Barcelona were made to work far harder than in their opening match, but were still able to prevail with a 1-0 win at Malaga to make it two wins from as many matches to start their La Liga title defense. There never looked likely to be a repeat of last week’s 7-0 mauling of Levante as Malaga worked tirelessly to restrict their opponents. But the home side were undone at La Rosaleda by a goalkeeping error from Willy Caballero just before half-time to allow a fine strike by Adriano to creep in.
With Lionel Messi out with a bruised thigh that forced him off in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup in midweek, Barcelona struggled to get in behind Malaga’s compact backline. There were plenty of complaints from Barcelona at what they felt was overly rough tactics deployed by Malaga in trying to stop their opponents. Bernd Schuster’s side, though, can take plenty of credit from their performance.
After further cost-cutting measures saw a host of players depart during the summer, Malaga have now lost their first two matches, with this defeat following one by the same scoreline against Valencia last week. There was reason for optimism from this latest outing, although a lack of attacking threat will be a concern. Still, Malaga did cause Barcelona some uncomfortable moments in the second half, first when Fabrice Olinga struck a post and then when Victor Valdes was forced into action to deny Seba Fernandez from point-blank range.
Malaga started the game with highline as they tried to limit any gaps for Barcelona to exploit. Messi’s absence meant a start for Fabregas, who looked to come deep form his nominal starting role up front and pick out the runs of Pedro and Alexis Sanchez on either side. One such occasion could and perhaps should have resulted in the opening goal but Pedro’s touch was found wanting as he tried to take the ball around the goalkeeper on the edge of the box.
At the other end Valdes was forced into action for a rare time in the contest as he did well to get across and keep out a sweetly struck free-kick from Vitorino Antunes. Caballero pulled off a good stop too when he spread himself well to block Sanchez’s diving header. Yet, that positive work would be undone soon after with the visitors going in front a minute before the break.
Starting in place of Dani Alves, Adriano showed why he can be so dangerous going forward from right back when he took Sanchez’s lay off and cut inside onto his favored left foot to allow him to whip the ball low toward the far corner. While finely-struck, it was a shot that should have been kept out by Malaga’s Argentinean stopper. Instead, he never looked set moving across goal and, despite getting a glove to the ball, it found the back of the net. It was to prove Adriano’s last involvement as he was taken off at half time with a knock to his right thigh.
Roque Santa Cruz had been a virtual anonymous figure in the opening period, but he almost set-up an equalizer for his side midway through the second half. Receiving a through ball down the left of the box, the former Manchester City striker went past Valdes to the byline before pulling the ball back for Olinga, but, with the ball slightly behind him, he struggled for clean contact and the 17-year-old Cameroonian’s effort struck the post.
Barcelona only posed a limited threat in the second half. The closest they came to adding a second was in inadvertent fashion when Xavi’s free-kick struck the back of Gerard Pique and went onto the top of the cross bar. Neymar’s introduction provided an extra spark and the Brazilian went close with an effort just deflected off target near the end.
Gerardo Martino will likely have just been relieved to have survived his first away La Liga match with the three points, especially after Fernandez had a free header from six yards out that he perhaps should have found the net from but instead directed straight at Valdes.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.