Vermaelen nets Barca winner

Thomas Vermaelen scored his first Barcelona goal as the champions dug deep for a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Malaga in La Liga on Saturday.

Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar all started for the Catalans as the 'MSN' made their first appearance of the season. The Brazilian's recovery from mumps saw him replace countryman Rafinha on the left wing, while Dani Alves' injury and a lack of recognised cover at right-back meant a place in the team for Sergi Roberto.

Malaga, on the other hand, made four changes from the side which drew 0-0 with Sevilla last week, Miguel Torres, captain Weligton, Juankar and Recio all coming in for Arthur Boka, Raul Albentosa, Lyon-bound Sergi Darder and Charles.

Barca raced out the blocks as they made their intent known from the very first kick, with Malaga happy to sit back and play on the counterattack, but Suarez notably saw multiple efforts denied by the inspired Carlos Kameni.

Somewhat surprisingly, the best chance of the first half fell to Javier Mascherano, who met Messi's pinpoint cross in the box and crashed his header against the crossbar.

However, the Andalucians had more than a passing gaze at goal as Juankar, reading Sergio Busquets' misplaced pass, almost lobbed Claudio Bravo from the halfway line.

More of the same ensued after the break, with Barca continuing to throw the kitchen sink at Kameni, only for the custodian to insist on being unbreached as Messi and Suarez saw close-range finishes kept out.

However, just as it looked like Barca's evening would en a frustrating one, Vermaelen popped up in the box, at the right place at the right time, to smash home a rebound first time for his first goal in Blaugrana colours.

Barca were comfortably seeing the result out until Charles squandered a golden opportunity with the last kick of the game, failing to properly connect with Juankar's low cross, despite standing in close proximity of Bravo.

Barcelona 1-0 Malaga

Vermaelen 73

Barcelona: Bravo; Sergi Roberto, Mascherano, Vermaelen (Mathieu 90), Alba; Busquets, Rakitic (Rafinha 63), Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar (Sandro 87)

Malaga: Kameni; Rosales, Angeleri, Weligton (Albentosa 25), Torres; Horta (Anor 73), Recio, Tissone, Juankar; Amrabat (Charles 54), Cop

Referee: Jaime Latre