BARCELONA (Reuters) - Barcelona coach Luis Enrique was clearly delighted with Thomas Vermaelen's debut goal for the club on Saturday and said he was not surprised the Belgium defender was finally coming good after a long struggle with injury.
Vermaelen struck the winner 17 minutes from time in a 1-0 Spanish Primera Liga success against Malaga at the Nou Camp which maintained the champions' perfect start to their title defence with a maximum six points from two matches.
The ball dropped kindly for the 29-year-old, who barely featured last season after joining from Arsenal, at a corner and he showed excellent technique to smash it first-time into the net, later saying his subdued reaction was down to the fact he didn't know how to celebrate.
Vermaelen was only in the side due to Gerard Pique's suspension but his accomplished performance suggests he could get regular playing time this term as Barca seek to defend their Spanish league and Cup and European Champions League titles.
"I'm not surprised by his level of play," Luis Enrique told a news conference. "He is still not 100 per cent and has to keep accumulating minutes, but he is a big asset at set pieces, he has a lot of character and is an expert player."
Vermaelen suffered a hamstring injury at last year's World Cup Finals in Brazil before he signed for Barca, prompting some to question why the club completed the deal, which cost Barca just under 20 million euros (S$32 million).
He eventually needed surgery and did not make his club debut until the final weeks of last season.
Vermaelen's partner in central defence on Saturday, Javier Mascherano, said the Belgian's goal against Malaga was a reward for his effort in getting himself fit again.
"The goal is huge for Thomas," the Argentinian told reporters. "Especially with everything he had to fight against last year when he couldn't really demonstrate how good he was. I am very happy for him."