Barcelona moved to the top of La Liga after surviving to beat Malaga 2-1 at La Rosaleda on Saturday. Munir El Haddadi and the returning Lionel Messi bagged the goals for last season's treble winners.
Charles had levelled the score for Malaga after Munir put Barca in front in the first half. It was a tough half for the visitors, who were guilty of a plethora of mistakes at the back.
Barca boss Luis Enrique welcomed back talismanic forward Messi and mercurial attacker Luis Suarez. But youngster Munir replaced Neymar in Barcelona's front three.
Enrique also handed another start to new signing, creative Turkish winger Arda Turan.
The club tweeted the official starting XI:
Barça XI: 13.Bravo 5.Sergio 7.Arda 8.Iniesta 9.Suárez 10.Messi 14.Mascherano 17.Munir 21.Adriano 22.Aleix Vidal 23.Vermaelen #MalagaFCB— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) January 23, 2016
Malaga answered with experienced goalkeeper Carlos Kameni at the back. Brazilian Charles continued up front, according to the club:
Barca's new-look forward line took barely more than a minute to breach the Malaga defence. Messi put Suarez through, and he rolled the ball to Munir for an easy finish.
The goal added to the 20-year-old's recent remarkable scoring run, per Squawka:
Munir has now scored 4 goals in his last 3 games across all competitions for Barcelona. Good run of form. pic.twitter.com/R3Y3VOCUBa— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 23, 2016
Despite the early goal, though, Barca found themselves overrun by a committed Malaga team. The home side were finding joy by attacking the right side.
ESPN's Dermot Corrigan felt Messi's lack of defensive work was a problem early:
Danger coming down left where Aleix Vidal having to defend without too much help from Messi. Playing RB for Barca not easy...— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) January 23, 2016
Malaga were pressing high, and the pressure was beginning to unnerve Barca. The hosts equalised through Juanpi following a mix-up involving Sergio Busquets and Adriano.
Charles played his part in the build-up, a common occurrence for Malaga this season, according to WhoScored.com:
Charles: Has now scored or assisted 9 of Malaga’s 16 La Liga goals this season (8 goals, 1 assist)— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) January 23, 2016
Malaga's centre-forward was running Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen ragged. The former Arsenal man didn't survived such a clumsy first-half display.
Enrique wisely removed Vermaelen at the break and replaced him with Jeremy Mathieu.
Yet against the run of play, Messi put Barca back in front. Left-back Adriano, who had struggled mightily during the first half, supplied the chance and Messi was unerring in front of goal.
He's had injury problems at times this season, but the Argentinian mini marvel has always dominated Malaga, as noted by WhoScored.com:
Lionel Messi: Has now scored 13 goals in 17 appearances against Malaga https://t.co/nuMDLft4kD— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) January 23, 2016
With a lead to protect again, Enrique swapped Munir for Croatian midfield playmaker Ivan Rakitic. But Barca consistently had goalkeeper Claudio Bravo to thank for maintaining their slight advantage.
The Chilean stopper brilliantly denied Ignacio Camacho as Malaga continued to pour forward. Manager Javi Gracia made a bold change, bringing on veteran attacking midfielder Duda and reshuffling personnel at the back.
But the away side managed to hang on to move back to the top.
Enrique was grateful for the gritty win, but admitted his team had been below par for most of the day:
An equally grateful Andres Iniesta echoed the manager's thoughts on how hard-fought the win was:
Gracia admitted that while his team pushed forward, they didn't want to be too bold against the visitor's attacking threat:
Javi Gracia "We pushed until the end, but did not want to open up too much v their quality. We took risks, had our moments right till end."— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) January 23, 2016
As for Enrique's side, winning away despite playing poorly is a sign of the resolve of champions.