Thomas Vermaelen Scores His First Goal For Barcelona As They Beat Malaga 1 0
FC ’s Neymar, from Brazil, left, duels for the ball against ’s Marcos Angeleri during a Spanish soccer match at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Vermaelen scored his first goal for Barcelona to give the defending champion a second straight hard-fought win in the Spanish league Saturday as it edged Malaga at Camp Nou.

The former defender volleyed in a cross parried by Malaga goalkeeper Carlos Kameni for the 73rd-minute winner.

Kameni had denied on several occasions as he tried to replicate his two clean sheets against Barcelona from last season.

Barcelona, which won 1-0 at Athletic Bilbao in round one, opened up a provisional five-point gap over Real Madrid before it hosts Real Betis later.

Vermaelen started in place of the suspended Gerard Pique, and his goal marks quite a turnaround for a player who only appeared in the final league match of last season because of nagging injuries that had previously limited him in England.

Barcelona dominated possession throughout, but the closest the hosts came in the first half was when headed Messi’s left-flank cross off the bar in the 26th.

Malaga packed its area with defenders but ventured out on counterattacks. Barcelona’s Sergi Roberto was playing out of position in place of injured right back and did well getting back as a last man to intercept ’ pass for Duje Cop in the 52nd.

Thomas Vermaelen Scores His First Goal For Barcelona As They Beat Malaga 1 0
FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, from Argentina, second right, celebrates with his teammate Luis Suarez, from Uruguay, after scored against Malaga during a Spanish La Liga soccer match at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Neymar, who played his first game of the season after recovering from the mumps, focused on setting up Messi and almost assisted him twice near the start of the second half.

But Kameni was up the task when he stopped Messi with his seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th saves of the night as Barcelona pressed for a breakthrough. It finally came when Kameni parried Luis Suarez’s cross and Vermaelen used his left boot to sweep it home.

Malaga’s Charles could have snatched an injury-time equalizer, only for the substitute to scuff his shot from close range.

David Moyes’ Real Sociedad is still searching for its first victory— and its first goal— after the Basque side drew 0-0 with Real Sporting.

For Sporting, the point away from home was a second good result for the promoted club, which also held Madrid 0-0 last weekend.

Celta Vigo also hosts Rayo Vallecano later.