Barcelona missed out on the chance to move into first place of the La Liga standings, for a few hours at least, as Malaga held Barcelona to a scoreless draw despite playing a man down for almost 30 minutes and with only nine for the final moments.
Barcelona were always going to go into the game shorthanded as the suspended Luis Saurez joined the injured Andres Iniesta and Samuel Umtiti in the stands, but an hour before kickoff it was announced that Lionel Messi will be held out as well due to falling sick.
Barcelona appeared to have taken the early lead just a couple of minutes in, as Paco Alcacer controlled the ball in the area and emphatically sent the ball to the back of the net, but the goal was correctly ruled out for offside. The Catalans dominated from the opening kickoff with Malaga focused on defense, starting the match with five at the back. Barça had a couple of excellent chances in the 12th minute, both coming from corner kicks. First, Gerard Pique had his rising shot tipped over by Carlos Kameni, and moments later Pique headed the ball toward goal with Javier Mascherano tipping it to the post, but even had the Argentine scored his first Barcelona goal it wouldn’t have counted due to offside.
Malaga got their first shot of the game midway through the half with Sandro Ramirez firing from long range after a bad Neymar turnover. After giving up a couple half-chances Barcelona returned to their attacking game and came close to taking the lead in the 31st minute but Kameni saved Rafinha’s shot. Even though Barcelona continued to threaten the two teams went into halftime scoreless.
The second half started in similar fashion to the first one – with Barcelona attacking against a congested Malaga defense and struggling to create clear-cut chances. Malaga continued to be dangerous on the counter and in the 57th minute the visitors almost took the lead, but Juan Carlos missed a wide open net after skipping past Marc-Andre ter Stegen who left his line.
Time was slowly starting to become a factor as Barcelona continued to struggle in attack as that final pass consistently missed its target. Malaga also made Barcelona no favors as more often than not nine players, not counting the goalkeeper, were inside 20-yards of Kameni. But Diego Llorente made Malaga’s task tougher in the 67th minute as he was sent off for cutting down Neymar on the counter attack.
Barcelona dedicated even more men to the attack after Llorente’s dismissal and Pique took his place next to Alcacer. Rakitic came close to breaking the deadlock moments after coming on the pitch, but his header missed the target by mere inches. Shortly thereafter, Pique scored, but again the goal was ruled out for offside – this time incorrectly as while a couple of Barcelona players might have been offside, Andre Gomes was not, and it was him who headed the ball to the crossbar only for Pique to tap in the rebound.
Barcelona unleased one last attacking flurry, which included three miraculous diving saves in the 94th minute on Neymar and on Pique and Gomes in the 96th, Barcelona couldn’t beat Malaga. The Catalans will now look to return to wining ways against Celtic in the Champions League.
Barcelona: ter Stegen | Roberto, Pique, Mascherano, Digne (Alba) | Denis (Gomes), Busquets, Rafinha (Rakitic) | Arda, Alcecer, Neymar
Malaga: Kameni | Rosales, Villanueva, Ricca, Torres, Juan Carlos | Llorente | Fornals (Duda), Juanpi, Ontiveros (Munoz) | Sandro (En-Nesyri)