Sunday, 24 January 2016

Barcelona Back on Top

Barcelona leapfrogged Atlético Madrid to go top of La Liga after Lionel Messi’s acrobatic volley secured a hard-fought 2-1 victory against a tenacious Málaga on Saturday.

Munir El Haddadi, deployed up front in place of the injured Neymar, put Barça ahead in the second minute at the Rosaleda Stadium on the south coast after smart work from Luis Suárez.

However, the visitors were unable to exert their customary control and 12th-placed Málaga, whose relentless pressing unsettled the Spanish and European champions, netted a deserved equaliser in the 32nd minute.

Javier Mascherano surrendered possession in a dangerous area and the ball fell to the midfielder Juanpi, whose shot was deflected in off the former Liverpool player as he slid across to block.

Messi was back in the side after sitting out Wednesday’s 2-1 Copa del Rey triumph at Athletic Bilbao as a precaution but the Ballon d’Or winner was largely anonymous in the first half.

Barça were much improved in the second period and took a 2-1 lead in the 51st minute when Messi cracked Adriano’s cross past the home goalkeeper, Carlos Kameni.

The Argentina captain was falling away from the ball as it dropped and he caught it perfectly on the volley to send it arrowing into the corner for his 11th goal of an injury-disrupted campaign.

The Barça keeper, Claudio Bravo, then did well to palm away a shot from Ignacio Camacho in the 73rd minute and Kameni denied Messi a second with a superb one-handed save two minutes from time.

“We perhaps didn’t deserve to be drawing 1-1 at the break considering what we did and what they did in the first half,” Barça’s captain, Andrés Iniesta, told Spanish television.

“We didn’t feel comfortable and Málaga were very well organised and made the most of it when we gave the ball away,” added the Spain international. “It shows how difficult it is to win in La Liga.”

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