Even without Lionel Messi in the lineup, Gerardo Martino doesn’t seem to want and mess around with a formula that has worked so well for the last few years, keeping Neymar on the bench once again for about an hour before finally using the Brazilian star, while Cesc Fabregas was the one who filled in for the injured Argentine star.
Nothing is coming out of the dressing room just yet, but it wouldn’t be surprising to imagine Neymar might be feeling slightly disappointed that three official matches into the new season, and he’s still waiting for his first start for the team. He did score against Atletico Madrid, and probably expected to find himself in the lineup with Messi out in order to take it easy on his muscle issues that have been nagging him early on this season.
Barcelona struggled to come away with the 1-0 win against Malaga, whose cautious approach, very different from what they tried to play like in previous seasons, made it much harder for the La Liga champions, ending up needing Adriano to score the only goal with a nice long range curler that should have been handled better by Caballero, who saw it coming way too late for his own good.
While Barcelona did have their usual possession numbers and created quite a few chances, most of them coming through link ups with the very accurate Fabregas, playing in the central attacking role for Barcelona instead of Messi, they were once again quite exposed when defending against counter attacks.
It’s been about three years that everyone seems quite certain a top class centre back is needed on the team, and nothing has been done about it. Having Alex Song on the pitch and not Sergio Busquets also hurt Barcelona’s defending abilities, as the Cameroonian, not exactly getting consistent playing time, hasn’t been able to show he’s learning too much from his time in Barcelona.
The Xavi and Andres Iniesta machine in the middle wasn’t at its best. Malaga were very organized in the middle of the pitch with Iganacio Camacho doing an excellent job, and found it very hard to consistently find routes for Alexis and Pedro, who were having very frustrating days on the wings. The kind of matches in which they work very hard, but don’t have much to show for it when it’s all over.
Neymar was dangerous to an extent after coming in. A few chances to show his dribbling ability, but also a chance for Malaga defenders to target him with less than friendly tackles. Nothing happened to him, but there’s no doubt that each team seems to be preparing some sort of welcoming party to the Brazilian, who has to watch out for unnecessary tackles.
Barcelona dodged a bullet at La Rosaleda against a stubborn and organized Malaga team, that probably won’t drop too many points at home if they keep up playing like this. Any win without Messi is a breath of fresh air for Barcelona, trying to give their star as much rest as possible when they aren’t forced to use him. However, if Martino keeps neglecting his other star forward on the bench, things might not seem so happy and tranquil very soon.