Barcelona eased to a 3-0 victory over Malaga Sunday night at the Camp Nou to regain their place atop the La Liga table. It was all hands on deck for the Catalans, who showed that they refuse to give up their lead without a fight.
Early on, Barcelona found it a bit difficult to open up the scoring, but in the end, they would be able to break down the weak Malaga defense.
With the month of January coming to a close, this was a very important match for both sides. In this article, we will take a look at six things we learned from the game and what they mean for both clubs.
All statistics are courtesy of WhoScored.
Since returning to Barcelona in 2012, Jordi Alba has been a very important player for the club. The left-back has scored important goals and has also become a lethal weapon down the left flank.
Yet for the most part, the Catalan left-back has been very suspect when it comes to actually defending. But now, it seems as though his defensive frailties are a thing of the past.
For the most part this season, Alba has been a reliable defender. He has tracked back well and has made sure to be in the right positions which has really helped Barcelona's defensive problems over the past few months.
The match against Malaga was just another bit of proof that Alba really can defend.
He made two key tackles to take away good chances for Malaga as well as intercepted three passes by using his speed and positioning. The best part is that he has been able to feature as a consistent defender while still being able to join the attack.
Alba will always be known as an attacking full-back, but Barcelona have to be happy seeing his full defensive repertoire this season.
While we are on the subject, it would be a crime not to mention the wonderful overall defending of Barcelona as of late.
The 3-0 victory over Malaga makes it five clean sheets for Barcelona in 2014 as the Catalans have only conceded two goals all month. In truth, the defensive unit is looking much better than in recent seasons.
Tata Martino has managed to organize the Barcelona fullbacks as Jordi Alba, Dani Alves and Martin Montoya have all improved on defending despite going forward, while the centre-backs have been outstanding lately.
However, it isn't just the defenders who deserve a word of praise. The entire team has been defending as a unit and in that lies the real improvement for Barcelona.
In the past two years, it was common for Blaugrana fans to feel a bit of worry whenever Barcelona turned the ball over. But now, those worries are subsiding as the back line has become one of the most consistent pieces of Barcelona.
Will this defensive success continue in the long run? It is hard to say, but for now, it really does look like things have been fixed at the back.
Alexis Sanchez has been Barcelona's most consistent player this season. Just think about that for a moment. Last season, fans were ready to give the Chilean away, and now, he has silenced every single critic he's ever had.
The 25-year-old scored and assisted on a goal against Malaga and nearly came close to finding the back of the net several other times. He was the most dangerous man on the pitch, and he shows no signs of stopping.
Sanchez has now scored 12 goals in La Liga while giving four assists. In every match he has played, he has made an impact and worked hard. At this point, he's invaluable.
Last season, the Chilean was the epitome of inconsistency as his poor form showcased itself on countless occasions. Yet this year, Sanchez continues to dominate opposing defenders and could prove to be the club's most integral offensive weapon by the end of the season.
Everyone who has ever doubted Sanchez must swallow their pride and admit that he proved everyone wrong. His confidence is growing by the day, and the scary thing is that we still haven't seen his absolute best.
Things have gone from bad to worse for Malaga this season. At the beginning of the year, they struggled but never looked like they would have to worry about fighting relegation. But that has changed.
The club have managed to win only two of their last six games, and they now find themselves only two points clear of the relegation zone.
Worst of all is the fact that Malaga aren't just losing games, they are playing very badly. The offense is struggling to create chances, and the defense is full of holes. This is going to be a long season for Los Boquerones.
Manager Bernd Schuster does have the pieces and the quality to turn things around and start climbing out of the danger zone, but it won't be easy.
Malaga must first start winning the games that they are expected to win. From there, they should be able to start the gradual climb back up the table. But as far as things look right now, they are in a real fight against relegation.
It has been a while since the Barcelona players last turned to Lionel Messi for help in their time of need. No, this Barcelona squad are no longer dependent on the Argentine to win games for them, and it has made them even more dangerous.
The victory against Malaga again showed that Barcelona are not a one-man team. Yes, Messi did play a big part in the game, giving an assist, but he wasn't the only one performing.
Barcelona attacked as a unit rather than everyone trying to find Messi in space, and other players looked for chances to score. He isn't forced to carry the burden alone.
What we have seen since Messi's return from injury is a more complete and unified Barcelona product. With the Argentine forced to sit out for several weeks, the other stars had to step up. Because of this, they are now able to play with Messi rather than for him.
Time will only tell how well the Barcelona attack can be, but with the return of Neymar around the corner, you have to think that La Blaugrana could be more dangerous than ever going into the second half of the season.
The past few weeks have seen Barcelona's lead at the top of the table dissipate into nothing. Atletico Madrid have been matching the Catalans point-for-point for a while, and now, Real Madrid are hot on their trail as well.
La Blaugrana needed to respond in a major way, and that is exactly what they did on Sunday.
The 3-0 victory over Malaga was not just a result, it was a statement. The Catalans put on a beautiful display of their footballing style and again showed why they are one of the best clubs in the world.
The fight for the La Liga title is closer than ever, but Barcelona refuse to give up. Tata Martino's men knew that they had to turn things around quickly, and that is exactly what they did in front of their own fans.
Things aren't going to get any easier from here on out. Every single point is vitally important, and Barcelona cannot afford to have a bad match. But for now, fans can rest assured that the will to win is as strong as ever for La Blaugrana.