Barça’s winning run came to a halt with an uneventful 0-0 draw with Malaga at La Rosaleda tonight. Barça dominated possession but Malaga came closest to a goal when Claudio Bravo turned Luis Alberto’s free-kick against the post in the 70th minute. There was little inspiration from Barça in attack and it wasn’t until the 76th minute that Malaga keeper Carlos Kameni was called into action to save a header from Gerard Piqué. Barça have still not conceded a goal this season but the result means Sevilla draw level on points at the top of the table while Valencia can make it a three-way tie on 13 points if they beat Cordoba tomorrow night.
Luis Enrique was expected to make changes tonight and his intention to revolutionize the defence was indicated when he left Dani Alves and Jeremy Mathieu in Barcelona along with Rafinha. Rakitic and Neymar recovered from their injuries to play and when the team sheet was announced there were three changes from the team that beat Levante 0-5 on Sunday with Piqué and Marc Bartra partnering in the middle of the defence and Douglas Pereira coming in at right-back for his first Barça appearance.
Douglas initially had problems with positioning. In the 8th minute Malaga played a ball over the Brazilian defender’s head and Alba had to cover to force Amrabat into a weak shot that Bravo saved comfortably low to his left. But the main problem with Douglas was his lack of ambition when he got the ball, instead of trying to take on his man or play a forward pass the debut boy nearly always played the safe option, backwards to Piqué or Rakitic.
It was a shame because Malaga played with a tight and very narrow 4-2-3-1 which meant Barça were consistently forced into playing the ball wide. With forwards Neymar and Pedro asked to play further infield this season, the width has to come from the full-backs and for much of tonight’s game it seemed like the only route to goal. There was plenty of space on the flanks but Douglas only managed three unsuccessful crosses in his 73 minutes before being replaced by Adriano so nearly all the danger from Barça, which wasn’t a great deal, came from Jordi Alba on the left. In the 17th minute Alba whipped in a cross but Pedro could only touch the ball and it whizzed well wide. Nine minutes later it was Messi on the end of an Alba cross but the Argentinian chested the ball wide. Barça’s best spell came at the end of the first half, in the 42nd minute Alba pulled the ball back to Neymar whose shot deflected to Pedro but the Canarian’s shot was also charged down. In the next attack Pedro slipped a great ball into the box for Alba who sent in a first-time cross but Messi couldn’t arrive in time at the far post.
If the first-half was dull the second half was worse, at least from Barça’s point of view. Alba managed two or three more crosses but failed to find a team-mate and the only other danger came from corners. Barça had five in the second half and it should be said that Rakitic takes them pretty well. The first found Bartra escaping his marker but the defender headed narrowly wide, Kameni caught the second unchallenged then the third found Piqué leaping above Sanchez but Kameni dived to his right to make a fine one-handed save. The fourth and fifth came near the end in quick succession, Bartra’s header getting deflected wide and then from the following Rakitic kick neither Piqué nor Bartra could win the battle with the Malaga defence.
There really was very little else from Barça, Sandro and Munir replaced Pedro and Neymar but neither could make any more impact. Messi tried to work his stuff but it wasn’t his day, his best dribble into the right of the area ended with his old friend Weligton squaring up and grabbing the Argentinian by the throat before pushing him to the floor. Piqué protested and referee Alejandro Hernández Hernández saw fit to show both Piqué and Weligton the yellow card. Weligton was lucky not to get a red but with only eight minutes remaining at this point it probably made no difference.
Malaga had their attacking moments but of little significance. There was a brief flurry from the home side in the middle of the second half, first with Castillejo turning Bartra and producing a chance for Rosales who fired wide from 25 yards, and then Douglas ended a miserable debut by getting booked for bringing down Luis Alberto on the left of the area. The ex-Barça B man got up and tried to surprise Bravo with a shot to the near post but the Barça keeper was alert to touch the ball against the post and Bartra put the ball out for a corner.
It was the closest either side would come in a contest where both sides cancelled each other out. Malaga didn’t deserve to win but they will be very happy with the point. As Luis Enrique said after the game “the players are not machines”, but this was well below the level we have seen so far this season. Barça will need to take this as a warning and the game will hopefully serve as a warning against complacency.
Malaga: Kameni; Rosales, Sergio Sanchez, Weligton, Torres; Camacho, Darder; Castillejo (Juanmi m76), Duda (Luis Alberto m67), Juanpi (Recio m85); Amrabat.
Barça: Bravo 7; Douglas 5 (Adriano m73, 6), Piqué 6, Bartra 6, Alba 6.5; Rakitic 6, Busquets 6.5, Iniesta 6; Pedro 5.5 (Sandro m64, 6), Messi 6, Neymar 5.5. (Munir m64, 5.5)
Yellow cards: m69 Douglas, m72 Rosales, m82 Piqué, m82 Weligton