Barcelona continued their surely inexorable march toward reclaiming the La Liga title as they defeated Champions-League-challenging Malaga 3-1 at La Rosaleda.
The visitors encountered strong resistance, particularly in the opening period, from a defense with the fewest goals conceded in La Liga this season coming into the contest. But, as is so often the case, Barcelona had the quality to pierce through and, with the help of an uncharacteristic Malaga error, in the end secured what was a comfortable win. Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabregas and Thiago grabbed the goals before Diego Buonanotte pulled one back late on for the hosts.
Malaga, having an impressive season, acquitted themselves well in the early going against a full-strength Barcelona side that had coach Tito Vilanova back on the sidelines. Barcelona were trying to probe their way through but Andres Iniesta’s low cross just failed to connect with Fabregas before the two reversed roles and Iniesta shot straight at Wilfredo Caballero.
There was controversy too as Caballero appeared to handle the ball outside the box to prevent Pedro getting to the ball first.
Crucially, though, Caballero could not beat Messi to the ball as Malaga gifted Barcelona the lead after 27 minutes. Jeremy Toulalan failed to spot Messi returning from the edge of the Malaga box and played a fatal back pass that the Ballon d’Or winner picked up and after sitting Caballero slid the ball into the unguarded net.
It was nearly 2-0 just minutes later. Iniesta’s run took him into the box before he laid it off to Fabregas who struck a low effort inches wide of the post.
Fabregas would make no such mistake as he gave Barcelona a crucial 2-0 lead five minutes after the break. Messi was the architect with a delightful scooped pass to find the midfielder down the inside left channel and Fabregas controlled under pressure before neatly striking coolly low in off the far post.
With eight minutes remaining, Thiago provided a glimpse of his quality off the bench. Cutting in from the right touchline, the young midfielder tricked his way past one defender before exchanging passes with Messi and shooting low into the net from the edge of the area.
Malaga did provide something for their fans to cheer late on with Buonanotte curling a sumptuous free-kick into the side of the net past an unmoved Victor Valdes from a central position 20 yards out with just over a minute remaining.
But the day again belonged to Barcelona, who have now negotiated the first half of the season with an incredible 18 wins and one draw from their 19 matches.