MADRID, Jan. 13 (Xinhua) -- FC Barcelona won 3-1 away to Malaga to remain 11 points clear of Atletico Madrid and moved 18 clear of Real Madrid, while completing a quite incredible first half to the season.
The win means that Barca have won 18 of their first 19 matches of the season, taking 55 points from a possible 57, scoring 64 goals and conceding 20.
The best news for Barcelona was that coach Tito Vilanova was back on the bench after his trip to New York during the week for a second opinion on his cancer treatment.
He sat alongside central defender Carles Puyol, who was rested with Javier Mascherano partnering Gerard Pique at the back for Barca.
The pitch in the Rosaleda Stadium has not been in good condition all season, but that didn't stop Barcelona playing their usual passing game and Messi saw an early effort saved by Malaga keeper, Willy Caballero
Caballero was alert on a second occasion to rush out of his area as the striker ran through on goal, while Cesc Fabrigas fired over for the visitors, but Messi was not to be denied after 27 minutes when he latched onto a poor backpass, before tricking Caballero and rolling the ball into an empty net.
Malaga's best chance in the first half was a header from Roque Santa Cruz, which went straight into the arms of Barca keeper, Victor Valdes.
Cecs Fabrigas doubled Barca lead five minutes into the second half with a neat control and shot close to the post that left Caballero helpless following a magnificent pass from Messi.
Barca were moving the ball almost at will with Sergio Busquets controlling the middle of the park with ease. The Barca midfielder is perhaps the quiet man of the side alongside stars such as Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, but he has been in exceptional form this season.
Thiago Alcantara sealed the win with a left foot shot from the edge of the penalty area with 10 minutes remaining.
Diego Buonanotte scored a consolation goal for Malaga with a direct free kick five minutes from time, but Barca's win and incredible first half to the season was never in doubt.