Barcelona’s hopes of a third straight La Liga title were left hanging by a thread as Malaga deservedly beat the 10-man Catalans 2-0 on Sunday.
Malaga beat Barca at home for the first time since December 2003 in a match tainted by controversy as Neymar was sent off, Adalberto Penaranda had a goal wrongly disallowed and Sergi Roberto was awarded a free kick for a foul in the Andalusians’ penalty area.
Luis Enrique, who was in the Barca squad that last lost to Malaga, heavily rotated his Blaugrana line-up, with Jeremy Mathieu, Denis Suarez and Andre Gomes among those selected in a 3-4-3 formation, although MSN were out in full force.
Luis Suarez didn’t take long to be furious with the officials after he was level when a through ball rolled his way down the left. The Uruguayan’s cross was deflected on target by Malaga’s Real Madrid loanee Diego Llorente, but Carlos Kameni had stopped it.
Kameni, the hosts’ hero at Camp Nou earlier in the season, looked like he was up to his old tricks again as Suarez was one-on-one with the goalkeeper from Jordi Alba’s slide-rule pass, but the No 9 was somehow denied from point-blank range.
The Catalans’ defensive line was suicidally high when Jeremy Mathieu was caught out cold from a long ball near the halfway line. Sandro Ramirez broke clear, with only Marc-Andre ter Stegen to beat, and drilled the finish home, putting one against his former club.
Mathieu met a corner just before half-time and was bundled over by Llorente in the Malaga box, but no penalty was given.
Barca took a gamble for the second half, bringing on Andres Iniesta, Sergi Roberto and Paco Alcacer before the hour mark, but it didn’t stop Sergio Busquets losing possession in his own half and Malaga breaking away as Sandro peels off his marker.
The striker then cut the ball back for an unmarked Juanpi, but the winger’s shot was straight at Ter Stegen, while a second in quick succession flew just over the bar.
At the other end, Neymar rouletted past his marker in the Malaga box and clipped the near post with his shot, although Kameni had it covered.
Suarez then rounded the Cameroonian from Messi’s through ball, but the angle went too far against the striker and his scooped cross for Neymar was headed just over.
However, Neymar lost his head after he clashed with Llorente, who had got to a 50-50 ball near the corner flag first, and didn’t stop himself from clattering into the midfielder for a second yellow card and subsequent red.
Malaga should’ve gone 2-0 up, were it not for officials wrongly flagging Adalberto Penaranda offside as he was level when he latched on to a chipped through ball from the left.
Jesus Gil Manzano will referee the Clasico on April 23, but his performance only served to ask questions of his suitability for such a high-profile fixture. Sergi was inside the Malaga box when Charles and Llorente sandwiched him, but only a free kick was given.
Staying with Charles, the substitute was found unmarked in the right-centre area of Barca’s box from the counterattack, but Ter Stegen saved his shot.
Sergi was then found by Javier Mascherano’s through ball in the Malaga box, but he was denied by Kameni from close-range.
The entire Barca team were camped in Malaga’s final third, and a poor pass went straight to a Malaga player. The hosts then broke at the speed of light and Jony Rodriguez was teed up for an easy finish, with Ter Stegen off-balance.