Thomas Vermaelen was the unlikely hero as Barcelona labored to a 1-0 win over Malaga to maintain their 100 per cent start to the Primera Division season.
The former Arsenal defender smashed in the only goal of the game with 17 minutes remaining at the Nou Camp, just when Barca looked set to draw a blank against Javi Gracia’s dogged outfit for the third successive game.
Cameroonian goalkeeper Carlos Kameni made a string of vital saves in the second half but could only palm Luis Suarez’s cross from the left towards the penalty spot, where Vermaelan was waiting to lash into the empty net and score his first goal for the Catalan club in only his third league start since joining over a year ago.
Barcelona’s front three of Neymar, Lionel Messi and Suarez started together for the first time in a competitive game since the Champions League final but failed to set the Nou Camp alight as they did last season, when they amassed 122 goals between them. Suarez did manage to put the ball in the net in the first half but was correctly penalized for a foul on a Malaga player as he leapt to head home from a corner.
The first real flashpoint came when Miguel Torres’ flailing arm stopped the ball dead in the Malaga area as Neymar tried to round the defender. The home faithful’s whistles grew even louder a minute later when Suarez fell on the left under a challenge from Marcos Angeleri and referee Santiago Jaime Latre remained unmoved.
Earlier in the first half Javier Mascherano headed a Messi cross off the top of the bar, while Malaga midfielder Juankar came close to scoring a sensational goal from his own half, but his shot dropped the wrong side of the bar after he reacted quickly to a misplaced pass by Sergio Busquets.
Barcelona upped the intensity in the second period but every time they managed to pierce Malaga’s tight defence, they came up against Kameni. The Cameroonian made four successive saves to deny Messi, and his centre-back Angeleri also came to the rescue, sliding across the box to boot a loose ball over the bar.
But Barcelona continued to rattle Malaga’s cage and were eventually rewarded with Vermaelen’s strike.
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