Barcelona maintain perfect start with nervy win
Madrid: Barcelona survived a couple of second-half scares to secure a nervous 1-0 win at Malaga on Sunday and maintain their perfect start to their La Liga title defence.
The champions were missing the injured Lionel Messi and struggled to find a way through the home defence until fullback Adriano cut in from the right and curled a powerful shot into the far corner moments before halftime.
Barca defender Gerard Pique diverted the ball onto the crossbar with his back in the 58th minute before Malaga came desperately close to an equaliser.
Roque Santa Cruz found space on the left and cut the ball back from the byline but teenage forward Fabrice Olinga scuffed his shot and it bounced away off a post.
Barca`s new signing Neymar, again starting on the bench, looked sharp when he replaced Pedro with around half an hour left and the Brazil forward drew a fine save from goalkeeper Willy Caballero with a free kick.
Caballero`s opposite number Victor Valdes then rescued his team with a superb point-blank save from substitute Seba Fernandez`s header and a deflected Neymar shot flew narrowly over in a frantic finale.
The victory leaves Barca at the top of the standings after two matches following their 7-0 drubbing of Levante in last weekend`s opening game.
Atletico Madrid also have six points in second place after Turkey playmaker Arda Turan produced a masterclass to help them to a 5-0 drubbing of city rivals Rayo Vallecano in the earlier kickoff at the Calderon.
Sevilla drew 0-0 at Levante, while Real Betis were beaten 2-1 at home to Celta Vigo in the late game.
Barca`s Spain international Cesc Fabregas said fatigue after Wednesday`s Spanish Super Cup first leg at Atletico, which ended 1-1, may have been the reason for Barca`s sluggish performance on the south coast.
Barca host Atletico for the second leg on Wednesday and will be bidding for their first silverware under new coach Gerardo Martino, brought in to replace the ailing Tito Vilanova.
"We suffered in those final five minutes but in football you have to know how to suffer," Fabregas said in a pitch-side interview with Spanish television broadcaster Canal Plus.
"It`s true that we are starting a new season, with a lot of new things and we still have room for improvement," the former Arsenal captain added.
"We played a really, really good first half but it`s true that in the second we dropped our intensity a little.
"Perhaps we were tired from Wednesday`s match, which wasn`t easy, and playing these two extra games is more demanding. It was a very, very tough win tonight and a very important one."
Barca`s arch rivals Real Madrid, who won their opening game at home to Betis last weekend, play at Granada on Monday.
Arda shone and Diego Costa had another excellent game as Atletico dealt out a sound drubbing to neighbours Rayo.
A host of Rayo`s top performers left the cash-strapped club in the close season and Atletico were far superior on a sun-drenched evening in the Spanish capital.
Raul Garcia stooped to head Diego Simeone`s side in front from a Gabi corner in the 17th minute and Diego Costa made it 2-0 three minutes later when he struck from Arda`s assist.
Costa turned provider in the 35th minute when he sent Arda clear with a deft flick and the Turkey international rounded Rayo goalkeeper David Cobeno and stroked the ball into the net.
The heavily bearded Arda, given a rousing ovation when he was replaced with around 20 minutes left, capped a fine performance when he floated a cross over from the left for an unmarked Tiago to nod in a 53rd-minute fourth.
Spain forward David Villa, who joined Atletico from Barcelona in the close season, had a frustrating night and cracked a first-time shot against the bar in the 78th minute before Garcia scored his second in the 90th.