Barca hold off tough Malaga for win
Barcelona kept Bernd Schuster’s team pushed back in its area early on at La Rosaleda Stadium but failed to finish its scoring chances until Adriano broke through in the 44th minute.
Gerard Pique sent the ball off the crossbar for Barcelona in the 58th before 17-year-old Fabrice Olinga had the hosts’ best chance with a shot onto the post in the 68th as Malaga finally dared to look for an equalizer.
Neymar went on as a substitute for the third straight game for Barcelona in the second half and shone with his dribbling, pace and a pair of shots that almost doubled the final margin.
”We struggled in the last few minutes, but we have just begun a season with some changes and still have room to improve,” said Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas.
Messi bruised a muscle in his left thigh during Wednesday’s 1-1 draw at Atletico Madrid in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup.
While Barcelona may still be without its all-time leading scorer for this Wednesday’s return leg at Camp Nou, Atletico warmed up by thrashing Rayo Vallecano 5-0 earlier on Sunday for its second victory in as many rounds.
Fabregas was charged to lead Barcelona’s attack in place of Messi, and it took him 15 minutes to start causing havoc in Malaga’s defense.
The former Arsenal midfielder’s best piece of playmaking came in the 19th when he threaded a through ball to Pedro Rodriguez, only for the forward to lose control while trying to dribble goalkeeper Willy Caballero.
Malaga was disciplined in defense but in the first half could only manage a 28th-minute free kick by Vitorino Antunes that goalie Victor Valdes did well to block.
Next it was Caballero’s turn to save Alexis Sanchez’s point-blank header from a cross by Fabregas in the 37th.
But Adriano surprised the Malaga `keeper with a blistering left-footed effort from outside the area, curling the ball downward so that Caballero could only get an arm on the ball but not enough to keep it out.
Adriano was substituted by Dani Alves at halftime. The club said it was ”for precaution” after the defender felt ”pain in his right leg.”
Pique nearly scored using his back, glancing Xavi Hernandez’s free kick off the top of the crossbar.
Neymar, who scored Barcelona’s goal at Atletico on Wednesday, replaced Pedro in the 63rd. The Brazil striker immediately showed his speed and ability to break down defenders one-on-one. His dribble between the legs of Jesus Gamez earned him a shove as the humiliated defender let his anger get the best of him.
Neymar’s footwork produced a foul on the edge of the area that he turned into a curling free kick that Caballero dove to parry in the 80th.
And seconds after Valdes saved a late header by Sebastian Fernandez in the 90th, Neymar pounced on a loose ball in the area, but his low shot clipped a defender’s boot and looped over the bar.
Turkey midfielder Arda Turan scored one goal and set up two more in Atletico’s rout of Rayo as Diego Simeone’s side continues to impress.
Raul Garcia headed in his first of two goals at Vicente Calderon Stadium in the 17th.
Turan passed for Diego Costa to make it 2-0 in the 20th before then scoring himself from a pass by Diego Costa in the 35th.
Turan crossed for Tiago Cardoso to head in the hosts’ fourth goal in the 53rd before Garcia got his double in the 90th.
Also, Sevilla drew 0-0 at Levante.
Real Madrid visits Granada on Monday.
On Friday, Athletic Bilbao beat Osasuna 2-0, and Getafe drew 2-2 with Almeria.
On Saturday, Real Sociedad drew 1-1 at Elche, Espanyol eased by Valencia 3-1, and Villarreal edged Valladolid 2-1.