The record of Luis Enrique’s Barcelona before this match against Javi Gracia’s Málaga was one defeat, one draw, and one win, with just one scored goal. The Andalusians always know how to minimize the culés’ chances and make the matches uncomfortable for them. These were not random precedents which foresee a very tough match, the kind of clash in which the points at stake are very important yet the circumstances make it harder to obtain them. Even more if you’re facing a Javi Gracia squad.

All of these happened, Barça nevertheless found themselves in the lead at the first minute of the game, after a deep pass by Messi to Luis Suárez who displayed one of his best features against Angeleri: the way he protects the ball with his body. Munir scored an unchallenged goal, his fourth one in the last three matches and the setting seemed ideal for the Blaugranas.

However, this Málaga doesn’t surrender. They pressured high without the ball in a 4-4-2 formation, taking advantage of the novel culé defense – Aleix Vidal, Mascherano, Vermaelen and Adriano – and of Barcelona’s lack of competitive drive after their first goal. The Andalusians maintained the ball possession, fluid in their movements and constantly looking to lose their markers, especially on Vermaelen’s and Adriano’s flank whom Charles and Cop overcame every time they tried. In spite of Barcelona’s efforts to slow the game down, Messi, Iniesta, and Turan were nowhere to be found and the ones involved were Bravo and Vermaelen, whose first passes were always imprecise.

The Belgian’s performance was utterly poor and his mistakes had to be rectified several times by Mascherano, until a mediocre clearance by the Argentinian was exploited by Juanpi who recorded the equalizer for Málaga. All the energy that the home team displayed were lacking in the Catalan squad, who were uninspired with the ball and hesitant without it. The culés’ first half resembled more the lack of control of Martino’s season than Luis Enrique’s 2015 team. The downside for Málaga was reaching halftime with just a tie in the scoreboard because they were absolutely superior to Barça. Their key features were the outstanding tandem formed by Camacho and Recio, who enabled Málaga to move forward their lines, alongside their ambition and confidence in their coach’s game plan.

In the second half, Mathieu replaced the erratic Vermaelen and the Blaugranas showed a greater speed and intention to control the match by circulating the ball, managing to lead the scoreboard once again. Messi, whom his teammates had struggled to find so far, smashed in the net his first scoring chance with a beautiful volley after a cross from Adriano. Luis Enrique subbed in Rakitic for Munir and Arda was moved to the left wing, aiming with these changes to defend better with the ball.

Perhaps because of the successive substitutions – on Málaga’s side the young and talented Fornals entered the pitch and Sergi Roberto replaced an injured Adriano for Barcelona – the visiting team was again uncomfortable. Málaga was recovering the ball very quickly and the match was being played in Bravo’s area, yet in the final minutes, Messi and Arda Turan found the pause in the game that was needed virtually for the duration of the clash.

Hail to Málaga, because they always compete against the current European champion and they prove you can play Barcelona at their level when you pressure them high on the pitch. Charles’ first half and Camacho’s entire match are perfect examples of their outstanding collective performance, despite exhausting in the second half the physical and mental stamina required to play against Barcelona’s Messi.

For the culés, it was a hard-fought victory. They needed to roll up their sleeves, but the three points are significant because of the context and because in order to win the league title you need to overcome in matches such as this when your opponent is better than you. On the bright side, the team improved with Mathieu, Aleix Vidal continues to grow and Messi is always there even if it doesn’t seem like it sometimes.

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Article translated from Spanish to English, originally published at the Perarnau Magazine by Ismael Ledesma.