It would appear that nothing can prevent Barcelona’s inexorable march toward reclaiming the La Liga title. Their great rivals Real Madrid faltered once more on Saturday with a goalless draw at bottom of the table Osasuna meaning that a win for Barcelona at Malaga on Sunday will give them an 18 point advantage over the troubled champions, while at least preserving their 11 point edge on second-placed Atletico Madrid.
Barcelona will receive a further boost with the return of Tito Vilanova to the dugout after the manager missed their 5-0 Copa del Rey victory over Cordoba on Thursday as he traveled to New York for further cancer treatment.
“Tito is very strong and he’s up for the game, which we can all see,” said assistant coach Jordi Roura, according to Barcelona’s official website. “He is the head coach and just having him around motivates us all. It’s important that he is there.”
Although, Barcelona have won their last eight matches in all competitions against Malaga, the trip to La Rosaleda promises to be one of their most difficult this season. Manuel Pellegrini’s side are having a campaign to remember as they sit fourth in La Liga and are through to the knockout phase of the Champions League.
“It’s true of course that they had a few financial problems in the summer, but that hasn’t really affected them,” Roura explained. “They are putting in an extraordinary season under Manuel Pellegrini–an experienced coach whose team are a very tough opponent.”
Malaga suffered a surprise 1-0 defeat at struggling Deportivo La Coruna last time out in the league, though. With just a solitary point separating them and eighth placed Levante, Pellegrini will be all too aware that his side need to return to winning ways as soon as possible to maintain their challenge for the final Champions League place.
Malaga have virtually a full squad to choose from with their only absentees being suspended defender Jesus Gamez and long-term injury victim Julio Baptista.
Barcelona’s only new fitness concern is David Villa, with the forward set to miss the game after picking up a hamstring injury against Cordoba.
D: Sanchez, Demichelis, Weligton, Monreal
M: Joaquin, Portillo, Camacho, Eliseu
D: Adriano, Puyol, Pique, Alba
M: Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas
F: Pedro, Messi, Iniesta
Prediction: Barcelona have a perfect record away from home this season and, while Malaga could provide a stern test, it looks set to continue on Sunday. It will be fascinating to see how the hugely talented Isco fares in the esteemed company against Barcelona but the Blaugrana have quality all over the pitch and should pick up the three points.
Malaga 0-2 Barcelona
Where to watch: The La Liga contest will kick-off at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sport. A live stream, which you view at your own discretion will be available here.