MADRID: Thomas Vermaelen was the unlikely hero as Barcelona overcame stiff resistance from Malaga to maintain their perfect start to the La Liga season with a 1-0 win at the Camp Nou.
The Belgian defender endured a nightmare debut campaign with the Catalans last season as he was perennially sidelined by injury.
However, the former Arsenal captain succeeded where Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar failed as he fired the only goal of the game past the excellent Carlos Kameni 18 minutes from time.
Neymar was starting for the first time this season after overcoming a bout of the mumps as he was reunited with Messi and Suarez up front.
Suarez was the first to have the ball in the net after just four minutes, but his headed effort was ruled out for a foul beforehand by the Uruguayan.
Malaga had stunned the Camp Nou with a 1-0 victory last season and they came within inches of taking the lead in extraordinary style as Juan Carlos’s effort from 60 yards flew just inches over the stranded Claudio Bravo’s goal.
Javier Mascherano came close to being the unlikely man to break the deadlock when he headed against the crossbar moments later.
The home fans were then incensed as referee Santiago Jaime Latre turned down two strong penalty shouts, as Miguel Torres appeared to handle the ball inside the area before Marcos Angeleri brought down Suarez.
Kameni then produced a trio of fine saves to deny Messi after the break as the European champions continued to be frustrated in front of goal.
Yet, for all his good work, Kameni was partly at fault for the goal as he could only parry Suarez’s cross from the left and the ball fell invitingly for Vermaelen to fire home from close range.
Barca was without the suspended Gerard Pique and injured Daniel Alves in defense and the visitors nearly exploited their absence in stoppage time as Charles just couldn’t stretch to knock in the equalizer.
The hosts held on, though, to record their second consecutive 1-0 win and go top of the table.