When the runaway leaders take on the side marooned at the bottom of the table, there's usually only one outcome. Despite showing occasional attacking potential, Malaga mostly sat back and let Barcelona walk all over them when the two teams faced up at La Rosaleda on Saturday evening. Frankly, the Blue and Whites were lucky to lose by only two goals after playing two-thirds of the match with ten men.
Barcelona, without star man Lionel Messi who was attending the birth of his third child, still exuded confidence from the off, and had plenty in reserve with Philippe Coutinho, Luis Suárez and Ousmane Dembélé all starting. Malaga by contrast had a shaky start, often succumbing to pressure from the La Liga leaders.
The difference in approaches was clear, with Barcelona pushing the majority of their team upfield, while Malaga kept on the defensive and looked for opportunities to counter.
This didn’t stop them conceding a number of chances, the first from Suárez whose trickery and persistence freed him of pressure before the Uruguayan’s toe poke was saved low by Roberto’s outstretched hand.
The breakthrough came as early as the 15th minute when Jordi Alba broke down the left wing and precisely crossed the ball to Suárez, who headed it neatly into the side netting, virtually unmarked.
After the goal, Youssef En-Nesyri caused some problems for the Barcelona defence with his pace, but the visitors still dominated possession and looked as if they could score every time they drove forward.
On the 28-minute mark, their lead was doubled;Ousmane Dembélé broke down the right wing and fired in a precise cross to find Coutinho, who neatly backheeled the ball past Roberto.
Just two minutes later, things went from bad to worse for Malaga when they went down to ten men as Samuel García caught the standing leg of Alba with a reckless challenge and was sent off. Despite this, the hosts created two half chances before the break, spurned by En-Nesyri and Mehdi Lacen.
The start of the second half was much like the first in that Malaga struggled to contain Barcelona’s offensive onslaught, sitting back and hoping not to concede further. Barcelona continued to dominate possession and the Malaga crowd seemed relatively quiet, mirroring the cautiousness adopted by their team.
Barcelona opted to play possession football, ensuring that the outclassed home side hardly got a touch. The visitors forced two fouls on the edge of the box, which gave them good opportunity to score from set pieces, which they failed to capitalise on.
José González brought on Maxime Lestienne, Brown Ideye and Isaac Success in an attempt to invigorate the Malaga attack. However, their fresh legs made little impact given their lack of match practice and the game soon came to the disappointing conclusion that had been in little doubt since the first half.
Malaga’s next match is against ninth-placed Celta Vigo on Sunday.