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FC Barcelona lost this fixture last season, but there was no real danger of that happening again on Saturday night.
In a game between the runaway leaders of La Liga and a team staring relegation in the face, the difference in class showed. With Barça two goals to the good and Málaga playing with ten men, it was as good as over by half time.
The teams seemed to think that too. Rather than throwing themselves gung-ho into a mission impossible, the home side preferred to treat the second act as a damage limitation exercise.
Barça, meanwhile, had nothing to prove. But they do on Wednesday against Chelsea. So the players can be forgiven for giving a little less than 100% once the job was done tonight on the Costa del Sol.
Two great goals
Despite missing Leo Messi, who had just become a father for the third time, the Catalans dominated from the off. Luis Suárez had already come very close to scoring when he did hit the target with a 15th minute header.
But the goal was all about the cross – what a beauty from Jordi Alba! It also meant Suárez has now completed the full house of scoring against every team in La Liga.
Barça powered on and doubled their lead after 28 minutes, and it was the work of two of the new boys. Ousmane Dembélé –looking more and more comfortable with every game– provided the deftest of assists and Philippe Coutinho cheekily back-heeled it home.
Málaga’s dismal situation was made no better when they were reduced to ten men on the half hour – and deservedly so. Samu García’s reckless challenge on Jordi Alba could have caused serious damage. Thankfully the FCB left back was able to walk away – and García walked off.
Surely there was no way back now for the home side.
And yet their two North Africans, Mehdi Lacen first and Youssef En-Nesyri second, both really should have done better with their chances shortly before the half time whistle blew.
The half-time whistle may as well have been the final whistle. The only real talking point from now until the end was how many more goals Barça were going to score.
But Ernesto Valverde clearly decided that a pragmatic rather than ruthless approach was in his side’s best interest, and Málaga were spared any further misery.
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