Lionel Messi will be absent when Barcelona travel to Malaga on Sunday as he continues to recover from a bruised thigh that forced him into an early exit from the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup in midweek. Messi was taken off at half-time on Wednesday during the 1-1 draw at Atletico Madrid and coach Gerardo Martino has confirmed that no risks will be taken on the Argentinean at the weekend.
Messi’s absence could well lead to a first competitive start in a Barcelona shirt for Neymar. The 21-year-old came off the bench in the Spanish capital and made an impact by heading an equalizer. Having been brought in large part to lessen the burden on Messi, Neymar may have an early chance to show that he can be a talisman for the Blaugrana. His fellow-Brazilian Dani Alves believes it’s only natural to depend on Messi, but that Neymar can make a significant contribution.
“If you have the best player in the world, it’s inevitable to rely on him,” Alves said, according to Barcelona’s official website. “But we’ll try and make his absence show as little as possible.
“Neymar is really keen to play but he knows where he’s come and how demanding it is,” he added. “He is making good use of the time the boss is giving him. The more time he gets, the more he will contribute. And I believe he’ll bring a lot to Barca.”
If Barcelona have strengthened over the summer, the same cannot be said of their opponents at La Rosaleda. As cost-cutting measures have continued, the likes of Isco, Joaquin, Jeremy Toulalan, Martin Demichellis and Javier Saviola have departed. Little has been spent on procuring replacements like Panama center-back Roberto Chen, Portuguese left-back Vitorino Antunes, Argentinean midfielder Fernando Tissone and Roque Santa Cruz , who has been signed to a permanent deal on a free transfer.
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After last season’s memorable run to the brink of the Champions League semifinals, the current campaign begun with a 1-0 defeat at Valencia. That was the first match in charge for new manager Bernd Schuster. The German has a rich history with Barcelona, having played for the Catalans and also played for and managed Real Madrid.
D: Gamez, Angeleri, Chen. Antunes
M: Tissone Duda, Darder, , Morales, Olinga
F: Santa Cruz
D: Dani Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba
M: Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta
F: Pedro, Fabregas, Neymar
Prediction: Malaga look set for a tough season after the loss of so much key personnel, including manager Manuel Pellegrini. Without Isco and Joaquin there is now little threat going forward and Barcelona’s defense may well enjoy a comfortable evening on Sunday. Clearly, being without Messi will dent Barcelona’s attacking threat, but Cesc Fabregas was lively when he came on against Atletico and Neymar will be eager to take the limelight. Although it is unlikely to be as emphatic as the 7-0 victory against Levante last week, a comfortable win should still be in store.
Malaga 0-3 Barcelona
Where to watch: The Primera Division match will kick-off at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sport, with a live stream on offer via beIN Sport Play.