Five in five for Barça and Ibra
Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Gerard Pique came off the bench to inspire Barcelona to a fifth straight league win over a hard-working Malaga side. Ibrahimovic was left out of the starting line-up after picking up an ankle injury in Tuesday night's 4-1 win at Racing Santander. But the Sweden striker has been making good progress in his recovery and was called upon after Thierry Henry was forced off through injury just short of the half-hour mark.
And Ibrahimovic was on the scoresheet ten minutes later to bag his fifth goal in as many league games since joining from Inter Milan in the summer. But Pique took even less time to make an impact, bagging a second for the Catalans only three minutes after replacing Dmytro Chygrynskiy just short of an hour, before Malaga had Duda sent off late on.
Those two strikes gave Barcelona a fifth win in five league matches this season, but meant that the Catalans dropped to second place after rivals Real Madrid defeated Tenerife 3-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu to go top of the table on goal difference.
Barça coach Pep Guardiola decided to leave Ibrahimovic on the bench and, with Bojan Krkic out injured, Henry moved into the centre of the side's three-pronged attack. Lionel Messi began on the left as Pedro came in for a rare start on the right.
Barça had won all four of their previous league matches and came into this match on top of the table. But the first chance of the night fell to Malaga. Nigerian striker Victor Obinna latched onto Duda's pass, but shot into the side netting from close range and the visitors survived.
Malaga began the season with an impressive 3-0 victory over Atletico Madrid at La Rosaleda, but the Andalusians have struggled since then and came into this match on the back of three straight defeats.
With Ibrahimovic out, Henry had the chance to impress. The former Arsenal striker has not scored this season for Barça and had a seemingly golden chance to shine. But the Frenchman was forced off though injury after 29 minutes and replaced by Ibrahimovic. And the Swede was on the scoresheet ten minutes later, when he latched onto Messi's through-ball and slotted home.
Barça were stroking the ball in customary fashion, but Malaga were working hard and restricting the Catalans to very few real attempts on goal. The second goal finally came just short of the hour mark.
Pique, who netted against Atletico earlier this season and in the famous 6-2 victory at the Bernabeu last term, replaced Chygrynskiy and poked past Gustavo Munua to put Barça two up three minutes after stepping off the bench.
Messi missed two good chances to make it three and return the Catalans to the top of the league, but in the end Guardiola's side had to be content with a two-goal victory which preserved their 100 per cent record after five rounds in the championship. They also finished the game a man up after Duda was dismissed for Malaga.