Malaga 1-3 Barcelona: Messi & Cesc exploit hosts' defensive errors

An inspired performance from the four-time Ballon d'Or winner, that included a goal and two assists, helped extend the Catalan club's record-setting start to a Liga campaign
Barcelona reached the midway point of the league season unbeaten this evening, as they took advantage of some defensive errors to secure a 3-1 victory over Malaga at La Rosaleda.

Lionel Messi opened the scoring with a well-taken goal in the first half, before a crisp finish from Cesc Fabregas and a well-worked goal from Thiago after the break secured all three points, but not before Diego Buonanotte scored a superb late consolation goal for Malaga.

The visitors welcomed their coach Tito Vilanova back to the dugout after he missed Thursday's thumping Copa del Rey win over Cordoba due to a medical appointment in New York, and he was nearly celebrating a goal after just seven minutes.

A brilliant piece of goalkeeping from Willy Caballero stopped Messi from giving the visitors the lead, after Wellington gifted the Argentine a shooting opportunity by miscontrolling the ball inside his own penalty area. Caballero reached out to push the ball away from Messi with his left arm, just as the attacker appeared set to round him and shoot into an empty net.

Twenty minutes later, however, Caballero was unable to make amends for another team-mate's mistake. Ignacio Camacho's back pass to the goalkeeper was far too weak, which allowed Messi to seize the ball ahead of Caballero, cut back on to his right foot and then slide a finish into the bottom right corner to make it 1-0 to the Blaugrana.

After starting the game brightly, Malaga looked stunned by Barcelona's goal and could easily have gone two behind just minutes after Messi's opportunistic opener. Fabregas was the man who came close, as his sweeping effort drifted just wide of the right-hand post with Caballero beaten.

Malaga's best chance of the half fell to Roque Santa Cruz, but he could only direct a header straight at Victor Valdes after connecting with Joaquin's whipped free kick from the left.

Shortly after the break, the Catalans fashioned some breathing space for themselves when Fabregas made it 2-0. The former Arsenal man evaded the attentions of stand-in right-back Sergio Sanchez on the left, to latch on to a mesmerising through ball from Messi and clip a fine shot past Caballero.

The away side never looked like letting their lead slip after the second goal, as on the rare occasions that los Boquerones did steal the ball from Barcelona's midfield, they were then thwarted in the attacking third by some robust defending from Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano.

In the 82nd minute Thiago got in on the goalscoring act to make it 3-0 to the visitors, finishing off a well-worked team move. The midfielder exchanged passes neatly with Messi on the edge of the Malaga box before hammering a low shot into the bottom left corner.

However, there was still time for Malaga substitute Buonanotte to ensure he had something to remember from the game in the final minute of normal time, as he curled a delicious free kick past Valdes from 20 yards to make it 3-1.

Just three days separate this fixture and the two side's next meeting, with Vilanova's side playing host to Malaga at Camp Nou on January 16 for the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final.