Evening all! Well, save the best until last? Let’s hope so. Our live La Liga commentary draws to an end as Malaga welcome Barcelona in the tie of the weekend. Both sides booked their spot in the quarter-final stage of the Copa del Rey with victories last week and they will now meet in the latter stages of the competition. However, more pressing matters are on the agenda this evening.
Malaga did suffer disappointment against Deportivo last time out, but they have enjoyed a successful season thus far. They boast impressive wins over Sevilla and Real Madrid in recent weeks and currently occupy fourth position in the table. However, the fact that they sit an incredible 21 points behind their opponents this evening says more than I ever could.
Not only have Barcelona won 17 of their 18 league matches, they have scored an incredible 61 goals in the process. That is an average of just about 3.39 goals per game. The next closest challengers in the goal market are Real Madrid with 45 goals. All eyes will once more be on Lionel Messi
this evening as the Argentine looks to add to his 27 league goals this season. Yes, 27, in 18 matches.
MALAGA: Caballero; Demichelis, Monreal, Weligton, Sanchez; Joaquin, Toulalan, Camacho, Isco; Santa Cruz
BARCELONA: Valdes; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Fabregas, Xavi; Iniesta, Messi, Pedro
Here we go then. Both sets of players join us on the pitch ahead of kickoff. Just a reminder of the main team news. Malaga prefer Roque Santa Cruz to Javier Saviola in attack. Meanwhile, Barcelona name Andres Iniesta alongside Messi and Pedro in attack. We are all set for a fascinating encounter. The home side get the action underway.
A reminder that Malaga overcame Real Madrid in their last home league match. A similar result this evening would take the roof off this wonderful stadium. Decent start from the home side with Toulalan and Eliseu enjoying early touches of the ball. The latter attempts to find Santa Cruz in attack, but Gerard Pique comes across to clear the danger.
It's bright football from the home side as Nacho Monreal comes forward from defence to link with Isco, but the defender's pass inside is just too short and Javier Mascherano is across to clear the danger. A passing sequence emerges for Barcelona, but it is in an area that Malaga will not be too concerned about in the early stages.
It must be said that it is wonderful to see Tito Vilanova back on the Barcelona bench this evening. He had been in America to see a doctor as he continues to recover from surgery on a suspected cancerous tumour. His side have just started to take control of this match with Cesc Fabregas
carrying possession into the opposing half before being chopped down by Weligton.
First real involvement from Messi as the Argentine collects possession before driving to the edge of the Malaga penalty area, but his pass towards Pedro is just too short and Monreal is able to step across to clear. A reminder that Malaga have the best defensive record in the league this season. It is almost breached as Messi drives into the box, but Caballero pounces to clear. Wonderful goalkeeping.
The best attack in Spain against the best defence in Spain this evening. Anyone for a 0-0? Not that Barcelona are involved in too many goalless draws. Malaga are just struggling to gain possession of the ball in the last few moments with the Catalan midfield exchanging short, snappy passes in and around the centre circle.
It's just about as good as it gets from Barcelona as Messi plays a delicious pass towards Iniesta. The Spaniard collects before chipping a cross into the box, but Monreal just manages to head clear. The resulting corner is taken by Xavi, but Caballero comes to collect. Wonderful start to this match. It is so delicately poised.
Half-chance for the home side as Ignacio Camacho
collects a pass from Santa Cruz before striking a powerful effort, but it was always moving high of the crossbar. Barcelona attempt to break with Pedro, but the Spaniard is forced back inside under pressure from Monreal. Good spell for the home side with 14 minutes on the clock.
Barcelona come close down the other end as Iniesta fires a low cross into the box, but it was just an inch ahead of Fabregas and the midfielder could not collect. The end-to-end period of the match continues, however, as Malaga ask the question with a couple of corners. Barcelona are in a real match here make no mistake about that.
The away side have just taken control of the possession once more with Alves driving down the right before cutting into the box, but he loses control at the vital moment. The pressure continues, however, as Iniesta attempts to find Pedro, but Caballero is out to clear once more.
Again Barcelona work the ball wide towards Alves, but the Brazilian cannot find a cross into the box and Sergio Sanchez is able to squeeze the possession. Eliseu demonstrates some wonderful pace on the counter, but he is chopped down in his prime by Busquets. The referee has kept his cards in his pocket thus far.
It is easy to see why Malaga have the best defensive record in the league this season. Barcelona are enjoying plenty of the possession, but there is simply no room to find that elusive final pass. Much of the home side's threat has come on the counter thus far with Joaquin and Eliseu threatening to worry the Barcelona defence.
Barcelona continue to pass and probe around the edge of the Malaga penalty area, but once more the final ball from Alves is blocked and the danger is cleared. Each time the home side break, however, a free kick is awarded. It is clever play from Barcelona. They just know how to stop the other team from being able to play.
Half-chance for the away side as Fabregas curls an effort from outside the box, but it was always moving wide of the target. That is what Malaga have restricted the Catalan outfit to. A couple of strikes from distance. Little under 20 minutes of the first period remaining and the score remains level at 0-0.
