Lionel Messi inspired Barcelona to a 3-1 win over Malaga - their 18th victory in 19 games - as the Catalans side turned on the style at La Rosaleda.
Messi struck the opener on 27 minutes with Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara also on the scoresheet for Barca, while Diego Buonanotte fired a late consolation for the hosts.
With coach Tito Vilanova back on the bench and Messi having just been awarded his fourth consecutive Ballon d’Or, Manuel Pellegrini’s team knew that this was going to be one of their toughest tests of the season.
Malaga have been enjoying a fine league campaign of their own, however, and the exciting Andalusian side with their own emerging star Isco at the top of his form went into this game hoping to repeat their victory here over Real Madrid earlier in the season.
The first half saw Malaga start strongly but Barcelona soaked up the pressure and were soon taking apart the home side with ease, with Willy Cabellero denying Lionel Messi and then Andres Iniesta with some great goalkeeping.
The first goal came after a sloppy back pass from Ignacio Camacho failed to Willy and Messi sneaked in to collect the ball and fire past the stranded keeper from the edge of the area.
Messi made the finish look simple but a lesser player would have struggled to do what the world’s best made look so easy.
The goal was hard on the excellent Willy but had been coming. Pellegrini was made to pay for perhaps being overly ambitious in the way he had sent his team out.
Malaga pressured well from the front, but having too many attacking players who failed to track back meant that Barcelona simply overwhelmed the home team’s defence when they themselves streamed forward in numbers.
Barcelona started the second half in the same way they had approached the first and the second goal arrived only five minutes after the restart.
An exquisite through ball from Messi found Fabregas on the edge of the Malaga box. The first touch from Fabregas was perfect and the finish excellent as he curled the ball beyond the reach of Willy and in off the far post.
The away team continued to push forward after the second goal seemingly determined to put on a show for their returning coach who had been in New York earlier in the week seeing a specialist about his ongoing treatment for cancer.
Barcelona were rewarded for their unrelenting pressure and got the third goal their dominance deserved when the substitute Thiago took advantage of some poor defending to power the ball into the bottom corner from the edge of the box.
Malaga were able to regain some pride in the dying moments when Buonanotte beat Victor Valdes direct from a free-kick on the edge of the area.
With victory Barcelona maintain their Liga lead of 11 points from Atletico Madrid and after Real Madrid’s slip up against Osasuna on Saturday they are now 18 points clear of their biggest rivals.
- Sports & Recreation
- Lionel Messi
- Cesc Fabregas