The Argentine star’s goal early in the second half proved the difference in an enthralling game, while the Andalucians will feel aggrieved they finished empty-handed
Lionel Messi marked his return from injury in style as his stunning volley sent Barcelona top of La Liga with a hard-fought 2-1 victory at Malaga on Saturday.
Messi missed Barca’s 2-1 Copa del Rey win over Athletic Bilbao in midweek because of a hamstring problem, but was typically influential at La Rosaleda – earning all three points with a sumptuous finish from Adriano’s cross.
The Argentina captain also had a hand in his side’s first goal as Munir El Haddadi broke the deadlock for Barca – who were missing Neymar through injury – by capping off a wonderfully worked attack with a second-minute tap-in.
Malaga fought back well, however, and were rewarded for piling pressure on the Barcelona goal when Juanpi levelled in the 32nd minute. Attacking midfielder Juanpi pounced of some poor defending from Barca to equalise with a deflected close-range strike.
Yet Barca were not to be denied and in the 52nd minute Messi settled matters with a marvellous show of technique to move Barca one point clear of Atletico Madrid, who take on Sevilla on Sunday.
Barca broke down the Malaga defence almost immediately as Messi played Luis Suarez in down the right with a superb pass, with the Uruguay forward – who replays suggested was marginally offside – then squaring for Munir to tap into an empty net from a yard.
Malaga responded excellently to going behind and went agonisingly close to levelling in the 14th minute as Claudio Bravo turned Gonzalo Castro’s drive from the edge of the area against the post.
The home fans were left incensed when Malaga were denied a penalty in the 25th minute, Charles booked for diving under a challenge from Javier Mascherano after Barca had carelessly conceded possession in their own half.
But Barca failed to learn their lesson from that scare and were deservedly pegged back seven minutes later.
This time Mascherano was at fault as the Argentinian failed to properly clear his lines, allowing Charles to tee up Juanpi to hit home at the end of a well-worked team move.