Winter champs work their magic
David Villa scored twice as Barcelona thrashed Malaga 4-1 at the Nou Camp tonight to extend their lead to four points at the Primera Division's halfway stage. Andres Iniesta, Villa and Pedro gave Barca a 3-0 lead at the interval and the Catalans always looked comfortable, despite Duda's second half free-kick.
Villa added his second six minutes after that as Pep Guardiola's side cruised to a trademark victory - their 13th successive league win - which was made all the sweeter by Real Madrid's failure to beat bottom-of-the-table Almeria earlier on in the evening. Barca had seen their title rivals slip up in Andalusia directly before this match and knew a win over Malaga would see them extend their advantage at the top of the table after 19 rounds of matches.
Guardiola's side started on the front foot and almost went ahead after four minutes when Eric Abidal blasted a powerful angled shot into the side netting with his left foot. But three minutes later, Barca did take the lead. Dani Alves advanced down the right and squared for Iniesta, who beat Sergio Asenjo with a brilliant drive from the edge of the area.
First-half Barca first class
Malaga have improved since the arrival of former Villarreal and Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini, but the Andalusians could do nothing to keep a buoyant Barca at bay. Brazil forward Julio Baptista, who scored a winner for Madrid here in 2007, was making his debut for the visitors, but was left frustrated as almost all the play took place down the other end of the pitch.
Asenjo parried Pedro's shot after 15 minutes and Xavi came within a whisker of scoring a brilliant goal moments later, when his long-range effort rebounded off the crossbar and against the Malaga keeper. A second goal looked imminent and so it proved as Messi slid a precise pass for Villa to finish easily after 17 minutes.
Messi, sporting bright orange boots for the first time after his Ballon d'Or win last week, lobbed on to the roof of the net from a tight angle after 31 minutes. But the Argentina forward played a key part in Barca's third, setting up Iniesta with an excellent pass. The midfielder's low shot was saved by Asenjo, but Pedro was on hand to slot home the rebound.
Villa dragged a low effort wide two minutes later when it looked easier to score and Messi missed a glorious opportunity just before the break when he shot straight at Asenjo with only the keeper to beat.
The game started slowly following the restart, but Duda pulled a goal back for Malaga midway through the second half with a brilliant curling free-kick. However, normal service was resumed just six minutes later as Villa latched onto Xavi's pass, rounded Asenjo and slid home from a tight angle to make it 4-1.
Messi and substitute Bojan Krkic came close in the last minute, but in the end Barca will be pleased with four goals - and four points breathing space at the top of the table as the league approaches its second half.