La Liga

Barcelona 0 Malaga 0: Champions draw blank without Messi and Suarez

Barcelona handed a boost to LaLiga leaders Real Madrid as they were held to a 0-0 home draw by nine-man Malaga on Saturday.

The champions controlled proceedings, but looked short of inspiration in the final third in absence of the suspended Luis Suarez and the ill Lionel Messi.

Juande Ramos set out his side with a back three and two ultra-defensive wing-backs, a system that kept Barca’s static forward line frustrated for long spells even though the visitors enjoyed less than 20 per cent of the ball.

Carlos Kameni was in fine form when Barca did breach the visiting rearguard, making five saves to deny Rafinha and Gerard Pique, although Malaga were fortunate not to concede a penalty following a clash between Arda Turan and Federico Ricca.

Diego Llorente was controversially sent off midway through the second half for a heavy challenge on Neymar, but despite their numerical advantage, some sublime tricks from the Brazilian and a last-minute red card for Juankar, the three points proved elusive for Luis Enrique’s side.

The result means Barca close to within a point of league leaders Madrid, who take on Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon in what could prove to be a pivotal derby clash later on Saturday.

Paco Alcacer had the ball in the net inside four minutes only to be denied by the assistant referee’s flag, before Neymar rippled the side-netting with a well-struck volley from 20 yards in a solid start for the home side.

Pique, back in the side following three league games on the sidelines with an ankle injury, forced a good save from Kameni before another header moments later saw Javier Mascherano steer the ball onto the post, albeit from an offside position.

Former Barca forward Sandro Ramirez was denied two good chances by a low Marc-Andre ter Stegen stop and a timely Pique sliding tackle, and a brilliant Kameni reaction stop low to his right to keep out Rafinha’s effort was the closest the home side came to a goal in a poor first half.

Barca were enjoying a remarkable 81 per cent of the possession just after half-time, but could not find a way through Malaga’s supreme defence, although Arda was left bemused when he was caught by a raised arm by Ricca in the visitors’ penalty area only to concede a foul himself.

Ter Stegen had been a spectator for almost all of the first hour, but he was given a real scare when Juankar raced onto a loose ball and took it around the Germany goalkeeper, only to shoot into the side-netting.

Frustrations were building for the home fans, but Barca were given a major boost 21 minutes from time when the otherwise excellent Llorente was given a straight red card after his lunging challenge, which was cynical rather than dangerous,  brought down Neymar mid-run.

Pique was thrown forward as an unorthodox extra striker, as Alcacer continued to drift anonymously through proceedings, but the centre-back wasted his best chance as he headed over the crossbar from a Mascherano cross.

Barca mounted a late siege of the Malaga goal, substitute Ivan Rakitic glancing wide from a corner before Andre Gomes rattled the crossbar, only for the offside flag to deny Pique as he tapped in the rebound.

Pique was denied a penalty in the closing stages after being tugged to ground by Mikel Villanueva, and Kameni produced one more piece of magic to claw away Neymar’s far-post header in the dying seconds, but Barca’s pressure yielded no goal as they dropped points at home for the third time this season – despite Juankar earning a red card before the final whistle for something said to the referee.

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