BARCELONA, Spain --

Thomas Vermaelen scored his first goal for Barcelona to give the team a second straight hard-fought 1-0 win in the Spanish league Saturday as it edged Malaga at Camp Nou.

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

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Kameni had denied Lionel Messi 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.

Vermalen 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.