Malaga Vs. Barcelona, 2012 La Liga Week 19: Call It a "Must-Win" for the Blaugranes

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 15: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring from the penalty spot during the la Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Betis Balompie at the Camp Nou stadium on January 15, 2012 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

Barcelona must focus on an important league match right in the middle of an El Clasico sandwich.

After dispatching Real Madrid yet again in their midweek Copa del Rey first leg match, the Blaugranes turn their attention to the league campaign and keeping pace with Los Blancos in the table. Barcelona haven't lost in 12 matches, but it's the draws that are killing them at the moment. Untimely defensive lapses have cost Pep Guardiola's team key point and allowed their rivals to open up a five point lead at the top of La Liga. It's not insurmountable, but that's a fairly big gap when these two clubs are involved.

On the menu this week is a trip to La Rosaleda to face eighth place Malaga. This is the first meeting in league play between the clubs this season, but Barca had little trouble dispatching Los Boquerones twice last season.

Malaga will be without goalkeer Ruben Martinez and midfielder Julio Baptista, both of whom are carrying injuries. With Ruben out, look for newly acquired Carlos Kameni in net. Kameni just recently joined Malaga from Espanyol. Helder Rosario and Joaquin Sanchez should be recovered from previous knocks and available for head coach Manuel Pellegrini.

With their second leg cup match against Real Madrid on Wednesday, Pep Guardiola will likely be tempted to rest some players, despite the importance of getting the full three points. He's fully aware of his team's struggles on the road this season in league play though. In eight away matches, Barca have only won three, while tying four and losing one. Pedro could return from injury which would give Pep a boost, but he'll be without Seydou Keita who is away for the African Cup of Nations. Look for the likes of Adriano, Thiago Alcantara, Javier Mascherano and Isaac Cuenca to feature if Guardiola decides to rest some of his regular starters.

Let's be completely honest here, matches like this are quickly becoming "must-wins" for Barcelona. It might seem silly to say that in January, but that's the nature of things when you're chasing a team as talented as Real Madrid in the table.

Malaga vs. Barcelona

Game Date/Time: Sunday, 12:00 p.m. ET

Venue: Estadio La Rosaleda, Malaga, Spain

TV: GolTV (USA - English), GolTV Canada (Canada)

For more on the Blaugranes, check out Barca Blaugranes.

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