A goal from Adriano Correia a minute before half time was enough to earn Barça a narrow 0-1 victory over Malaga at La Rosaleda tonight. The win takes Barça to six points from two games but things might have been different if 17-year-old Fabrice Olinga had scored in the second half instead of hitting the post or if Victor Valdés hadn’t made a late double save from Seba Fernandez’s and Fernando Tissone’s shot.
With Leo Messi missing with a thigh injury, Tata Martino once more used Cesc Fabregas as a false nine but again there was no place in the starting XI for Neymar as Alexis and Pedro continued on the wings. There were two more important changes in the Barça line-up with Song replacing Busquets in the defensive midfield role and Adriano taking Dani Alves’s place at right back.
Malaga coach Bernd Schuster re-installed Sergio Sanchez in defence while bringing back Nacho Camacho in a midfield three with Tissone and Sergi Darder. New signing Polish striker Bartlomiej Pawlowski made his debut on the right of attack while Fabrice started on the left with veteran striker Roque Santa Cruz as the main target man. However, Pawlowski and Fabrice played as withdrawn wingers, at least in the first half, which often gave the home team a defensive 4-5-1 shape.
Barça struggled to create in the early stages against Malaga’s disciplined defence. Malaga had two half chances in the first five minutes with Tissone shooting over after Mascherano’s half-clearance and then Fabrice breaking into the left of the area but Valdés held his cross-shot. At the other end Song’s header from Xavi’s corner lacked power and Malaga keeper Willy Caballero saved comfortably.
After Malaga’s initial rush Barça began to take control of the game but the rhythm was not the quickest, some of the passing was imprecise and the final touch of Alexis and Pedro when a half-chance did appear was not their best. Iniesta had little luck on his dribbles and Fabregas headed a chance from Adriano’s cross straight at Caballero.
Then in the 28th minute Alba fouled Pawlowski 30 yards out on Malaga’s right. The cross was expected but left-back Vitorino Antunes swung in a low shot that bounced just in front of Valdés’s dive at the near post and the Barça keeper did well to push the ball out for a corner.
Barça came back strongly with Fabregas causing most problems for the Malaga defence. In the 35th minute he played the ball inside to Alexis whose low cross was intended for Iniesta until Jesús Gamez cleared the danger. Two minutes later Iniesta crossed to Fabregas who headed the ball across goal to Alexis whose header was well stopped by Caballero. Then in the 43rd minute Fabregas made a quick dash into the area between two opponents, winning a corner from which Piqué’s header caused a fumble from Caballero but the Malaga keeper recovered to gather the ball.
A minute later another mistake from Caballero had more serious consequences for Malaga. Xavi played the ball out to Alexis on the right, the Chilean knocked the ball back to Adriano who let fly from 30 yards – the shot was good but Caballero got a hand to it, and he should have done more than just touch the ball on into the far corner. Adriano has so often done a good job filling in for one of the full backs and his goal tally is impressive (he’s now scored 11 goals in 107 appearances for Barça) but he also has the unfortunate tendency to get muscular injuries, and he picked up another scoring the goal and Alves came on in his place after the half-time break.
With the goal advantage Barça looked more comfortable at the start of the second half. Xavi curled a free kick over the wall but straight at Caballero, and soon after Pedro found Alba’s intelligent run to the line but Fabregas’s header from the cross was again easy for the keeper. Then in the 57th minute Darder fouled Alexis out on the left. Xavi swung in a free kick towards Piqué who’d got into a good position, the Barça centre-back missed his attempt to head the ball but as he stooped the ball flicked off his back and looped over Caballero before bouncing off the top of the crossbar and going out.
Martino brought on Neymar in place of Pedro but Barça couldn’t find a second goal which might have eased some nerves. Eliseu Pereira came on for Pawlowski and Malaga began to push further forward with the realisation that a point could be saved. In the 68th minute Eliseu led a break up Malaga’s left before sending a dangerous ball into the area for Santa Cruz, Valdés came out and forced the striker wide but Santa Cruz pulled the ball back to Fabrice who was ten yards out with just Mascherano on the line, the Fabrice’s control gave Piqué the chance to close in and the 17-year-old hurried his shot and only succeeded in hitting the post.
Neymar began to show his electric change of speed. After one neat step-over he drew a foul from Sergi Darder that saw the Malaga midfielder join Gamez, Sergio Sanchez and Alexis in referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz’s book. Soon after, Sergi Sanchez was extremely fortunate not to see a second yellow after crudely stopping another excellent run from the Brazilian. From the resulting free kick Neymar sent a powerful shot and Caballero had to dive to make a good save.
Schuster brought on Seba Fernandez and Pedro Morales for the last fifteen minutes as Malaga looked to make a final push. Martino brought on Sergi Roberto for Iniesta and Barça seemed to be having few problems as the clock ticked towards the end of the game, controlling Malaga’s breaks and generally keeping possession. Then as the game entered the 90th minute Gamez crossed from the right and Barça’s defence completely lost Seba who had a free header from about eight yards. Valdés made a vital save but the ball came back out to Tissone who shrugged off Sergi Roberto’s challenge before getting past Mascherano and shooting – fortunately for Barça his shot lacked power and Valdés got down to save again. There was one final chance at the other end for Neymar but his shot was deflected and flew over. Not a pretty win from Barça but the three points could be crucial at the end of the season.
Malaga: Willy Caballero; Jesús Gamez, Angeleri, Sergio Sanchez, Antunes; Tissone, Darder, Camacho (Seba Fernandez m76); Pawlowski (Eliseu m63), Santa Cruz, Fabrice (Pedro Morales m76).
Barça: Valdés 7.5; Adriano 7 (Alves h/t, 6), Piqué 6.5, Mascherano 6, Alba 6; Xavi 6.5, Song 6, Iniesta 6.5 (Sergi Roberto m83, –); Alexis 6, Fabregas 7, Pedro 6 (Neymar m63, 7).
Goal: m44 Adriano 0-1.
Yellow cards: m56 Gamez, m60 S.Sanchez, m62 Alexis, m72 Darder, m84 Alves