Adriano pulling the trigger to condemn Malaga to their second defeat of the season. :: ÑITO SALAS
Bernd Schuster made three changes going into his side’s first home game of the campaign, as the Blue and Whites welcomed champions Barcelona to La Rosaleda on Sunday night. There were starts for Sergio Sánchez and Ignacio Camacho who returned from injury, and also a debut for Polish attacker Bartlomiej Pawlowski, who finally received clearance for his loan move last Thursday.
Barcelona, who arrived without the injured Lionel Messi, tried to kick off the game in their usual ‘tiki-taka’ rhythm, but high pressing and persistant play from Fernando Tissone led to the first chance of the game as the Argentinian fired a powerful effort over the bar from just outside the box.
However, it wasn’t long until Barça took control of the game and Willy Caballero found himself increasingly occupied, being called upon to stop headers by Alex Song and Cesc Fábregas, though neither posed a great deal of danger.
On 26 minutes, Andrés Iniesta jinked past a number of players before firing a shot which again went straight at Caballero.
Less than a minute later, debutant Pawlowski won a free kick wide on the right which Antunes whipped towards the near post, needing the intervention of Victor Valdés to push it around the post.
In the 36th minute, Barça were again denied as Iniesta’s diagonal ball picked out Fábregas whose header across the face of the goal found Alexis Sánchez who was thwarted by a fantastic block by Caballero who spread himself well.
However, just before half time, Adriano, filling in at right back, cut inside on his left foot before rifling a shot into the bottom corner. The bounce deceived the Argentinian goalkeeper who will be disappointed at conceding such a soft goal and undoing Malaga’s good defensive play until then.
The second half continued in much the same way, with the away team dominant in possession (72% on the night) but with a few more clear-cut opportunities for both sides.
Barça came close to doubling their lead when a Xavi freekick found Gerard Piqué who brought out a stunning save from a backtracking Caballero.
Malaga’s best chance came on the 67 minute mark as Roque Santa Cruz was set free in the box, pulling the ball back to 17-year-old Fabrice who dragged his effort onto the post.
The fragility of the one-goal lead provoked the introduction of Brazilian superstar Neymar early in the second half and he almost doubled Barça’s lead with a fine freekick which Caballero did well to palm away.
There was still time left for Malaga to push for an equaliser and it almost arrived courtesy of substitute Seba Fernández whose header was pushed away by Valdés before Tissone’s weak follow-up was held by the ‘keeper.
Schuster, in his post-match press conference lamented: “When you have three chances against Barcelona, you have to take at least one” - perfectly summing up a night of frustration for the home side.
One plus for the home side, however, was the return of Eliseu from his sartorius muscle contracture. The Portuguese midfielder looked strong and purposeful but was unable to affect the scoreline.
Next up for the Blue and Whites is a trip to face Andalusian rivals Sevilla where it is likely they can call upon the services of Mounir El Hamdaoui whose signing from Fiorentina is imminent.
Malaga: Caballero, Jesús Gámez, Sergio Sánchez, Angeleri, Antunes, Camacho (Seba Fernández, min. 76), Tissone, Sergi Darder, Pawlowski (Eliseu, min. 63), Santa Cruz, Fabrice (Morales, min. 76). Subs not used:Kameni, Chen, Duda and Portillo.
Barcelona: Victor Valdés, Adriano (Dani Alves, min. 46), Piqué, Mascherano, Jordi Alba, Xavi, Song, Iniesta (Sergi Roberto, min. 83), Alexis, Cesc, Pedro (Neymar, min. 63). Subs not used: Pinto, Bartra, Busquets and Tello.
Goals: 1-0: Adriano (min. 44).
Referee: Mateu Lahoz. Yellow cards for Jesús Gámez, Sergio Sánchez, Sergi Darder, Alexis and Dani Alves.
Ground: Crowd of 30,000 at La Rosaleda stadium.