Malaga vs. Barcelona: Winners and Losers from La Liga
Barcelona will be counting their blessings on Saturday evening after emerging from La Roselada with a fortunate 2-1 victory over Malaga.
Munir El Haddadi tapped the visitors ahead after just 70 seconds, but Los Boquerones responded with 35 minutes of pressure. Mistakes were forced, chances were missed and, finally, Juanpi guided a deflected shot into the back of the net after a rare Andres Iniesta error.
Barcelona recalibrated at half-time and made a change, paving the way for better play and a winning scissor-kick goal from Lionel Messi.
Here, B/R picks its winners and losers from the game.
Winner: Chory Castro, Malaga
The only thing Malaga are guilty of here is not taking the chances presented to them. Their approach was good: They harassed Barcelona into errors in the first half, and they defended as well as can be expected against a unit containing Lionel Messi and Co.
Had they been a more prolific outfit, with more reliable goalscorers, they’d have been about 4-1 up at half-time. Duje Cop, Charles and Juanpi contrived to miss a host of opportunities when Malaga were in the ascendancy, wasting the dominant spell the hosts enjoyed.
One player who cannot be criticised, though, is Chory Castro, who gave Aleix Vidal a rough, rough ride on the left flank and swung in four or five really dangerous crosses. His low deliveries forced errors from Thomas Vermaelen and Claudio Bravo, and he played all 90 minutes at full throttle, endeavouring to find a way through.
Winner and Loser: Claudio Bravo, Barcelona
Claudio Bravo had a game that stands incredibly difficult to gauge: He made two or three brilliant stops but also made the same number of errors leading to chances.
His passing in the first half was awful, sending several to the feet of Malaga attackers just 30-40 yards from goal and a few straight out of play. His shot-stopping was on full display, too, though, tipping one effort early on in the match onto the post and making a double save in the second period on Ignacio Camacho and Duje Cop.
It was hardly the most commanding, solid display, but the Chilean came up big when required and did not end up costing his team.
Winner: Carlos Kameni, Malaga
As Barcelona began to turn the tide of the game in the second half and take a hold of proceedings, Carlos Kameni’s sublime shot-stopping ability rose to the fore.
He, like Claudio Bravo, made several remarkable saves to keep his side in it—only he made no glaring errors in handling or passing—and produced one particularly strong stop on Lionel Messi from a corner late on.
Malaga pushed forward and fought for an equaliser late on, and the only reason they were still within reach was due to their brilliant Cameroonian ‘keeper.
Loser: Thomas Vermaelen, Barcelona
Thomas Vermaelen had a horror 45 minutes at La Roselada on Saturday. Hauled off at half-time by Luis Enrique, his stock takes a big dip as a result.
In fairness to the Belgian, he was one of many Barcelona players to put in poor performances in the first half, but his errors were particularly noticeable.
He looked ropey on the ball during build-up, gifting possession away in dangerous areas, and managed to trip himself over as the last man when attempting to clear Sergio Busquets’ pass, resulting in a Malaga three-on-one that Javier Mascherano did superbly to clear.
It's important not to scapegoat Vermaelen, as all of his colleagues struggled in the first half, but he was the pick of the lot, and Jeremy Mathieu was a marked improvement on him in the second period.
Winner: Lionel Messi, Barcelona
Despite a nagging injury and a busy schedule, Lionel Messi still managed 90 minutes for Barcelona on Saturday and conjured a few moments of raw quality when required.
La Blaugrana’s largely poor performance was permeated by a few sparkling seconds from Messi here and there; his scissor-kick strike to give them the lead and his immaculate touch late on to bring down a raking pass and fire wide were examples of how his genius shines through even in the shade.
Luis Suarez was eerily quiet, and Munir flitted in and out of the game, so it was fortunate the best player in world football was there to help grind out a vital victory.