BARCELONA MADE LIGHT of Lionel Messi’s absence and continued their march towards LaLiga glory with a 2-0 victory over 10-man Malaga.
Typically, Messi was Barca’s match-winning hero when Ernesto Valverde’s side beat nearest rivals Atletico Madrid 1-0 last weekend, but sat this one out after his wife gave birth to the couple’s third child
Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho scored excellent goals with Messi missing inside the opening half hour and Barca’s lead at the summit – with Atleti to host Celta Vigo on Sunday – is now 11 points.
At 2-0 loss at La Rosaleda last April landed a damaging blow against Barcelona’s title defence last season, but this Malaga find themselves rooted hopelessly to the bottom of LaLiga.
Any prospect of an unlikely comeback for the hosts became even more remote when right winger Samu was deservedly sent for an atrocious 30th-minute lunge on Jordi Alba.
Youssef En-Nesyri and Maxime Lestienne missed chances as Malaga fought gamely, but, sitting as they do 11 point from safety, their relegation appears a similar formality to Barcelona wrapping up the title.
Suarez was frustrated by a brilliant save from Roberto in the 13th minute, a strong hand keeping a shot out of the bottom-left corner after Paulinho found the Uruguay international with a clever cushioned pass.
The Malaga goalkeeper had no chance two minutes later when Suarez darted between his two centre-backs to head home Jordi Alba’s superb raking cross from the left.
Paulinho was at the heart of many of Barca’s best moments early on and fired into the side-netting before another Brazilian wonderfully illuminated the contest.
Ousmane Dembele clipped a pass into Coutinho’s feet and the man who replaced the France winger as Barca’s record signing showed ingenuity to direct a perfect backheeled finish past Roberto.
Samu then allowed his frustrations to boil over in ugly fashion as he launched himself at Alba, who was fortunate to escape with nothing more than a limp and a torn right sock.
That left Malaga with a dauntingly uphill task and they could scarcely afford En-Nesyri wasting a glorious 36th-minute chance.
The shot-shy forward has two goals to his name all season and headed off target from inside the six-yard box after Manuel Iturra dug out a cross.
Coutinho forced another sharp stop from Roberto before the break and the Malaga number one continued to be busy in the second half.
Samuel Umtiti should have made him work harder when Dembele cleverly delayed a chipped cross to the far post in the 55th minute.
Dembele, frustrated by injury for much of his debut season in Spain, was starting to enjoy himself and saw Roberto hold impressively after Sergi Roberto neatly laid Ivan Rakitic’s searching pass into his path.
Coutinho was in a determined but fruitless pursuit for one of his long-range specials to find the net, while Lestienne hooked across goal at the other end.
The game was ambling towards its conclusion by that stage, although Suarez ensured he will sit out next weekend’s match against Athletic Bilbao by earning a booking for a clumsy 84th-minute shove on Ignasi Miquel.