FC Barcelona takes the pitch against Málaga FC Wednesday, September 24, 2014, at La Rosaleda for round 5 of La Liga, watch times in the USA are 1 P.M. Pacific Daylight/4 P.M. Eastern. The away game will be the biggest test so far in the early season to see if Barça can continue their streak. The match falls in the middle of a tough week with three games in La Liga, and the second round of the Champions League next Tuesday, leaving little recovery for the players.
Speaking to the press after team training today, Team Manager Luis Enriquez is expecting a challenge Wednesday, but hopes Málaga doesn’t create too much danger for them. “They’re a team that play as a unit,” he said. “The way they play the long ball, the way they play from dead ball situations…is going to be a challenge for us to continue collecting points.” Still, Enriquez refuses to dwell on Barça’s success thus far, “We need to get to March/April, still involved in all competitions and still with a chance of winning,” he said. “I need to keep running the team on a day-to-day basis, aiming for that. Nobody wins leagues in September/October, not even in January/February.”
After a small scare Sunday where Neymar was tackled, taking him out of the game, the top scorer of the team practiced today alongside his team. He trained with no restrictions, confirming that the minor ankle injury Sunday was of no concern.
Naturally, with a winning streak such as theirs, the focus lies on the front line. Though they may get the glory, it was also due to the strength in the midfield Sunday where Rakitic shined. Key plays also by Sergio Busquets, created a lot of the opportunities that ended in goals. “I think that’s part of a teams’ repertoire.” Enriquez added, “It’s nice to have variety when it comes to attacking. When you’re playing as a team that likes to keep it defensive, then any shot from anywhere can be useful.”
However, nothing is guaranteed in football. Málaga believe they can put up a good fight. Midfielder for Málaga and former Barça’s B team reserve Luis Alberto, believes the home team will be tough to beat. In an interview posted by the team, he added, “We need to do our job well, and I’m sure the coach is preparing a difficult match. If it’s true we’ll have two chances to score, then we need to be successful as the rival won’t let us get away with anything.”
The last time Málaga were able to gain points against Barça was 2005/2006, which ended in a 0-0 draw. Team Manager Javi Garcia said they will treat it as just another game. In a pre-match press conference he added, “The preparations will be the same as any other, even though the rival has more strengths than weaknesses. I’m only concerned with my players and ensuring we play our best football.” He concluded, “If we lose, the fans will understand, but if we win, they’ll remember it for life.”
The minor faults in Barça currently lie in the defense. Having conceded zero goals thus far shows the strength of the midfield and front line, that the mistakes in the back have not cost them. “No doubt, there are things in defense that really need to be improved to continue keeping these clean sheets,” Enriquez admitted. “We’ve been working very hard to keep improving and to perfect different things, in a global context, where things seem to be making us stronger.”
If Mathieu is in the line-up tomorrow, which is a strong probability considering he has the most minutes on the pitch this season of any defender, Barça would have to hope he plays better than he did on Sunday. However, Enriquez dismissed any concerns, “These things happen. All the players make mistakes…if you’re playing center-back, there are mistakes that are more noticeable.”
Based on the cohesiveness of the team, and the flexibility of the midfield, Barcelona should come out on top once again. Line-ups are to be announced early Wednesday.