Barcelona will be aiming to put a tumultuous week behind them when they take on Malaga at the Camp Nou on Sunday. A season of unrest and accusations off the pitch took its most dramatic turn in recent days when president Sandro Rosell stepped down due to an investigation into an alleged misappropriation of funds involving the transfer of Neymar last summer.
It has not been an easy start for coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino, who was thrust into the role before the start of the season due to Tito Vilanova’s illness and has since faced repeated criticism about a perceived altering of Barcelona’s famed tiki-taka approach. Perhaps, it’s not surprising then that the Argentine was noncommittal about his own future when expressing his regret at the latest events.
“Everyone wants to complete a project that they've started, but I can't guarantee anything,” he said, according to Spanish sports daily AS. “I spoke to the president before he resigned. He always showed a lot of confidence in me. I would have preferred to continue together, but it wasn’t to be.”
Barcelona go into Sunday’s match at the Camp Nou two points behind Real Madrid in the Primera Division standings. Also sitting level on points with Atletico Madrid at the start of the day, it is promising to be one of the closest, most exciting title races in recent memory and one in which every dropped point could prove vital. On the back of back-to-back draws in La Liga, Martino is hoping that a sportive performance and a result to match against Malaga can help alleviate some of the grey skies over the club.
“We all want to do a good job and complete it together,” he explained. “I respect the president’s decision. We’ll focus on the sporting side and try to perform well, that’s what we can contribute.”
Marino made a handful of changes to his side in the first round of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal at Levante in midweek. But one regular who was in the starting lineup was Lionel Messi, and Barcelona’s star man was in fine form as he set-up all three goals of Cristian Tello’s hat-trick. Tello may well see more playing time in the coming weeks as Neymar continues to recover from an ankle injury. Barcelona will also be unable to call upon Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol, Martin Montoya and Alex Song on Sunday. There is some welcome news, though, with Dutch winger Ibrahim Afellay named in the squad and potentially set to make his first appearance for the club since the end of the 2011-12 season after being beset by injury.
Barcelona will face a Malaga side who sit just two points off the relegation zone after an expectedly tough season under former Barcelona midfielder Bernd Schuster, following a host of sales last summer. While defending hasn’t been a problem, with only four teams in La Liga having conceded fewer goals than Malaga this season, there have been plenty of issues at the other end and, indeed, only one side has a worse scoring record than the side from Spain’s south coast.
Where to watch: The Primera Division encounter will kick off at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sports, with a live stream available on beIN Sports Play.