The hosts Malaga went into this match in fifth place but with a game in hand as Real Betis had won earlier in the day to go three points clear in the Champions League qualifier spot. The visitors Barcelona, on the other hand, have romped to the top of La Liga in the last few months and were 11 points ahead of Atletico Madrid in 2nd place. Although Malaga played quite well and restricted Barcelona to few chances; the champions-elect were clinical and Messi, Fabregas and Thiago made no mistake to give their team a comfortable win. Diego Buonanotte pulled one back with a late free-kick which Malaga deserved as they had played well. But overall, Barcelona deserved the win.
Malaga (4-5-1) – Willy Caballero, Sergio Sanchez, Martin Demichelis, Weligton, Nacho Monreal, Joaquin Sanchez (Francisco Portillo 83’), Ignacio Camacho, Isco, Jeremy Toulalan (Manuel Iturra 69’), Eliseu (Diego Buonanotte 62’), Roque Santa Cruz
Barcelona (4-3-3) – Victor Valdes, Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas (Thiago Alcantara 73’), Pedro Rodriguez (Alexis Sanchez 78’), Lionel Messi
Despite Barcelona’s dominance in the league they struggled to have their usual control over the ball in the first half as Malaga came out to play football and match Barcelona at their own game. They very much succeeded at this throughout the first-half and it was only through a sloppy backpass that Barcelona were able to score. Ignacio Camacho tried to give the ball back to his keeper from the half-way line but Messi – who had been standing on the edge of the penalty box – ran in to intercept and rounded the keeper before passing the ball into the net just before the half-hour mark.
There was few other clear-cut chances in the first-half but Barcelona seemed to have an excellent opportunity wrongly ruled out for offside. Dani Alves crossed the ball to Xavi who was free in the six-yard box but he elected to pass to Messi first-time rather than shoot. Messi was onside at this point but had been offside when Alves put the initial cross in and the assistant put his flag up. Although Messi was offside for the initial ball, when Xavi passed to him he was onside so the chance should have stood.
Apart from this there was little goalmouth action in the first-half as both teams largely cancelled each other out. Malaga’s success at matching Barcelona in the first-half can be seen from the fact that they kept Barcelona down to 60% of possession rather than the more usual 70% that the Catalans get.
However, Barcelona came out in the second-half and started at a much higher tempo. Only 5 minutes in they were two up as Messi hit a beautiful left-footed pass curling over the Malaga defence. Fabregas ran onto it and slotted round the keeper to make it 2-0.
Thiago added a third in the 82nd minute as he picked up the ball from a throw-in on the right wing and drifted inside. A few stepovers took him past Manuel Iturra and he hit a left-foot shot from the edge of the box passed the keeper into the bottom corner.
Malaga managed to pull one back in the 89th minute. Diego Buonanotte hit an exquisite 25-yard free-kick into the top corner that Victor Valdes had absolutely no chance of saving.
Barcelona are now on 55 points from 19 games and have virtually wrapped up the league. Malaga are only 3 points behind Real Betis but still in the hunt for that coveted fourth spot. However, as WhatCulture reported back in December Malaga may be banned by UEFA from European Competition under the Financial Fair Play rules if they can’t settle their debts by 31 March. These two sides meet again in midweek for the first-leg of their Copa Del Rey quarter-final clash and with a much bigger squad to enable them to rest players it is more than likely Barcelona will come out victorious once again.
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