Barça stay top of the league for another week after a superb 3-0 win over Malaga at Camp Nou tonight. After a turbulent week at the club the atmosphere in the ground seemed totally normal and there were no noticeable protests against new president Josep Maria Bartomeu. Gerard Piqué, Pedro Rodriguez and Alexis Sanchez scored the goals as the team responded with an excellent performance that could easily have earned a much bigger victory. There was also time for a brief appearance from Ibrahim Afellay for his first Barça game since May 2012.
Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid had both briefly led the table after winning their games earlier so the pressure was definitely on Barça to win. Tata Martino played his best available XI and the team began confidently with good swift passing moves. After just five minutes Busquets and Pedro combined and then Cesc Fabregas slipped a great pass through for Alexis who clipped his shot past Willy Caballero but the ball went wide after grazing the far post.
There was a reaction from Malaga after a doubtful foul was given against Busquets. Duda curled one of his specials but Valdés flew to his left and just got his hand to the shot. Barça continued to look the better team and after one twenty-pass build-up Alexis just over-ran the ball as he tried to burst into the area. The whole team was looking tuned in, but possibly the outstanding performer of the night was Jordi Alba who apart from threatening from the left wing, also showed some great defensive work including one speedy run back to prevent Perez a chance which was reminiscent of Eric Abidal’s best covering work.
Malaga put up a strong defensive performance from the start but gradually Barça began to find different ways through and Caballero was looking in good form. Xavi and Fabregas were moving the ball quickly and there were again more forward than square passes with Pedro on the left more often than not the target. In the 22nd minute Pedro found Messi inside the area but Caballero was out quickly forcing Messi to shoot quickly and wide.
Xavi then sent a glorious pass to Alves in space on the right, but after controlling, the Brazilian tried to chip Caballero but the keeper guessed his intentions and stretched a hand to intercept. Pedro tried his luck after cutting inside but Caballero made a comfortable stop, then Fabregas broke through on the right but after cutting the ball back to Pedro in a good position the Canarian slipped before he could shoot.
There was a brief interruption in Barça’s exhibition when Alves gave a poor pass and Piqué was required to take a booking for bringing down Pawlowski. But soon after, Alba had a chance after a cross from the right was missed by the Malaga defence but his shot was well saved by Caballero diving to his left. Barça turned up the pace another notch with Messi making a burst forward before finding Alexison the right, the Chilean dribbled his way to the by-line before crossing the ball for Pedro but the final header hit Flavio Ferreira who cleared. There were then two more attempts, the first a 20-yard shot wide from Pedro then angled lob onto the roof of the net from Alba after Messi’s pass from deep.
The only problem was the lack of a goal and of course it’s impossible to say how things might have turned out had Malaga held on at 0-0 until half time. However, in the 39th minute Barça won a corner on the left. Xavi curled the ball to the far post where Piqué had time to chest the ball down but his shot was blocked by a defender and went out for a corner on the other side. Xavi took it again, Alexis made an excellent jump to flick the ball on and Piqué again had time to control and this time he swept his shot low past Caballero and Barça were in front.
Barça were encouraged by the goal and there was a spectacular move in the 43rd minute after Alba dribbled in from the left, the ball came back to Xavi who played it back again to Messi who, as the defence came out, chipped a fantastic pass over for Fabregas’s late run on the left but Caballero was again equal to Fabregas’s shot, blocking the ball at the near post.
Barça continued to attack from the start of the second half and Pedro was perhaps unlucky not to win a penalty after a push from Sergio Sanchez. However, there was a reminder that the game was far from over in the 49th minute when Antunes sent in a dangerous cross from the left which just evaded Pawlowski before Alba miraculously got in front of Juanmi to save what seemed a certain goal.
The scare spurred Barça on in the search for a second goal. Alexis shot from an angle on the right but Caballero dived low to save, then Fabregas played a one-two with Alexis but Caballero saved again at his near post. Then from a corner Piqué headed against the post and after the ensuing scramble Busquets’s shot was blocked.
Barça’s insistence paid off in the 55th minute. Alves led a charge forward before finding Messi 30 yards out, the Argentinian played the ball through to Pedro who cut inside Angeleri before sticking his shot inside the far post. Almost straight after the goal, Valdés had to be alert to stop a shot out of the blue but that was the last threat to Barça’s victory. Five minutes later Messi cleverly turned away from Perez and his run then created space for the other forwards, Messi slipped the ball through to Pedro who unselfishly passed to the far post where Alexis had an easy tap-in to make it 3-0.
Pedro, who took a knock when scoring the second goal, was immediately replaced with Tello. Barça began to take the foot off the gas and Tello had little luck in his attempts to get past Angeleri. Messi and Xavi both sent free-kicks narrowly wide and then when Martino replaced the excellent Xavi with Sergi Roberto it was clear the work was done. In the final ten minutes Malaga finally won their only two corners of the match but Valdés was not troubled again. It was great to see Afellay come on for the last five minutes but the final chance of the game fell to Tello after Fabregas’s pass in injury time, but the winger sent his shot wide of the far post.
The victory leaves Barça on 54 points, ahead of Atlético on goal difference with Madrid a point behind on 53. Today’s performance was an excellent response to the off-the-field events this week and will go a long way to reaffirming Bartomeu in his position. Particularly pleasing tonight was the form of Jordi Alba who was excellent in defence while causing danger going forward. Xavi and Pedro also deserve credit, Xavi looked quicker tonight than we’ve seen him for some time while Pedro was a constant danger on the left. However, it was the overall team performance which was most encouraging which will send out a message to our rivals that there is no crisis at the club and the team is ready to compete with the best.
Barça: Valdés 7; Alves 6.5, Piqué 7.5, Mascherano 7.5, Alba 8.5; Xavi 8 (Sergi Roberto m78), Busquets 6.5, Fabregas 7.5; Alexis 7.5 (Afellay m87, –), Messi 7.5, Pedro 8 (Tello m61, 6).
Malaga: Willy Caballero; Angeleri, Sergio Sanchez, Flavio Ferreira, Antunes; Juanmi, Pablo Perez (Morales m66), Tissone (Darder m81), Camacho, Duda; Santa Cruz (Pawlowski m26).
Goals: m40 Piqué 1-0, m55 Pedro 2-0, m61 Alexis 3-0
Yellow cards: m16 Pablo Perez, m30 Piqué, m31 Duda, m72 Ferreira.