|My vantage point|
The first game for Pep at home since announcing his retirement. When I bought the ticket to this game in March, Barca were six points adrift of Madrid, and may of us thought for sure the league was gone. A roller coaster ride from then to now, and it is officially true, the league is gone. Now, so too is Pep Guardiola.
So be it. No turning back now. Tito will be the new boss, but there is the small matter of the remaining games this season, including one Cup Final, to consider.
Pep's first Post Announcement game away to Rayo Vallencano (a 0-7 thumping) was a serious statement by coach and players that this is not a team to bury their head in the sand despite some tough results. This game, at home, was sure to be remarkable as well.
Malaga are a powerhouse team in the making largely due to the backing of newish club president Sheik Al Thani. His billions brought Santi Cazorla to the team, as well as Ruud Van Nistelroy, Martin Dimichelis, Julio Baptista and Joaquin. All stars in their own right. This season, Malaga have been good enough to qualify for Europe.
Pep fielded an interesting bunch, giving Pinto a chance to warm up for the Cup Final. He did alright, making a couple of clutch saves towards the end. Mascherano played another spectacular game, as did Cesc. Messi, not in the best form for most of April, looked quite a bit sharper in this game.
Highlights of the game for me:
- Pregame keepy uppy between Messi and Dani Alves separated by about 40 yards --- quina control!!!
- At 6 minutes in, an innocuous ball drifted out if touch near Pep and co. Pep noticed a lack of concentration from his squad and left the bench to issue some instructions -- chants of GUARDIOOOOLA rang throughout. An awkward but notable moment for the coach and crowd.
- Malaga's goal on 26 minutes was well earned -- Barca had lost focus for a stretch, Malaga via Rondon netted their goal right in front of me.
- Messi's second penalty award was also right in front of me. It looked clear in the stadium, but I'm not so sure after seeing this one replay. Regardless, his chip over Kameni for his hat-trick was sublime.
- Diego Buonanotte is a tiny but very clever footballer. At 5'2" and 125 pounds, I couldn't see him cutting it in any professional sport in the US.
- I got to see Ruud Van Nistelroy play. Legend. Roundly booed in the Camp Nou for his time at the Bernabeu. He nearly scored with his first touch of the game.
- Leo broke Muller's record -- nice one.
- At 87 minutes in, the boixois nois unveiled a big GRACIES banner dedicated to Pep. Loads of Guardiola chants throughout from then to the end. He will be missed.