The opportunities are just starting to fall for Barcelona as Alba drives into the penalty area, but his effort is straight at the goalkeeper. Another half-chance arrives as Iniesta strikes an effort from close range, but once more the goalkeeper is on hand to make the save. He has been wonderful thus far.
GOAL! Malaga 0-1 Barcelona (Messi)
OH MY WORD. It is an absolute horror show from Camacho as the Spanish midfielder plays a pass towards his own goal, but Messi is onto the danger before rounding the goalkeeper and finding the back of the net. That is so cheap in this particular match. What a way to fall behind against Barcelona.
It is so incredibly harsh on the home side, but that is the difference at this level. All it takes is one mistake. It is hard enough playing Barcelona, but to give away a goal like that is criminal. Another almost follows as Fabregas strikes an effort from close range, but it just moves wide of the post.
How does any team stop Barcelona this season? That is the question on everyone's lips. There is no question that they have a slightly weak defence, but teams just cannot keep the ball long enough to exploit it. It is all Barcelona now as Messi strikes an effort from the edge of the box, but Demichelis gets everything behind it to clear.
Malaga just simply cannot get out their own half at the moment as Barcelona continue to pass and probe around the edge of the penalty area. The home side have been forced into a couple of fouls in the last few moments with the Catalan outfit in total control. Malaga simply cannot afford to fall 2-0 behind here.
Half-chance for the home side as Isco collects possession on the edge of the box before striking an effort on goal, but Pique gets across to make the clearance. Three Malaga players had the opportunity to pull the trigger in that move. They just need someone to take this game by the scruff of the neck with little under 10 minutes of the half remaining.
Slightly better from Malaga in the last couple of moments as Joaquin wins a free kick from Busquets. The resulting set piece is met by the head of Santa Cruz, but his effort is collected by Victor Valdes. The home side inject more pace as Eliseu drives through the middle of the midfield, but Pique makes a vital challenge to quell the danger.
Little over five minutes of the first period remaining and Barcelona have just taken control of the possession once more with Fabregas, Xavi and Busquets dictating the tempo. Malaga have competed well in this first period, but they are up against the best team in the world. It is as simple as that.
Decent spell for Malaga in the last couple of moments with the home side working the ball from side to site, but once more it breaks down at the final moment and you sense that they will not see possession for some time as Barcelona take control once more.
I shouldn't think that there will be too much time added at the end of the half. Malaga have been in this match for large periods, but one huge mistake has left them behind. Barcelona have won all nine of their matches on the road this season and they are on course for another here.
End-to-end football at the moment as Messi attempts to cut into the Malaga penalty area, but the danger is quelled at the vital moment. Santa Cruz attempts to threaten down the other end as he collects possession before finding Camacho, but before the Spaniard can shoot the half-time whistle is blown.
HALF-TIME: Malaga 0-1 Barcelona
So there we have it. A single strike from Messi is enough to hand Barcelona the lead at the interval. But it was a horror mistake from Camacho as the midfielder attempted to find his goalkeeper with a back-pass, only to see Messi round Caballero and find the back of the net.
Let's take a look at some statistics from the opening half of football. Barcelona have dominated the possession with 66%, while they have managed five attempts to Malaga's one. In terms of the match as a whole, the home side have more than competed, but one mistake has cost them.
As it stands Barcelona would extend their lead at the top of the table to 11 points. Meanwhile, they would move an incredible 18 points ahead of Real Madrid. Malaga would remain in fifth position with a loss. They need all three points in order to regain fourth from Real Betis.
In terms of the second period, Malaga may look to Saviola to replace and join Santa Cruz in their attack. Francisco Portillo could also be on option in the latter stages. Barcelona, meanwhile, have the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Cristian Tello and Thiago
in reserve. Stunning squad.
Here we go then. Both sets of players join us on the pitch ahead of the second period. No changes for either side at the interval. You just get the feeling that Malaga need to score the next goal if they are going to take something from this match. Coming from 2-0 down against Barcelona is just about as tough as it gets. Barcelona get the second period underway.
The away side take control of the possession in the early stages of the half as expected. Iniesta darts into the penalty area before squaring to Messi, but the offside flag had been raised with the Spanish midfielder just leaning past the final reminder. That is another let-off for the home side.
Malaga gain a free kick in a dangerous position as Joaquin is felled by Fabregas outside the penalty area. The resulting set piece is taken by Eliseu, but his effort is straight into the wall. The rebound falls to the midfielder, but once more his strike is blocked by Pique. That is poor from that position.
GOAL! Malaga 0-2 Barcelona (Fabregas)
Stunning, just stunning. Barcelona have their second of the match as Messi finds Fabregas with a delightful ball before the Spaniard smashes his effort into the bottom corner. That is just about as good as it gets. Football of the very highest order.
Barcelona simply do not give leads away, not this season, not ever. It is going to be some ask for Malaga to get back into this match. The fact that they have scored three goals in 10 of their last 11 matches points to another goal this evening. Barcelona are dominating proceedings at the moment.
