Which Barcelona will we see in Malaga?

Madrid, Aug 24 (IANS) Will the real Barcelona stand up to be counted Sunday when Tata Martino's side make the potentially tricky trip to play Malaga in the La Rosaleda Stadium?

The past seven days have seen two different Barcas: the side that swept Levante aside 7-0 on the opening day of the BBVA Primera Liga campaign and the side that struggled to a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Spanish Supercup against an Atletico Madrid, hustled and bustled and barely gave them room to breathe, reports Xinhua.

Early season fitness could partly explain the midweek problems as players work themselves into their best shape, but there is also another factor - one that will have to be born in mind Sunday.

Lionel Messi only lasted 45 minutes ednesday night before leaving with a hamstring injury on his left leg, which the club confirmed after tests and although the club failed to rule out Messi playing in Malaga, given his importance over the season, he is unlikely to be risked.

The Argentine, who is so important to his side had been almost five seasons without suffering a serious injury before he was injured April 2, but since then he has played 90 minutes on just one occasion: the return leg of the Champions League semifinal which Barca lost 0-3 at home to Bayern Munich.

With the return leg of the Supercup next week, Martino will reserve Messi for the chance to lift the first silverware of the campaign and that could well open the door for Neymar to start. The Brazilian, who is Barca's only signing of the summer to date, showed he is working himself into form and fitness by heading home the equalising goal against Atletico and could well get the nod in the Rosaleda.

Cesc Fabregas could also return to the side. He scored twice against Levante and although he is not Messi, the Spain international has the gift of being able to drop into midfield and then arrive almost unnoticed in the rival penalty area to score vital goals.

If Cesc and Neymar both start in Malaga, then Pedro Rodriguez could be the player to drop down to the bench, but he is almost certain to see action in the game as Neymar, who is also working on a program to help gain weight, is still not in condition to play the full 90 minutes.

Martino could make some rotations in the face of a busy schedule with Adriano having the chance of playing at left back ahead of Jordi Alba, who had a tough night Wednesday.

Meanwhile spare a thought for Malaga coach Berndt Schuster: the experienced German, who played for both Barca and Real Madrid, has inherited a squad, which lost key players such as Joaquin Sanchez, Julio Cesar Baptista, Isco, Javier Saviola and Martin Demichelis over the summer as the reality of financial problems took hold.

When asked in his Friday press conference what he would do if he had a budget as big as Barca's, Schuster answered wit humour: "I'd give myself a pay rise."

Friday night saw Athletic Club Bilbao win 2-0 against Osasuna to claim their second win in two games and move temporarily top of the La Liga table.


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