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La Liga: Malaga CF 0-1 FC Barcelona: Match Review

A recap of Barcelona's 1-0 win over Malaga CF as a goal from Adriano was enough to secure the three points for the Blaugrana at La Rosaleda

Denis Doyle

FC Barcelona were far from their best on Sunday night, but still had enough to see off the threat of Malaga CF at La Rosaleda, as Adriano Correia’s 44th minute goal secured a 1-0 win for the Blaugrana. Malaga had their chances – hitting the post through Fabrice Olinga in the second-half, as well as forcing a couple of late saves from Victor Valdés, but ultimately Bernd Schuster’s side just didn’t do enough to secure a share of the spoils.






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With Lionel Messi sidelined through injury, Gerardo Martino opted to move in-form midfielder Cesc Fàbregas into the centre of attack, and this was just one of three changes compared to the team that started against Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon in midweek. In defense, Adriano replaced Dani Alves at right-back while Alex Song took Sergio Busquets’ place at pivote, meaning a third successive start for temporary Barça captain Xavi Hernández. Would Martino’s gambles pay off? Would Barcelona retain leadership of La Liga at the end of Jornada Two?

From the starting whistle, Bernd Schuster’s game-plan was obvious; get plenty of men behind the ball, pack the midfield and attack down either flank on the counter-attack – which, for the most part, was a solid philosophy. It’s not like Malaga could afford to go toe-to-toe with the Blaugrana and expect to claim anything from the match; this was their best chance at securing a point (or three) and early on, this very approach appeared to be paying dividends. A sloppy start from Barcelona enabled Malaga to escape an early spell of pressure, while the pace of young Fabrice Olinga down the left-flank helped them create some panic in the Barça defense. Speeding away from Adriano, the Cameroonian tried to play a cross into the danger zone, only for Victor Valdés to commandingly pluck the ball out of mid-air.

Barcelona might not be the best defensive team on the planet, or even in La Liga, but it was certainly going to take more than a simple cross to trouble Valdés.

Equally, it was going to take a lot more than just possession to break down this disciplined Malaga defense; in the absence of Lionel Messi, Barcelona were somewhat devoid of creativity in the final third – of the 11 starters, only Cesc Fàbregas seemed capable of delivering that "killer" pass. Just like last weekend, Fàbregas’ fingerprints were over anything and everything positive about Barcelona’s performance. It was his header that forced a save from Willy Caballero in the 18th minute, and it was his pass just moments later that nearly created the first goal of the evening.

Taking advantage of an excellent decision from Antonio Mateu Lahoz, Barcelona capitalised on a momentary lapse in concentration from the Malaga defense to thread the ball through to Pedro, but the Spaniard’s first touch deserted him allowing Caballero to pounce on the loose ball. Surely Barça’s best play of the evening so far, and Caballero was still waiting to make a memorable save.

Yet at the other end, Valdés was soon called into action. Barcelona were creating very little from open play and were now struggling to regain possession from the opposition; first Alex Song brought down Roque Santa Cruz inside the Malaga half, and soon after Jordi Alba went in late and made minimal contact with Bartlomiej Pawloski. It was another needless foul to giveaway, and this time Malaga were in a position to create a chance. What appeared to be an excellent position for a cross lent itself well to Vitorino Antune’s curling left-footed shot, forcing Victor Valdés to scramble across goal and make a good save to keep the score at 0-0.

Another period of relatively wasteful (sterile?) Barcelona possession followed, before finally, with a little under ten minutes left to play in the opening period, Barça finally pushed it up a gear. Andrés Iniesta’s intelligent diagonal cross found Cesc Fàbregas (onside) at the far post) and ever the facilitator, Fàbregas cushioned a header towards the penalty spot and Alexis Sánchez. The Chilean threw himself goalwards to try and bury the chance, and for what it’s worth, he made good contact with the ball – not that it would matter. Willy Caballero had spotted the danger and raced from his line to deny Sánchez his second goal of the season.

It should have been enough to see Malaga enter the half-time break level with the Champions, but Adriano had other ideas. In trademark fashion, he Brazilian truly created something out of nothing, picking up a harmless pass from Alexis Sánchez, Adriano cut inside from his position on the right-flank and went for goal – bending a low left-footed shot past Caballero at his far post. The Argentine shot-stopper could and maybe should have done a little better – not that we could complain. Out of thin air, Adriano had gifted us a one goal lead heading into the break.

However that would be his last action, as Martino replaced Barça’s goal-scorer with regular right-back Dani Alves, in what Culés hoped was a change designed to rest Adriano for Wednesday’s Supercopa de España second-leg against Atletico Madrid. Unfortunately, news soon emerged that Adriano was subbed as a precaution with thigh muscle "discomfort". Depending on the severity of the discomfort, Adriano may well miss Wednesday’s match with Atleti, and maybe even next week’s clash with Valencia – or no games at all. It all depends on the results of any tests conducted in the next 24 hours or so.

Barcelona started the second-half relatively threateningly. Maybe Barça weren’t creating many clear-cut chances, but they were at least registering a few shots on target – a free-kick from Xavi and a header from Cesc Fàbregas didn’t cause Willy any real problems in the Malaga goal, although they did boost our totals. Another header, this time from Gerard Piqué following an in-swinging Xavi free-kick forced a better save from Caballero in the 58th minute, but still Barça couldn’t extend their lead.

Enter Neymar.

For the second time this week, Neymar replaced Pedro with roughly half-an-hour left to play as Martino looked to wrap up the three points. Meanwhile, Bernd Schuster was hoping to grab an unlikely equaliser, withdrawing one of his rare "attacking" players Bartlomiej Pawloski, in order to bring on different attacking option in Portuguese winger Eliseu. Would either substitute have an impact on the final score?

Eliseu very nearly created an equaliser for the hosts, racing away on the counter-attack, the Portuguese winger picked out the run of Roque Santa Cruz, who somehow rounded the challenge of Victor Valdés and tried to pick out Fabrice Olinga with a cut-back – and to his credit, the Paraguayan striker did just that, only for the inexperienced striker to hit the post with his shot at an open goal. It was a real let-off for the Blaugrana, who desperately needed a second goal to secure the three points.

Yet even after the introduction of Neymar, Barcelona were still looking devoid of ideas in attack – and as a result, Malaga were growing in confidence. Schuster withdrew one of his three holding midfielders Ignacio Camacho for an attacking threat, Seba Fernandez while Fabrice Olinga was also taken off for Chilean international Pedro Morales.

But after a quiet 15-20 minutes, Neymar was ready to make his mark on the game; dribbling right through at the heart of the Malaga defense, the talented Brazilian was wiped out by Sergio Sánchez (who had been booked earlier in the match) – only for Mateu Lahoz to spare him a second, and therefore a red. Not one to complain, Neymar got up, brushed it off and struck the free-kick with real venom – similar to his strike against Italy in the Confederations Cup, only this time the goalkeeper got across to make the save.

Time was winding down at La Rosaleda, and Barcelona were still hanging on to their slender one goal lead. Sergi Roberto had entered the action by this point, earning himself a seven-minute cameo in place of Andrés Iniesta, as Barça looked to play down the clock. Seldom is it ever that easy – Malaga were always going to create another chance – it’s just how football tends to work, and Valdés had to be at his best to deny Seba Fernandez’s header from point-blank range.

Next up, Barcelona take on Atletico Madrid in the return-leg of the Supercopa de España, with the tie evenly poised at 1-1 after an evenly-matched first-leg at the Vicente Calderon. Until then, Visca el Barça!

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