Barça handled business with a 4-1 win at La Rosaleda. A luke warm 1st half was followed by an explosive start in the 2nd, and by the 53rd minute the game was effectively over. As expected Mascherano returned to the centerback role, where he again excelled, giving Puyol rest for Real Madrid Wednesday. Thiago and Adriano also were handed starts with Xavi and Cesc having a breather. Messi was on song tonight, working hard from the 1st to last minute and earning himself another hattrick for his troubles. Málaga offered almost nothing going forward and were fully deserving of this defeat. Madrid are kicking off later tonight and with credible reports of conflict brewing within the team, maybe Pep’s good friend Bielsa can do us a favor.
The opening minutes looked like many a Barça match, with us having nearly all the ball and our opponents sitting deep. Possession wasn’t bearing fruit until a deflected Messi shot in the 9th minute almost sneaked in. But, having done nothing worthwhile to that point, Málaga would have taken the lead in the 15th minute if not for our wordclass keeper. Isco first whipped in a shot which Valdes nicely dealt with, then off the resulting corner Valdes made a stunning double save from Isco’s header and follow up shot.
That didn’t rattle the boys much, though it must be said we weren’t playing our best game with a few loose passes and sloppy movement. Pique missed a very makeable header minutes later, Adriano had a shot blocked soon after, and on the half hour mark Demichelis cleared a Messi shot off the line.
But Demichelis nor any of his teammates tracked Messi’s smart run which he finished off with a picturesque header of perfect technique. Our wonderful number 10 started the play off in the middle of the park, feed it to Iniesta, who then pushed it more left for Adriano. With all the defenders watching the ball, Messi ghosted into the box and Adriano put in a perfect cross that was guided powerfully into the bottom left corner. 1-0.
Not much more happened that half, and I think Pep made that loud and clear during halftime. He must have drilled it into them that a 1-0 lead was not near safe enough and they should go out and kill the game as quickly as possible. The team obliged and from the whistle we pressured our opponents vehemently. Alexis made it 2-0 in the 47th minute. A saved Thiago shot was turned back into the box by Adriano, Thiago tried his luck again but Caballero made the block, however the rebound fell to our gritty number 9 who bashed it in the goal despite Monreal’s head being in the way.
Goal number 3, and Messi 2nd ended matters with 40 minutes left. Once again Messi started and ended the move. Despite his dazzling pace and control slicing through the defense like a hot knife through butter, the most important part of this goal was his eagerness to work back and pinch the ball off our opponents.
Pep made all three substitutions in the 64th, 67th, and 73rd minutes. First Alexis was given a rest for Cuenca, then Adriano got a knock from a tough challenge allowing Dos Santos some minutes, and finally Iniesta, who wasn’t having his best game, made way for Pedro. Pedro didn’t do a great deal during his time on, but he did look very fast and hungry to impress, which are very positive signs after injury.
Messi cracked the bar with a magic freekick in the 74th minute, Thiago should have made it 4-0 moments later but was too unselfish in the box, but Málaga again suffered the wrath of Lionel in the 81st minute with another electrifying run forward that left the speed handicapped Málaga defense chasing shadows. This and the goal before were real vintage Messi goals with crisp finishes that left Caballero no chance.
We lost some focus in the final 10 minutes and Rondon made it 4-1 in the 85th with a well taken finish from a narrow angle after Valdes blocked a long range M Málaga effort. Rondon could have made it 4-2 minutes later with a free header, then Messi himself missed a few at the end.
This isn’t a game that will live in the memory box long, but that doesn’t matter, the team needed 3 points and that’s what they did. Some key players were given a rest and those that came in from then did an acceptable job in their absence. Pique, Mascherano, Abidal, and Messi were the pick of the bunch, and despite Thiago being far from poor, it wasn’t one of his better games. Real Madrid, as you all well know, are up next, and I’m curious to see what the next chapter in this Clasico drama will unfold.
Barça: Valdes 8; Alves 6.5, Mascherano 8, Piqué 7.5, Abidal 8, Busquets 7, Thiago 6.5, Iniesta 6 (Pedro m73), Adriano 8 (Dos Santos m67), Messi 9, Alexis 7 (Cuenca m64)
Goals: Messi m32 0-1, m47 Alexis 0-2, m50 Messi 0-3, Messi m80 0-4, Rondon m85 1-4