Monday, 17 January 2011

Match Report: Barcelona 4 Malaga 1

FT: Barcelona 4 (Iniesta 7, Villa 17 & 73 Pedro 35) – Malaga 1 (Duda 67)

On a night that could prove vital in the final destination of the title, Barcelona kept their side of the bargain with another convincing victory.

Following Real Madrid’s draw at Almeria Pep Guardiola’s men knew that a 13th straight league victory would take them four points clear at the top. Guardiola signalled his intent by starting with his strongest starting eleven, the returning Victor Valdes and Eric Abidal the only changes to the side that had destroyed Real Betis 5-0 on Wednesday. Former Real boss Manuel Pellegrini handed a debut to Julio Baptista as the lone front man with Duda and Quincy Owusu-Abeyie in support.

And it wasn’t long before Malaga were facing down the barrel after an explosive start from the hosts. Andres Iniesta opened the scoring on seven minutes with a tremendous half volley from the edge of the area after an intelligent pull-back from Dani Alves.

Duda nearly equalised immediately in a brief moment of restbite for the Malaga defence. With the marking non-existent in the Barca back line the Portuguese winger flashed a spectulative volley across Victor Valdes and just beyond the far post.

Barcelona were soon back in control and Sergio Asenjo had to be alert to deny Pedro before Xavi rattled the Atlético de Madrid loanee’s crossbar. However, it was only a matter of time until the second goal arrived and it did so on 17 minutes. Sergio Busquets won the ball well on the edge of the Malaga area and after a brief interchange between Xavi and Lionel Messi, the Argentine slipped the ball through for David Villa to side-foot in through Asenjo’s legs.

Martin Demichellis then missed the opportunity to score his second Malaga goal on only his second appearance when he headed over after more shoddy marking from the hosts at a corner before Messi weaved his magic once more to create the third goal. The newly crowned Balon d’Or winner splitting the Malaga defence with a wondeful through ball for Iniesta. Asenjo did well to deny Iniesta originally but Pedro was on hand to poke home the rebound. The Canarian scoring his ninth goal in the last eight league games.

Messi then spurned a fantastic opportuinity to add a fourth and gain some ground on Cristiano Ronaldo in the race for the Pichichi but he was again denied by the impressive Asenjo.

In a much slower paced second half Malaga regained a sense of respectability with Duda reducing the arrears with a wonderful left-footed freek-kick from 20 yards on 67 minutes. Barcelona responded by upping the pace slightly and Villa grabbed his second of the game, cooling rounding Asenjo before slotting home with 17 minutes remaining.

On a night of unbridled joy at the Camp Nou there was just on esetback for the league leaders. Alves limping off injured with a hamstring injury on the half hour. But with the winter championship in the bag, a four point lead, a semmingly unassainable 5-0 lead in the quarter-finals of the cup and the Champions League last-16 to come next month, there is very little else to worry Pep Guardiola at the moment.

His opposite number Pellegrini will know that his side’s fate will not be decided in fixtures such as these. However, he will be encouraged wth the spirit showed by his side in the second half and with more big name arrivals set to join Baptista and Demichellis before the transfer window shuts in a fortnight the second half of the season promises much for Los Boquerones.

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