La Liga: Malaga CF 1-3 FC Barcelona: Match Review

Both Cesc and Messi got on the score-sheet tonight - David Ramos

A recap of Barcelona's 3-1 away victory over Manuel Pellegrini's Malaga at La Rosaleda, as goals from Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara enabled the Blaugrana to set a new record for points gained in the first half of a La Liga season

FC Barcelona put in a solid all-round performance to run away 3-1 winners at La Rosaleda over Malaga, setting a new La Liga record for points accumulated in the first half of a season in the process. Goals from Lionel Messi, Cesc Fàbregas and Thiago Alcântara handed the Blaugrana their eighteenth league victory of the season – and coincidentally moved Barca eighteen points clear of their arch-rivals Real Madrid. Despite Diego Buonanotte’s late free-kick, Barcelona never looked to be in any real danger of dropping points here tonight and at present, Tito Vilanova’s side look simply unbeatable.

Malaga

Barcelona

Possession

36%

64%

Total Shots

7

12

Shots on Target

2

4

Pass Accuracy

80%

91%

Fouls

17

14

Offsides

2

3

Yellow Cards

1

2

Red Cards

0

0

Tito Vilanova made one change to the XI that decimated Espanyol at the Camp Nou, replacing Carles Puyol with Javier Mascherano. This meant a start in attack for Pedro after his impressive brace in EL Derbi, although no such luck for Alexis Sánchez, who had to make do with a place on the bench, just three days after his brace against Cordoba. It was arguably Barcelona’s strongest possible starting line-up – but would it be enough to secure all three points against Malaga?

Malaga started strongly with the capacity ground getting right behind the hosts at La Rosaleda. Despite forcing a couple of early errors from the Barcelona midfield, Malaga couldn’t capitalise on their early spell of pressure, and it wasn’t long before Barca recovered to slowly take control. Lionel Messi had the first chance of the evening; drifting into space inside the Malaga penalty area, but Willy Caballero was quick off his line and clawed the ball away before Leo could pull the trigger.

That being said, this clearly wasn’t going to be an easy night for the Blaugrana. Eliseu was causing problems down the left-hand side, exploiting the space Dani Alves left behind during his offensive escapades. Fortunately for the Brazilian, Gerard Piqué was on hand to cover and made an excellent intervention to stop the Portuguese winger from sending in what would have been a very dangerous cross.

Controversy followed on the next attack, as Caballero appeared to handle the ball outside his area after rushing from goal to deny Pedro an opportunity to score an opener but the referee – nor his assistant for that matter – managed to spot the infringement. Barcelona didn’t complain, and simply continued to press forward in search of the opener. Cesc Fàbregas fired over from the edge of the area, before Andrés Iniesta warmed Caballero’s gloves with a stinging close-range effort assisted by a nice pass from Jordi Alba. Barca were knocking on the door, but Malaga were holding firm. Just how would Barcelona find a way through?

With a little help from Ignacio Camacho, that’s how.

Maybe Camacho holds a grudge with Atletico Madrid for not seeing enough playing time in his spell in the capital; maybe Camacho is such a die-hard Colchoreno that he wanted to see Real Madrid suffer as much as possible – whatever the case, his back-pass to Caballero was not only short, but it was also directed towards Lionel Messi. The Argentine has proved that he needs no help when it comes to scoring goals, although when a chance presents itself, he can’t help but take advantage. Pouncing on Camacho’s terrible pass, Messi displayed fantastic composure to round Caballero and stroke the ball into the empty net, thus handing Barcelona the lead.

The goal was a body blow to Manuel Pellegrini, who had watched his side come out of the blocks well. After all, up until that point, Malaga were executing their game-plan perfectly. Barcelona were creating very little from open play – at least relative to recent performances anyway – and at the other end, Barcelona’s defense were looking a little shaky (Gerard Piqué aside). Now, a goal down, Malaga had it all to do. For the time-being, they stayed true to that game-plan and had a chance to tie the scores from a set-piece, but Roque Santa Cruz couldn’t direct his header past Victor Valdés, who was largely untested in the first half of play. Would Malaga be able to fight back from a one goal deficit?

Neither side made a change at the break, although would that prove to be Malaga’s downfall? Despite sticking to their guns, found themselves two goals down within five minutes of the restart. This time however, there was nothing they could do. Eliseu was doing his best to force Dani Alves into an error, but the Brazilian retained possession and started the move which lead to the second goal of the evening. Lionel Messi was the architect, exchanging passes with Busquets just inside the Malaga half before lifting the ball over the defense to find the run of Cesc Fàbregas, who had drifted into space out on the left-flank. Even with Weligton and Sergio Sánchez tracking back, Fàbregas burst clear of the defense to toe-poke the ball past Caballero and in off the post. It was a fabulous move from the Blaugrana, and now with a two-goal cushion, Barca looked certain to claim the three points.

It took a little while for the game to find it’s next chance, and unsurprisingly it fell to Lionel Messi after nice work from Dani Alves, but again Malaga defended well to block Messi’s shot before it could test Caballero. This chance prompted Pellegrini to make his first change of the night, as Diego Buonanotte replaced the ineffectual Eliseu. Buonanotte instantly made an impact, forcing a free-kick out of Javier Mascherano, but again, Malaga couldn’t find a way to test Victor Valdés in the Barcelona goal. Manuel Iturra was then brought on for Jeremy Toulalan who had also had a quiet game in midfield, before Barcelona made their first change of the night, replacing Cesc Fàbregas with Thiago Alcântara. Thiago was hugely impressive in Thursday’s 5-0 win over Cordoba and he was soon joined by another hero from Thursday game – Alexis Sánchez. The Chilean took Pedro’s place on the right-hand side of attack, but it was Thiago who would make his presence known to the Malaga defense.

Driving in from the right-hand side, Thiago exchanged a one-two with Lionel Messi, and unlike Cesc Fàbregas in the first-half, Thiago then proceeded to find the target with his shot. Hitting the ball low and hard to Caballero’s right, it was his first La Liga goal of the season, and a nice end to what has been a superb week for the talented midfielder.

Diego Buonanotte pulled one back for Malaga late on with an exceptionally well-taken free-kick, but it was a case of too little too late for Pellegrini’s boys. They had put up a valiant effort, although even that wasn’t enough to stop the Blaugrana. In what was arguably one of the toughest matches of the season, Tito Vilanova will be very happy with both the three points and his team’s performance.

Next up, Barcelona face Malaga again, this time in the first-leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final. Until then, Visca el Barca!

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