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FC Barcelona vs Malaga CF, 3-1


Today marked the first of three encounters in two weeks with fourth place team Malaga (the next two are Copa del Rey elimination matches). Although Tito Vilanova was able to come back to coach after missing the midweek fixture against Cordoba, striker David Villa was out with a strained thigh muscle. Fortunately, after a bit of a fumbling start, some of our other players were able to step up.

This was the starting line-up:


Nice to see that Tito is still feeling bold enough to switch things up; for example, note the creative repositioning of goalkeeper Pinto.

Haha, just kidding! I'm not sure whose speculation this was, but Gerard Pique tweeted it to his followers when he noticed his new partner in central defense ;). 

I'm going to be frank: the first half was not good. Malaga used an effective strategy of pressing us high on the pitch rather than sitting back to defend like so many teams do, knowing that sooner or later they would get the ball away from us and be that much closer to an attack. In fact, it was sooner much more often than later, since everyone except Xavi Hernandez was basically giving it away. Leo Messi also seemed to be having some trouble with his boots - he kept falling down when he did manage to get near the goal.

But in the 27th minute, our luck turned. One of Malaga's defenders passed the ball back into his box, thinking that keeper Caballero was right there to retrieve it. WRONG. Messi immediately swooped in, nabbed it, and shot it home, leaving the poor keeper flat on his face. 1-0.

Cabellero is thunderstruck by his defender's idiocy.

At that point, rather than continue to press high, Malaga retrenched, presumably hoping that they could hold Barcelona to one goal and eventually surprise them with a draw. The first half dragged on with neither side able to gain a clear advantage. There was one good play that I can recall, with Xavi perfectly positioned to receive a pass in the box and transfer it to Messi, but the forward was called offside. I'm sure that I wasn't the only one relieved to hear the halftime whistle.

The second half was much livelier, an observation reflected in the higher scoreline. First was a goal from Cesc Fabregas, who had been trying unsuccessfully to score over and over again. With all eyes on Messi in the center, no one noticed Cesc making a sneaky run. Cesc was all alone on the left when he received Messi's pass and shot it just inside the post. 2-0.

Cesc finally got his goal... looks like he scored with Leo, too.

With hopes of a draw receding, Malaga stepped up their attack again. This was nerve-wracking as our defense was decidedly shaky all match, although at least Gerard Pique got his shorts dirty a few times. Every time the ball got near our goal, there was a lot of confused fumbling until someone finally managed to clear it - generally right back to the feet of a Malaga player. At one point, Dani Alves turned and kicked the ball just outside the post of his own goal, and Victor Valdes smacked him upside the head and on the ass. (But he was laughing. If he hadn't been, Dani should have run like hell.)

When it started to look as though Cesc wasn't going to score any more goals, he was replaced by young Thiago Alcantara. Less than ten minutes later, Thiago had received the ball from Dani Alves, controlled it perfectly in a dribbling run that included a quick one-two with Messi, and sent it screaming past the keeper. 3-0.

Celebrating a THIAGOLAZO

Not surprisingly, we couldn't keep a clean sheet. When a free kick was awarded for a foul just outside the box, Valdes did a lot of yelling and arm-waving to place his teammates in as tight a line as possible between Diego Buonanotte and his goal. Of course, all that meant was that Valdes completely failed to see the ball sailing over the wall and into the net - he barely even moved from where he was standing on the line. 3-1.

In the dying minutes of the game, Alexis Sanchez, who had come on for Pedro, made a well-timed run and found himself one on one with the keeper. Most strikers would have had no trouble sinking that shot. Alexis being Alexis, he held onto the ball for too long, allowed himself to be pressured to the side, and kicked it wide. Ah well.

Despite some missteps, I have to single out Iniesta for some excellent ball work, Dani Alves for actually defending for a change (a real DANIMALVES in fact), and Busi for doing whatever it took to reclaim possession. This win gives us the best start in La Liga ever, with 55 out of 57 possible points, as well as an 18 point lead over Real Madrid following their draw with Osasuna on Saturday. Even those who doubted Tito Vilanova's ability to take over the reins from Pep Guardiola are starting to speak of the 2013 Coach of the Year Award. Keep in up, boys! :D



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