Patience was the key for Barcelona as they edged to a 1-0 Liga victory over Malaga on Saturday, with Thomas Vermaelen scoring the winner with his first goal for the club.
Javi Garcia’s side drew 0-0 with Barca on home soil last term before stunning the eventual champions with a 1-0 victory at Camp Nou back in February.
And Malaga looked set to pull off yet another impressive result against the Catalan giants in their first away fixture of the 2015-16 campaign, resisting a Barca onslaught to stay level for 73 minutes.
Barca had an early goal disallowed when Luis Suarez was penalised for a shove on his marker, before Javier Mascherano found the crossbar with a header.
Malaga did have chances of their own – most notably Juan Carlos’ optimistic long-range lob – but should probably have conceded two first-half penalties.
Fortune was shining on the visitors and Carlos Kameni pulled off a string of superb saves to keep hopes of an upset alive, but that luck ran dry when Vermaelen popped up 17 minutes from time to seal Barca’s second 1-0 win in as many matches.
Neymar returned to the first-team fold following a bout of mumps and it was Barca’s fearsome frontline that caused most problems early on, with Suarez heading home inside four minutes, only to see the effort ruled out for a push on Marcos Angeleri.
Barca continued to dominate possession, with newly crowned UEFA Best Player in Europe Lionel Messi and Neymar both making dangerous runs at the Malaga defence, but Juan Carlos almost caught the home side off guard when he sent an audacious lob just over from inside his own half.
Mascherano came agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock when his headed effort bounced off the crossbar in the 25th minute, while Neymar’s first shot at goal amounted to a tame effort that was fired straight at goalkeeper Kameni.
While Barca appeared firmly in control of the match for long spells, Malaga did continue to find the occasional hole in the home defence, but Duje Cop could not get enough purchase on his shot when he slid in to meet a low Nordin Amrabat cross from the right wing, allowing Claudio Bravo to collect with ease.
The visitors got off lightly when Miguel Torres appeared to handle in the area five minutes from half-time, halting Neymar’s goalward momentum, and they continued to live dangerously, with Angeleri’s clumsy tackle on Suarez in the box going unpunished moments later.
Messi had a glorious opportunity to open the scoring shortly after the interval, but Neymar’s cutback was played just behind him and his shot from 12 yards failed to truly test Kameni.
The Argentinian pulled the trigger once again soon after, this time drawing a diving save from the Cameroon international, and the pair developed a fascinating duel as the match progressed – Kameni making another two big saves to keep his side on level terms.
Kameni was finally beaten in the 73rd minute, though, when his parry from a Suarez cross fell kindly for former Arsenal defender Vermaelen, who rifled a half-volley into the back of the net.
With Malaga having offered little in the way of attacking threat for the most part, Barca’s lead appeared safe, but they could have snatched a late draw had Charles managed to sort his feet out in the box deep into stoppage time – the Brazilian unable to apply the finish to Cop’s inviting cross.
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