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After the Madrid derby had ended in a 1-1 draw, this was Barça’s opportunity to make up important lost ground. But Málaga have proved to be a stubborn opponent since Luis Enrique has been in charge, and for the second time in three seasons have achieved the remarkable feat of surviving both league encounters against the blaugrana without conceding a goal.
The result means that rather than being reduced to zero, the gap between the top two teams in LaLiga has instead been extended to three.
Familiar face delivers first blow
Perhaps boosted by those previous results, the Andalusians took a confident approach from the start. Barça’s only clear-cut chances of the first 45 minutes were one for Luis Suárez that was expertly blocked by Carlos Kameni (the Cameroonian keeper with such a habit of producing his best and a bit more against FCB) and another for Andre Gomes that was swept from under his feet by Venezuelan defender Roberto Rosales.
As the half progressed, the home side seemed to be warming more and more into the game. And on 32 minutes they had taken the lead – the goal coming from the feet of former Barça man Sandro Ramirez. Though hotly protested at the time, replays showed that the Canary Islander was in his own half when the pass was delivered, before powering on solo and slotting the ball past Ter Stegen.
Luis Enrique would probably have preferred to keep Andrés Iniesta and Sergi Roberto on the bench with Tuesday’s first leg with Juventus in mind, but given the delicate situation at La Rosaleda, opted to send out the duo for the second half.
It didn’t seem to faze Málaga, who probably should have extended their lead when they broke 3-on-2 but Juanpi fired a simple shot straight at Ter Stegen.
Barça needed to find something, and all-out attack seemed to be the answer, with Paco Alcácer coming on for Gomes. But the four natural strikers would quickly become three again. Neymar Jr went in a little late on Diego Llorente, and the ref judged that to be his second bookable offence. Barça were down to ten men for the first time this Liga season.
The purple-shirted visitors continued to push, never letting the missing man show in attack but leaving oceans of space behind – space that Málaga were clearly keen to capitalise upon. On one such break Adalberto Peñaranda did find the net – and it was a lucky let-off for Barça when the offside flag went up when it probably should have stayed down.
Barça pushed and pushed but try as they did, the scoreboard just did not want to budge. Málaga’s solid but physical defending led to free kicks all around the area, but none of them led anywhere, and Kameni was there again to deny Suárez right at the end of 90 minutes.
A last-gasp injury time thrust merely led to the umpteenth Málaga counter attack, and the goal that put this game to bed. Pablo Fornals could have had a go himself, but instead teed up Jony Rodríguez, who even had thinking time before placing the ball beyond Ter Stegen’s reach.
It certainly wasn’t the result that Barça wanted, especially after the favour Atlético had done them earlier on in the afternoon, but they’ll need to put tonight’s frustrations behind them very quick. On Tuesday comes another challenge.
There’s an Old Lady waiting in Turin…
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