Madrid : Lionel Messi scored a spectacular winner as Barcelona moved to the top of La Liga with a hard-fought 2-1 win at Malaga. The European champions were handed the perfect start on Sunday when Munir El Haddadi tapped home the opener after just 64 seconds, but were far from their best and Malaga deservedly levelled through Juanpi 13 minutes before the break. Messi had been struggling with a slight hamstring strain in the past week, but the five-time World Player of the Year made the difference once more as he volleyed home his 20th goal of the season to move Barca a point clear of Atletico Madrid in top spot.
“We started with a goal in the first minute, which put everything on track, but then we weren’t good at all and perhaps 1-1 at half-time was undeserved given how well Malaga played and what we did in the first-half,” said Barca captain Andres Iniesta. “In the second-half I think we returned to being solid and played as we normally do.” And Barca boss Luis Enrique lauded the winning mentality of his side even when they are far from their best. “I am left with the clear improvement of the team in the second-half and the desire the team has to get results,” he said.
“They say it is one of the most important characteristics of the big teams — to win when you play badly.” Barcelona were without the injured Neymar and suspended Gerard Pique, but did have the luxury of welcoming back Messi and Luis Suarez after they missed the 2-1 win Copa del Rey win at Athletic Bilbao in midweek. “February is a big month and after that month I can say something more realistic.”
Aguero’s second goal prevented West Ham from knocking Manchester United out of the top five, but there was little for under-fire United manager Louis van Gaal to cheer after his side were booed off at Old Trafford. Van Gaal sympathised with United’s fans, saying: “They are right, I cannot deny that. I have seen the match also. In better or for worse, we have to stick together.”
Charlie Austin gave Southampton victory in the 87th minute, meeting James Ward-Prowse’s right-wing free-kick with an unerring header in his first appearance since signing from Queens Park Rangers. A beaming Austin said: “It does not get any better than that.”
In a further blow to Van Gaal, right-back Matteo Darmian was forced off after a second-half collision with Shane Long, exacerbating United’s defensive injury crisis. United are now 10 points below Leicester, five points off the Champions League places and only three points above Liverpool, who saw off Norwich in a dizzying game thanks to a 95th-minute winner from Adam Lallana.
After Roberto Firmino had put Liverpool ahead from James Milner’s pass in the 18th minute, Norwich hit back with a clever Dieumerci Mbokani back-heel, a goal by debutant Steven Naismith and a Wes Hoolahan penalty. But goals from captain Jordan Henderson and Firmino drew Liverpool level and although Milner’s 75th-minute effort was cancelled out by Sebastien Bassong’s drive in the 91st minute, Lallana had the final word.
“At the end we can be really happy with nearly everything, especially with the three points,” said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, who lost his glasses in the touchline celebrations after Lallana’s winner. “I usually have a second pair of glasses, but I can’t find them because it’s hard to find glasses without glasses!” he joked. Tottenham Hotspur tightened their grip on fourth place by coming from behind to beat London rivals Crystal Palace 3-1 thanks to a magnificent Dele Alli goal.