Liga - Barca return to top with comfortable win over Malaga

La Liga, Camp Nou - Barcelona 3 (Pique 40', Pedro 55', Sanchez 60') Malaga 0

Goals from Gerard Pique, Pedro and Alexis Sanchez gave Tata Martino’s side the three points they needed to draw level with Atletico Madrid, who had applied the pressure by winning against Rayo Vallecano earlier in the evening.

Barcelona started the better of the two teams, with Dani Alves and Jordi Alba coming close for the home side. Martino’s side were enjoying the dominant share of possession but were struggling to break down a packed defence.

However Malaga’s resistance was broken with just five minutes of the first half remaining, when Pique was afforded time and space from a corner to stick away Sanhez’s near post flick on from close range.

Pedro added the second of the night after 55 minutes, finding the far corner of the Malaga net after being slotted through by Messi on the edge of the box.

And Sanchez added the gloss to the scoreline just minutes later, tapping into an empty net at the back post following good exchange play between Pedro and Messi once again.

KEY EVENTS

5’ WOODWORK – Pedro was afforded the first genuine sight of goal and came within inches of opening the scoring when he clipped the far post after being played through the tightly packed Malaga defence.

40’ GOAL – Barcelona finally took the lead before the break when Sanchez’s header at the near post found Pique with acres of space eight yards out, with the defender finishing underneath the keeper.

49’ OFF THE LINE – Alba made a goal-saving clearance after a ball across the face of goal from Antunes caused mayhem, with Pawlowski and Perez battling to turn it home. However the full-back cleared acrobatically.

55’ GOAL – The home side doubled their lead when Pedro was played through by Messi. The forward cut inside onto his right foot and found the bottom corner of Caballero’s net.

60’ GOAL – Barcelona walked the ball into the net for their third. As was the case five minutes earlier, Messi found Pedro inside the box but this time he passed across the face of goal for Sanchez to tap in at the back post.

87’ RETURN – Ibrahim Afellay was brought on for his first appearance for Barcelona since May 2012, having undergone surgery before the start of the season.

KEY STATS

Ibrahim Afellay came on for his first appearance for Barcelona since May 2012.

Alexis Sanchez has scored more league goals (11) than any other Barcelona player at the Camp Nou this season.

Lionel Messi has now made 17 assists to Pedro, more than to any other Barcelona player.

Gerard Pique has scored in two successive games for the first time since September 2009.

TALKING POINT

Is Tata Martino using Lionel Messi as a playmaker? Since returning from injury the number 10 has been played as a more conventional number 10 than in his usual striker role, dropping deep to collect the ball, driving to the edge of the box and picking a pass to a better placed teammate. Is this a strategy by Martino? Does he see Messi’s future in this slightly tweaked role?

MAN OF THE MATCH - Jordi Alba (Barcelona)

The Spanish full-back offered an outlet on the left side for the entirety of the match but also dug his side out of several holes at the back, using his astonishing pace and acceleration to almost play as a sweeper at times. His stamina is staggering.

PLAYER RATINGS

Barcelona – Valdes 6, Alves 6, Pique 7, Mascherano 6, Alba 9, Busquets 5, Xavi 6, Fabregas 7, Sanchez 7, Pedro 8, Messi 8. Subs – Tello 5.

Malaga – Caballero 8, Antunes 5, Sanchez 5, Ferreira 5, Angeleri 4, Camacho 5, Tissone 6, Perez 5, Juanmi 5, Duda 7, Santa Cruz 3. Subs – Pawlowski 6, Morales 5.