Ousmane Dembele 8/10 as Barcelona brush past Malaga
Barcelona didn't need to get out of second gear as they cantered to a 2-0 win against La Liga's bottom side, Malaga, on Saturday.
Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho scored in the first half for Barca, with Malaga playing the final hour with 10 men after Samuel Garcia was sent off for a lunge on Jordi Alba.
Malaga may be bottom of the league but they've been a bogey team for Barca in recent seasons. In fact, they're the last side to beat the Catalans in Spain's top flight. That defeat came last April and Ernesto Valverde's side stretched their unbeaten run in the league to 35 games on Saturday.
It was also a test to see how they could do without Lionel Messi, who withdrew from the squad due to the birth of his third son. They did well although the level of the opposition makes it difficult to read too much into this performance. Record signings Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele were the pick of the bunch.
Admittedly this game didn't require maximum concentration at all times but Valverde may be concerned about how many chances his side gave up considering the opposition were down to 10 men. Fortunately for Barca, whose second-half performance left a bit to be desired, Malaga were wasteful in front of goal. Chelsea, who visit Camp Nou in the Champions League on Wednesday, may not be so profligate.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Valverde did what was expected of him, replacing absent duo Messi and Andres Iniesta with Dembele and Paulinho. Barca went through the motions at times but they extended their lead at the top of the table to 11 points for now. Atletico Madrid can bring it back down to eight when they play on Sunday.
Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 6 -- Despite the amount of chances Barca gave up, Malaga didn't really challenge the German goalkeeper. Youssef En-Nesyri was off target with two of their best openings.
DF Sergi Roberto, 6 -- Linked well with Dembele on the right but lacked a final product in the final third for once.
DF Gerard Pique, 6 -- Looked OK despite recent knee problems although along with Umtiti, he was perhaps guilty of switching off occasionally once Barca opened up a two-goal lead. That said, they were often left man-for-man at the back.
DF Samuel Umtiti, 6 -- Should have scored but headed straight at Roberto Jimenez after a fine Dembele cross. At the back, he was part of a defence that kept a clean sheet without really needing to be at its best.
DF Jordi Alba, 7 -- Produced a pinpoint cross for Suarez to open the scoring, his ninth assist of the seasons in all competitions. Was rarely troubled in defence and earned a rest for the final 15 minutes.
MF Sergio Busquets, 7 -- Another typical Busquets performance, Rarely troubled in the middle, especially once Malaga went down to 10 men.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 7 -- Came close to scoring with a couple of long-range efforts but saw one fly wide and the other saved by Roberto. Also kept order in Barca's midfield, once again showing why he's such an important player for Valverde.
MF Paulinho, 6 -- One of his best performances since the turn of the year. Produced a fine pass to create a chance for Suarez early on.
MF Philippe Coutinho, 7 -- Always looked dangerous when on the ball, whether that meant he was cutting inside in search of the shot or beating his opponent on the outside. The finish for his goal was good, too, a cheeky flick after Dembele had done the hard work.
MF Ousmane Dembele, 8 -- After a quiet opening, he really got going after a couple of things fell for him. Full of confidence, he was perhaps Barca's biggest threat with the ball at his feet. Set up Coutinho's goal and excited with his trickery and pace. Perhaps his best performance since joining from Borussia Dortmund last summer.
FW Luis Suarez, 7 -- In Messi's absence, he was the player that perhaps took on most responsibility. Denied by a great Roberto save after 10 minutes before opening the scoring minutes later with a good header. Malaga were the only side he'd faced in La Liga without scoring. Consider that streak broken.
DF Andre Gomes, NR -- Came on for Sergi Roberto, which suggests he will be the backup right-back while Nelson Semedo is injured.
DF Lucas Digne, NR -- Introduced to give Jordi Alba a break before Chelsea's visit.
MF Aleix Vidal, NR -- Given a five-minute cameo at the end of the game.
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.