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Luis Enrique: Barcelona endured one of worst first halves before winning

Barcelona coach Luis Enrique admitted his side had been well below their best when speaking after Saturday afternoon's tight 2-1 La Liga win at Malaga.

A much-changed Blaugrana XI went ahead through Munir El-Haddadi after just 65 seconds but were lucky to be at 1-1 after half-time after Juanpi's equaliser was just one of a host of chances created by the home side.

Even after Messi's volley soon after the break put his side back ahead, some more saves from goalkeeper Claudio Bravo were required for Barca to take the three points which put them top of the La Liga table overnight.

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The coach told said in his post-match news conference at La Roselada that it was hard for him to remember his team having played so poorly as they had in the first 45 minutes.

"It is difficult for us to play such a weak first half, lots of problems, lots of mistakes," Luis Enrique said. "Even after scoring so early. We were inferior to Malaga in the first half, they made many more chances than us. It is difficult to remember a first half from us so weak."

With centre-back Gerard Pique injured, and attacker Neymar not risked because of a hamstring injury, Luis Enrique took a risk by leaving other regular starters such as Ivan Rakitic and Dani Alves on the bench.

After a largely anonymous first half, Lionel Messi came to life in the second half and thundered home a volley to win it for Barcelona.
Lionel Messi scored in the second half to bail out Barcelona after a poor first-half performance.

Luis Enrique would not accept that his team selection had been a factor in his team's below-par first half.

"There are many factors which influence in football," he said. "The players are not machines. It was not an individual thing, it was about the whole team in the first half. After the break we were better, but even still not at our best. Malaga always cause us lots of problems.

"But I liked the improvement in the second half, and drive of team to win the three points. It is easier to win when you play well, but we managed to get three points when playing badly."

Thomas Vermaelen had a nightmare first 45 minutes at centre-back and was replaced at half-time by Jeremy Mathieu, with other rare starters Adriano and Munir also not lasting the 90 minutes. However, Luis Enrique was keen not to single out any individual players for blame.

"We took off Thomas as he had a yellow card," he said. "We wanted to be a bit more secure, to have more of the ball by playing with three at back. And we soon got the goal which gave us confidence.

"It was not just about the changes. It would be very unusual for us to play two halves together so bad."

Javi Gracia's well organised Malaga side beat Barca last season, and have also beaten Atletico Madrid and drawn at Real Madrid's Estadio Santiago Bernabeu this season.

Luis Enrique said he was delighted to be leaving La Rosaleda with the three points -- which set his team up well for next Saturday's crunch game against high-flying Atletico at the Camp Nou.

"Javi Gracia's team always cause us problems -- he is a very good coach, his teams are very well prepared," Luis Enrique said. "They found spaces behind our defence. They are a very difficult opponent and we are very happy with the three points.

"I repeat, to win, playing a game when we were not at our usual level, strengthens us. It will push us forward to our next games."

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