La Liga: Malaga 0 Barcelona 1
By Football News
A fine first-half strike from Adriano proved to be enough as champions Barcelona claimed a comfortable 1-0 victory away to Malaga to top La Liga.
The defender's goal towards the end of the first period meant Barcelona extended their winning domestic record after thrashing Levante 7-0 last weekend.
A fine save by Willy Caballero tipped Gerard Pique's effort on to the crossbar as Barca pushed for a second that failed to materialise, although by the end they were thankful for a late Victor Valdes save that ensured they claimed all three points.
For Barcelona, manager Gerardo Martino was without the injured Lionel Messi, while close-season signing Neymar had to be content with a place on the bench. Poland striker Bartlomiej Pawlowski made his starting debut for Malaga, who were missing Eliseu and Flavio Ferreira.
A Cesc Fabregas through ball after 18 minutes almost paved the way for an early opener at La Rosaleda but Pedro's poor first touch took the ball out of his stride.
The La Liga champions enjoyed particular joy down Malaga's left-hand flank, as Xavi and Andres Iniesta looked to combine to control the midfield exchanges and unleash Alexis Sanchez into the wide channels.
Malaga spent long periods without possession, but when they had the ball, they were quick to try and work it into the final third.
A long-range direct free-kick just before the half-hour mark forced Valdes into action for the first time in the match but he safely dealt with Vitorino Antunes' ambitious effort.
The deadlock was deservedly broken after 43 minutes, though, as Adriano curled a long-range, left-foot effort past the helpless Caballero after precise build-up play from Sanchez.
Barcelona looked very comfortable after the break, dictating the play in similar fashion to the first half. Malaga struggled to create any openings of real substance, as Barcelona repeatedly threatened to double their lead.
Pique forced a spectacular save from Caballero that ricocheted off the bar after 57 minutes when directing the ball goalwards from a menacing free-kick.
Martino then introduced Neymar into proceedings as the visitors pressed for that elusive second goal, and the Brazilian almost got on the end of an inviting Dani Alves cross.
Fabrice Olinga almost equalised after 67 minutes for Malaga against the run of play. After excellent counter-attacking down the left wing by Roque Santa Cruz, the striker's stabbed effort rebounded off the post.
A free-kick from substitute Neymar again brought Caballero into action, the goalkeeper having to beat the ball away after it took a deflection off the wall.
Then came Valdez's late heriocs as he kept out Sebastian Fernandez's header from an inswinging cross from Jesus Gamez.