniesta will continue to pull the strings for Barca, while Ivan Rakitic is likely to start after fan favourite Paulinho played midweek.
Iniesta seems to have a new lease of life this season after a string of lacklustre performances during last year’s campaign, while Busquets continues to command the midfield with his intricate passes and supreme dribbling ability.
Gerard ?Deulofeu had a storming first half in midweek until Pique’s red card meant he was sacrificed to make way for another centre-back.
His directness lead to the opening goal, while his link-up play with Sergi Roberto was superb.
Suarez will start in the middle, having grabbed a late equaliser against Atletico Madrid last time out, while Barca’s talisman Lionel Messi will be hoping to add to his already stupendous tally of 11 goals in eight league games.
?Ernesto Valverde is insisting to the Barcelona board that a new centre-back be recruited to the Catalan outfit in the January transfer window as defensive backup, should any of his first team players pick up an injury.
After being linked to Real Sociedad’s Inigo Martinez throughout the summer, yet failing to secure the Spaniard’s services, Barcelona have been left short of depth at the back.
Should either Gerard Pique or Samuel Umtiti sustain an injury, Valverde fears his side will not be properly equipped to cope with their absence, with Thomas Vermaelen expected to leave in January to seek out further game time ahead of the World Cup.
According to Spanish publication ?Mundo Deportivo, the
?Barcelona have reportedly been keeping a close watch on Liverpool starlet Ben Woodburn, with an eye towards making a move to secure a transfer for the teenager, who they have followed since he was 12-years-old, according to Spanish outlet ?Don Balon.
18-year-old Woodburn has made just 10 senior appearances for the Reds, but rose to prominence after becoming the club’s youngest ever goal scorer with his strike against Leeds last season.
The youngster has garnered further attention with his impact at international level. He has already played four times for Chris Coleman’s senior side, and scored a spectacular 25-yard winner against Austria on his debut.
As a result the ?Reds are reportedly in the process of ensuring Woodburn’s long-term future lies with the club as they are in the process of offering him a new deal. However, they could be set for some competition from Barcelona.
While they were rebuffed in their attempts to sign Philippe Coutinho in the summer, Barcelona are apparently not put off doing business with Liverpool and could make a play for the precocious young Woodburn, who has impressed with his performances for both club and country.
Woodburn is said to have previously caught the eye of scouts from Barcelona as a 12-year-old during his school team tour of the city.
?According to reports in Catalonia, Southampton centre back Virgil Van Dijk was the subject of interest from Barcelona in the summer.
In one of the longest transfer sagas of the window, Van Dijk’s seemingly inevitable move to Liverpool never materialised, despite interest from both the player and the Reds to complete the deal, meaning the 26-year-old was forced to stay at St. Mary’s for another half season at least.
According to Spanish outlet Mundo Deportivo, Barcelona sporting director Robert Fernandez was looking at wantaway star but deemed the Dutch defender too expensive, while also not fitting the description of Barcelona’s somewhat particular policy when it comes to ball playing centre backs.
Alternatively, the report now says the Blaugrana ?have switched their attention to highly-coveted Ajax defender Matthijs De Ligt, who is seen as a long term replacement for current fan favourite Gerard Pique.
The 18-year-old has been hailed as one of the brightest sparks in European football, and the ‘total football’ philosophy that Ajax share with Barca means he would slot in as a perfect back up as he learns from the senior players.
The four-time European champions have struggled defensively in recent seasons, since losing arguably their greatest centre back ever, Carles Puyol.
Samuel Umtiti’s partnership with Gerard Pique is starting to take shape. However, their back-up options are somewhat sparse, especially with Javier Mascherano’s career entering its closing stages.