Barcelona’s early season optimism was dented as they dropped their first points of the campaign in a dull goalless draw at Malaga.
Although Luis Enrique can take the consolation that his team’s run of clean sheets has continued to six matches, it was a tepid attacking performance from the Catalan side who didn’t manage a single effort on target all night.
Lionel Messi and Neymar were disappointing in attack while Barca’s midfield creativity deserted them as Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic simply ran out of ideas.
Malaga had the first opportunity when a speedy counter-attack created an opening for Nordin Amrabat – preferred to Roque Santa Cruz in attack – but his effort lacked the power to trouble Claudio Bravo.
The first of few chances for the visitors came after 15 minutes when Messi tried his luck with a long-range free-kick, but it sailed well over the top.
The Argentine came close to the opener in an unconventional manner when he met a cross from Jordi Alba with his shoulder but the ball flew wide of Malaga keeper Carlos Kameni’s right-hand post.
With Malaga getting everyone behind the ball, it was a dour contest containing little goal threat at either end as the action took place almost exclusively in a congested space in the middle of the home team’s half.
Barca full-backs Alba and debutant right-back Douglas were unable to provide any attacking width as the hosts maintained their defensive discipline, with the exception of a dangerous low ball from Alba which flew across the face of goal and narrowly eluded Messi.
Malaga were showing next to no attacking intent, and off-colour opening periods from Barca’s front three of Messi, Neymar and Pedro ensured the stalemate stayed intact until the interval without ever really looking like being broken.
The second half started in a very different fashion as Malaga went on the offensive, penning Barca back into their own half without creating any goalscoring opportunities.
Struggling to find any fluency, Barca didn’t mount a meaningful second half attack until 12 minutes into the period, when Alba was again the outlet as he received a smart pass from Sergio Busquets and sent another centre bouncing across the face of goal.
However, the visitors then nearly took the lead on an unlikely route as Marc Bartra, making his first start of the season in defence, rose to meet a corner from Rakitic and headed narrowly wide.
Barca’s struggles were evident from Enrique’s decision to make a double change in attack shortly after the hour mark, introducing Sandro and Munir El Haddadi for the ineffective Neymar and Pedro.
Malaga threatened when Roberto Rosales ran onto a cut back from Juanpi and unleashed a ferocious shot which flew harmlessly well wide of the left upright, and Barca then had a huge let-off when Ignacio Camacho drilled a narrow-angled free-kick to the near post and Bravo clawed it off the goalline.
An off-the-ball spat between Messi and Weligton, which could have seen the Malaga defender sent off, enlivened the latter stages but there were no more chances and the right result ensued.