MADRID: Barcelona boss Luis Enrique hailed his side’s 2-1 win at Malaga as a huge boost for their La Liga title hopes despite admitting he can’t remember a poorer first-half display from the European champions.
Munir El Haddadi got the visitors off to the perfect start with the opening goal after 64 seconds, but Barca were throughly outplayed in the remainder of the first period and were lucky to only concede Juanpi’s equaliser 13 minutes before the break.
However, five-time world player of the year Lionel Messi provided the inspiration for Enrique’s men just after the restart with a stunning volley to move them a point clear of Atletico Madrid at the top of the table.
“To win playing at not our normal level and at a difficult place to come reinforces us and gives us confidence to continue with our objectives,” said Enrique.
“I am left with the clear improvement of the team in the second-half and the desire the team has to get results.
“They say it is one of the most important characteristics of the big teams: to win when you play badly.”
“When you play well practically everything is easy, but when you play badly and have to overcome difficulty, especially at a place like this where it is always difficult for us, it has more value.”
Barca were without the injured Neymar and suspended Gerard Pique, but even accounting for their influence, Enrique was at a loss to explain such a poor first-half display after a perfect start.
“Something which in theory is very positive (the early goal) turned into a nightmare,” he added.
“We were inferior to Malaga in the first-half. They made a lot of chances from our imprecision. It is difficult to remember such a bad first-half on our part.
“There are many factors which can influence things in football. The players are not machines and they can have a day when things go wrong. Today it was a general problem with the whole team.
“In the second-half I think we competed better, we moved the ball better, but even then we made more mistakes than usual.”
Victory takes Barca at least temporarily top of the table with Atletico hosting Sevilla on Sunday ahead of the meeting between the top two next weekend.
It was also the first time Barca had won away from home in La Liga since November and captain Andres Iniesta underlined the importance of the three points no matter the performance.
“That is La Liga. It is very difficult to win away from home, but we are very happy because it was a very important game for us,” he said.
“Picking up three points allows us to keep ourselves at the top of the table.”