Malaga desperately attempt to create some sort of attacking opportunity as Joaquin combines with Santa Cruz in the final third, but it breaks down and Messi is running at the Malaga defence moments later. It is difficult to see anything other than more Barcelona goals in this match as they continue to pass and probe.
Messi attempts to go alone as the Argentine dances past two challenges in the Malaga penalty area, but he decides against shooting and instead comes back to find a teammate. It is almost like a training match at the moment as the Catalan outfit keep possession with a series of quick passing.
Little over 30 minutes of football remaining in this match and Barcelona are just about as comfortable as they could ever imagine to be. Messi attempts to threaten as he collects possession outside the box before clipping a pass towards Pedro, but it just skids off the turf and out for a goal kick.
Half-chance for the home side this time as Joaquin glides into the penalty area before striking an effort towards goal, but Alves is across to make the clearance. The resulting corner is taken by Camacho, but once more the danger is cleared by Pique. They have simply not threatened in the second period.
Messi again threatens down the other end as he dances past two challenges before striking an effort at goal, but Sergio Sanchez just manages to come across and make a fine block. The pressure continues with a couple of corners, but Caballero collects. Meanwhile, the home side make their first change as Eliseu is replaced by Diego Buonanotte
Slightly untidy period of the match in the last couple of moments with both sides guilty of giving away a host of free kicks. It has not been that type of match, but the frustration continues to build as Barcelona pass and probe. They are the worst team to play against when they are ahead. Well, in general.
Half-chance for Barcelona to add their second as Alba dances into the penalty box before firing a low cross into the box, but there are no takers and it moves out of play for a throw. Malaga attempt to counter down the other end with Buonanotte, but Mascherano is across to clear.
In fairness to the home side they have attempted to raise their tempo in the past few moments, but Barcelona continue to squeeze the play in midfield and it is leaving simply no room for Malaga to operate. In many ways, this has been Barcelona's most impressive performance of the season.
You just get the feeling that Malaga have to score within the next five minutes if they are to have any chance of taking something from this match. Meanwhile, they make their second change of the evening as Manuel Iturra replaces Toulalan. Still no movement on the Barcelona bench.
Barcelona are just playing within themselves at the moment as they continue to dominate possession. You get the feeling that they could raise their tempo at any given moment in order to score the third. It does almost arrive as Fabregas floats into the box, but his effort is over the crossbar.
Meanwhile, Barcelona make their first change of the evening as Fabregas is replaced by Thiago. Not a bad change to make. Only the likes of Sanchez, Puyol and Song remain on the bench. I have seen a lot worse that is for certain. Little over 15 minutes of football remaining in Malaga and Barcelona lead 2-0.
Another half-chance for the Catalan outfit to add their third as Alba darts into the penalty area, but once more there are no takers from his cross as it moves straight along the edge of the six-yard box. Meanwhile, Weligton is forced to kick over his own crossbar under pressure from Pedro moments later.
Barcelona make their second change of the evening as Pedro is replaced by Sanchez for the final 10 minutes of the match. The Chilean winger scored twice in midweek and will be keen to add to his tally in the latter stages. Not too much from Malaga in the past few moments with Barcelona in total control.
Again Barcelona threaten as Messi combines with Iniesta on the edge of the box, but instead of shooting, the Argentine keeps old of possession in the opposing half. A shooting opportunity does arrive for Messi moments later, but he slices his effort wide of the post.
Not a great deal to report in terms of chances in the last couple of minutes with Barcelona preferring to keep hold of possession rather than forcing the issue and run the risk of conceding. Clean sheets have not been on the agenda too often this season and that is also a priority this evening.
GOAL! Malaga 0-3 Barcelona (Thiago)
Stunning effort from Thiago as the Spanish midfielder dances through the middle of the Malaga defence before thumping his effort into the bottom corner. Just wonderful. Meanwhile, the home side make their third change as Joaquin is replaced by Portillo.
It doesn't matter who plays in this Barcelona team, they just have so much quality. Remember, this is against the best defence in La Liga. They have scored three once more. There is certainly time for some more as Barcelona strive forward with Messi.
Little over two minutes of normal time remaining and still Barcelona attempt to add to their scoring as Messi combines with Thiago on the edge of the box, but the return pass is just short and the danger is cleared. Just a reminder that these two teams will meet in the Copa del Rey this week. Lucky Malaga.
GOAL! Malaga 1-3 Barcelona (Buonanotte)
Malaga open their tally as Mascherano fells Portillo on the edge of the penalty area. The resulting free kick is taken by Buonanotte, who bends his effort into the top corner. Stunning effort from the Argentine.
Meanwhile, the fourth official indicates that we will play an additional two minutes of added time and we are into the first of those. Malaga have not been embarrassed this evening make no mistake about that, they have just come up against a quite sensational team.
FULL-TIME: Malaga 1-3 Barcelona
So there we have it. Barcelona move 11 points clear at the top of the table with a 3-1 win over Malaga, who remain in fifth. Thanks for joining Sports Mole for the action and join us for more Spanish football tomorrow. Until then!