Malaga 1-2 Barcelona: Lionel Messi downs spirited Malaga
By Jack Wilkinson
Last Updated: 23/01/16 6:43pm
Lionel Messi scored a stunning winner as Barcelona returned to the top of La Liga with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over a spirited Malaga side on Saturday.
Barca got off the the perfect start at La Rosaleda Stadium as Luis Suarez set up Munir El Haddadi - in for the injured Neymar - for the opener inside two minutes.
Having failed to punish Barca defensive errors in the first half, an impressive Malaga side finally levelled the game as Anor Juanpi's 32nd-minute shot was helped past Claudio Bravo, courtesy of a Javier Mascherano deflection.
Luis Enrique clearly had words with his underperforming side at the break and it clearly had an effect as Messi, anonymous up until that point, volleyed home his 20th goal of the season on 51 minutes.
And that is how it ended as Barca opened up a one-point lead at the top of the Primera Division - a result which heaps the pressure on trailing Atletico and Real Madrid, who face tough trips to Sevilla and Real Betis respectively on Sunday.
Barcelona were without the injured Neymar and suspended Gerard Pique, but did have the luxury of welcoming back Messi and Suarez after they missed the 2-1 win Copa del Rey win at Athletic Bilbao in midweek.
And Suarez made a telling impact after just a minute as he wriggled clear inside the area and although his low shot was kept out by Carlos Kameni, the ball fell invitingly for El Haddadi to tap home his fourth goal in three games.
Despite a great start, though, Barca were completely outplayed by Malaga in the first half and were only saved by some wasteful play by the hosts in the final third. Charles headed just wide before Chory Castro's effort was turned onto the post by Claudio Bravo.
Thomas Vermaelen was standing in for Pique, but had to be bailed out by a brilliant saving challenge from his central defensive partner Mascherano as his slip allowed Charles to bear down on goal before the Argentine intercepted with a last-ditch challenge.
Malaga finally got on level terms as Barca again gave the ball away needlessly inside their own half and Charles teed up Juanpi, whose effort deflected in off Mascherano.
However, Barca could still have been ahead at the break as Kameni made a fine low save to deny El Haddadi his second and Miguel Torres produced a brilliant block to prevent Messi rolling home the rebound into an empty net.
Barca boss Luis Enrique replaced the poor Vermaelen with Jeremy Mathieu at the break and the visitors were at least more solid if not spectacular after the break.
One moment of Messi inspiration was enough to seal a vital three points as he acrobatically met Adriano's cross on the volley six minutes into the second period.
Bravo had to make another smart save to deny Ignacio Camacho, but Barca held out to register a sixth successive win in all competitions.