Barcelona survived a scare in Malaga to secure three points against a very spirited team that came into the game in the midst of a stretch that saw them lose just one of their last five games. But early strikes in both halves, one each from Munir el Haddadi and Lionel Messi, were enough for the Catalans who, somehow, only conceded once - in the first half to a Juanpi shot.
|Shots on Target
Luis Enrique couldn't count on the expertise of the suspended Gerard Pique and the injured Neymar, they were replaced by Thomas Vermaelen and Munir, respectively. "Newcomers" Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal were again in the starting XI, giving Ivan Rakitić and Dani Alves some rest before another brutal Athletic Bilbao game.
La Rosaleda has become in recent seasons one of the most difficult away games for the Catalans, with Barcelona last winning in Malaga on 25 August 2013, but you wouldn't know it from the way this one started. Barely a minute into the game, Messi played a brilliant through ball to Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan continued to the goal-line, inviting Carlos Kameni out before sending the ball in front where Munir was waiting for the easy tap in. It was Munir's first goal in La Liga since the opening round of last season.
But despite the very promising start, Barcelona would struggle to get anything going. Even holding on to the ball was a difficult task as Malaga's press caused all kinds of problems to the visitors. Those problems were most evident in the Barcelona back-line where the left side of Vermaelen and Adriano Correia was especially inefficient. At times the Belgian was even unable to strike the ball that was sitting right in front of him. In almost cost Barcelona a goal in the 14th minute, as his missed clearance led to a corner kick from which Chory Castro forced Claudio Bravo to make an excellent save, but the ball still managed to hit the post.
Twelve minutes later Vermaelen was in a good position to clear the ball away, but he simply fell to the ground, leaving two Malaga players alone on Bravo. But Javier Mascherano was able to race back and from behind tackle the ball away from Recio who theatrically fell down, but the referee didn't fall for the dive. The mistakes in the backline continued in the 29th minute, this time Bravo passed the ball straight to the Malaga player, but again there was Mascherano to win back possession.
But neither the Argentine nor Barcelona would have the same luck three minutes later. More bad passes between the defenders this time led to Mascherano giving the ball away and with Adriano nowhere in sight the left side of the Catalan defense was left outnumbered. Juanpi received the ball on the edge of the area and fired on goal. Bravo seemed set for the shot, but at the last second Mascherano, as any defender would, tried a last ditch block attempt, deflecting the ball and leaving Bravo wrong-footed and the game tied at one.
That didn't wake up Barcelona one bit who continued to have problems in just about all areas of the game and Malaga continued to be the better team on the pitch. The hosts would have a good chance to take the lead in the 41st minute, but Bravo was able to parry Duje Čop's try.
Despite not creating anything from the opening minute Barcelona would actually have a golden opportunity to end the half in the lead. A turnover in midfield sent Barcelona on a quick counter attack during which Messi nicely played through Munir who saw his strong shot excellently saved by Kameni. The rebound, however, fell right to the feet of Messi who wasted no time in going for the empty net, but Miguel Torres blocked his try and prevented the easy goal. Nacho Camacho would, just before the halftime whistle, make one last attempt toward Barcelona's goal, but his long-range try was easily kept out by the Chilean in Barcelona's goal.
During the break Lucho made one change, leaving Vermaelen in the dressing room and sending Jeremy Mathieu in his place on the pitch. The change coupled with some tactical tweaks quickly resulted in much better movement from the Barcelona players and more calmness when in possession. And quickly Barcelona created two scoring chances. The first came from a free kick, but Messi hit the wall, the second, however, resulted in Barcelona re-taking the lead. Adriano swung a perfect ball to the far post where Messi acrobatically connected with the ball and sent it past the keeper and into the back of the net.
Enrique then quickly made his second substitution of the game, pulling Munir to the bench and replacing him with midfielder Rakitić, in an effort to do an even better job of keeping the ball. Over the next ten minutes neither team managed to really threaten. Barcelona often controlled the ball with ease, but getting close to Kameni's goal proved difficult. Malaga found it much easier to get to Bravo though, and just seconds after cramping forced Enrique to replace Adriano with Sergi Roberto, Bravo had to make another excellent save. Mascherano poorly cleared the ball away and Čop fired off a good shot, but Bravo made an even better save. In the 78th minute, after a positional mistake from Roberto, Roberto Rosales had a good look on goal, but his weak shot was easily handled by Bravo.
Barcelona wouldn't really threaten again until the 88th minute when, after a free kick, Barcelona won a corner kick. Rakitić took it and brilliantly found Messi all alone on the far post. After controlling the ball Messi powered the ball on target, but once again Kameni was there to keep Malaga from conceding.
In the final moments of the game Malaga pushed forward with all players, but apart from a dangerous cross in the 91st minute, that Bravo easily collected, the hosts couldn't manage, resulting in Barcelona earning a rare win in Malaga, sending Barcelona to the top of the Liga table. At least overnight.
|Roll Call Info
|Anders Thomassen, Anirudh_Kul, Ashraf Arefin, AzBlaug, Barca4ever, Barca4lif, BarcaBarca, BarcaGH, Charlie-xto, Delano Heerkens, DerkSensei, Himanshu96, Hristo, Korosensei, Lapulga, MayteeA, NamesTroyResideInTheDMV, PG9, Piyush_, Renato Goncalves, Romario10, ShantanuC, Som-i-Serem, Swn.Culé, Tokjee, Trifitology, VarmaFCB, Willis1984, asherdgreat1, checkmate299792458, craig00000, dschslava, el_uruguayo, feeya7, henderick.mitchell, knorkinator, ledhe, michael.olivier, mightyobie, navjot4664, pirastipek5, syredeathtrooper, uday kakoti