MADRID — Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino admitted his side weren’t at their free-flowing best as they were lucky to escape with a 1-0 victory away to Malaga on Sunday night.
Without the injured Lionel Messi, Barca struggled to break down a stubborn Malaga side, but did manage the only goal of the game thanks to Adriano’s 18 metre effort just before halftime.
The visitors were, however, given two huge let offs in the second-half as Fabrice hit the post for Malaga before Victor Valdes made a crucial save from Sebastian Fernandez in the final minute.
“At times we weren’t as effective as we could have been,” Martino told a Press conference afterwards.
“In the first-half we had chances and control of the game, but we couldn’t maintain the same control of the ball in the second-half and they had two clear chances, one against the post and the other that Victor managed to save.
“We didn’t take advantage of the times when we had space in the second-half.”
Despite Messi’s absence, Martino decided to leave Neymar on the bench for the third consecutive game, but the Brazilian was once again bright when he came on for the final half hour and even forced Willy Caballero into a fine save from a well-struck free-kick.
“You can already see the difference in him between the last two matches and the first league match against Levante,” added Martino.
Neymar’s time could come in the return leg of the Spanish Super Cup against Atletico Madrid tomorrow night and Martino is also confident that Messi could be fit to face Diego Simeone’s men.
“He has trained today and we will see how he feels tomorrow.
“We have a day to make a decision, but with the information that I have today we are very happy with how he is recovering.”
In Italy, Napoli gave new coach Rafael Benitez a flying start when they beat Bologna 3-0 in their opening Serie A game on Sunday, while predecessor Walter Mazzarri celebrated his first league game in charge of Inter Milan with a 2-0 win over Genoa.
Benitez was able to enjoy his debut for Napoli as last season’s runners-up began life without Edinson Cavani by over-running Bologna with two goals from Marek Hamsik and one from Spaniard Jose Callejon who was making his debut.
Mazzarri, by contrast, was made to suffer as Inter Milan spluttered to a 2-0 win with late goals from Yuto Nagatomo and Rodrigo Palacio at a half-empty San Siro.
Mazzarri, Inter’s sixth coach since Jose Mourinho left after completing the treble three years ago, was greeted by a lukewarm response as he replaced Andrea Stramaccioni who led Inter to a dismal ninth last season, including seven home defeats.
“These boys hadn’t won at home for 4-1/2 months, they had to exorcise a psychosis,” Mazzarri told Sky Sports Italia.
“We are getting better and we are finding a balance. We are improving more than I had anticipated, we’ve done a lot in a short space of time.”
In other games, AS Roma beat promoted Livorno 2-0 on coach Rudi Garcia’s debut, while Hernanes and Antonio Candreva, from a penalty, scored in the first 20 minutes to set up a 2-1 win for Lazio over Udinese.
Torino overcame Sassuolo, another promoted side 2-0, while Cagliari beat Atalanta 2-1 and Parma and Chievo played out a goalless stalemate.
Cagliari, unable to find a suitable venue in Sardinia, played their game in Trieste on the border with Slovenia, around 1 000km from their base.
There was plenty for Benitez to celebrate at Napoli as Gonzalo Higuain also made an impressive debut following his move from Real Madrid while Pepe Reina in goal was barely tested.
“I saw perfect training sessions and expected this sort of match from my men,” Benitez, who lasted only six months as coach of Inter Milan on his only previous venture into Italian football, told Sky Sports Italia.
“This team has a lot of quality and in attack we can use any combination of (Goran) Pandev, Hamsik, Higuain, Callejon and (Lorenzo) Insigne, as well as another striker. We have the capability to change things around often.”
Callejon his the post early on and put Napoli ahead in the 32nd minute from a rebound after Hamsik’s shot had been saved.
Higuain had a goal ruled out for offside shortly afterwards before Hamsik scored a brilliant second, slaloming his way through the defence before scoring from a narrow angle despite being off-balance.