|First Division - Day 1|
Barcelona 2 - Málaga 1
Reiziger (Abelardo 62'), Frank De Boer, Sergi; Gerard, Cocu; Simao, Rivaldo,
Overmars (De la Peña 75'); Alfonso, Dani (Petit 71'). 3-2-3-2.
As with Real Madrid there was a new man sitting in the president's chair at Barcelona, and another in the manager's dugout below. Lorenzo Serra Ferrer took over on a provisional basis after Louis Van Gaal left, and he was given the green light to continue by the new management. There were a few less Dutchmen in the new line-up, with Hesp, Ronald De Boer and Bogarde leaving the club, but one more has arrived, Marc Overmars, who joined together with Petit from Arsenal.
Serra Ferrer has turned Van Gaal's 2-3-2-3 formation literally on it's head, and with the injured Kluivert rested for Wednesday's Champions League game with Leeds, he started the match with a twin Spanish strike force, Dani and new signing Alfonso. Rivaldo occupied the position he always wanted, behind the strikers, with Overmars on the left and Simao in Figo's old position on the right. Simao was lucky to still be with the club after a disappointing first season last year, but his pre-season form was such that the manager had no hesitation including him in the line up. In midfield, injuries to Guardiola and Luis Enrique and the absence of Xavi, Gabri and Puyol at the Olympics meant that new signing Gerard played alongside Cocu, and defenders Reiziger and Abelardo were both declared fit enough to play a half each in the back three. Another new signing Dutruel made his debut in goal with Iván De la Peña and Petit on the bench alongside three youngsters, Nano, Santamaria and Fernando.
Málaga's summer has been far more relaxed, with only one new face in their starting line up, Dely Valdés being signed to take over from Catanha, who moved to Celta. Their other big signing Martín Rivas was not available, but should be in next week's side against Real Madrid. Attempts to entice away star players such as Rufete and Valcarce in the summer were eventually beaten off, and both stay with the South coast club for at least another season. Short of funds, the only other new faces were three players coming back from loans to second division clubs, Basti, Ismael and Zárate. They could be joined however by Real Madrid's Canabal, who could accept the club's offer before Friday's transfer deadline.
In front of an almost capacity 90,000 crowd, Barcelona dominated the first half, and it was no surprise when they went in at half time two goals up. The world's highest paid player Rivaldo (7.2 million euros p.a. after tax if anyone's counting) got them both, the first from close range after Cocu set him up, and the second from a first time volley on the far post after Simao's pinpoint pass from the right. In fact it could have been more as Contreras pulled out two spectacular saves from Rivaldo and Alfonso just before half time. Two seasons ago Rivaldo and Raúl went right down to the last match for Spain's top scorer trophy before the Madrid striker took it, and with both players getting a brace their rivalry could be on again.
The second half was a different picture however, as Málaga fought their way back into the game. Peiró opted for a triple change on the hour mark, and fifteen minutes later Rufete's cross was missed by the defence, the newly dyed blond Darío Silva controlling the ball on the edge of the area and scoring past Dutruel. On came Petit and De la Peña for Dani and Alfonso as Barça protected their lead until the end, although new president Juan Gaspart didn't see the final whistle as he left after his nerves got the better of him.
In the end it was three points in the bag for the home side, although Barça must be grateful that they didn't meet stronger opposition in their first match as they still need some time for new faces and systems to settle. Málaga were talking Champions League spot a few weeks ago, but the loss of Catanha has weakened their side and they can only realistically hope to finish in mid-table.