Messi breaks Malaga hearts

Lionel Messi’s acrobatic volley shortly after half-time was enough to secure Barcelona a hard-fought 2-1 win at Malaga in La Liga on Saturday.

The Argentine picked up a knock in the midweek 2-1 win at Athletic Bilbao but he was given the green light to feature at La Rosaleda, although there was no such luck for the No 11, who was suffering from hamstring pain.

Elsewhere, Claudio Bravo returned in goal, with Aleix Vidal, Thomas Vermaelen and Adriano all coming into the back four. In midfield, Arda Turan dropped into Ivan Rakitic’s place, the Croat being demoted to the substitutes’ bench, while Luis Suarez returned from his Copa del Rey suspension and Munir kept his place in attack following his goal at San Mames.

Barca had lost just three times to Malaga since their initial promotion in 1999, and they made a dream start at La Rosaleda as Messi’s visionary through ball cut through the hosts’ backline and reached Suarez, who got to the right-hand byline and squared across Carlos Kameni’s goal for Munir, who helped himself to simple tap-in.

However, Barca had already peaked in the first half, with Malaga having shown magnificent resolve to not only regain their composure but take charge of the first half, beginning with a pair of Duje Cop headers, which kept Bravo on his toes.

Gerard Pique was absent due to a one-game ban for an accumulation of five yellow cards, and his presence was sorely lacking as Bravo’s poor clearance handed Malaga a gift, which Mascherano just about pulled from under Charles’ feet, before the striker and Chory Castro got their lines crossed as they were released in behind by Vermaelen’s awful misjudgement.

Malaga continued to probe in and around the Barca box with great intensity, and they finally got their just rewards, Juanpi getting in between both of La Blaugrana’s centre-backs and poking a finish past the Chilean.

Nonetheless, Barca somehow went into half-time at 1-1 as Munir’s low shot in the box was parried away by Kameni but only to Messi, who expected to simply mop up the rebound but was dealt a last-ditch surprise when Miguel Torres flew in from out of nowhere to block the No 10.

Luis Enrique made an inspired substitution at half-time, bringing on Jeremy Mathieu for Vermaelen as the Frenchman immediately plugged Barca’s shaky defence, and just six minutes later, Messi acrobatically met a cross at the far post and turned the ball home, albeit without the cleanest contact.

Disappointingly for the hosts, who have now lost back-to-back games, having gone six unbeaten prior to last week, they were no match for La Blaugrana after the goal and had to wait until injury time via Chory Castro’s header for an opening, which Bravo ultimately gathered.

Malaga 1-2 Barcelona

Juanpi 32 (M) Munir 2, Messi 51 (B)

Malaga: Kameni; Rosales, Angeleri, Weligton (Duda 83), Torres; Juanpi, Recio (Fornals 69), Camacho, Castro; Cop (Santa Cruz 80), Charles

Barcelona: Bravo; Vidal, Mascherano, Vermaelen (Mathieu 45), Adriano (Sergi 73); Busquets, Arda, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Munir (Rakitic 56)

Referee: Clos Gomez