Atletico Madrid yet again demonstrated their phenomenal set-piece prowess as they earned a vital three points at Almeria.
Returning to the scene of one of their rare defeats last season, the reigning champions were once more grateful to a headed goal from a corner as central defender Joao Miranda nodded home Koke’s delivery after an hour.
It was Miranda’s third of the season – all from set-pieces – and it means that six of Atletico’s seven goals in the league have come from dead ball situations.
Atletico twice threatened in the early stages, with Antoine Griezmann sending a header narrowly off target and Diego Godin, also with a header, forcing a good save from home goalkeeper Ruben.
The game then settled down, and although Almeria were rarely able to trouble Atletico’s back four, there was also very little threat from the Rojiblancos, whose manager Diego Simeone was in the stands for the last of his four game suspension.
Tiago drew another decent save from Ruben on the half-hour mark, and the Almeria stopper was again alert shortly before the interval to deny Raul Garcia.
Atletico’s frustration continued early in the second half as Ruben once more did well to deny Griezmann, and the visitors were looking increasingly desperate for the victory they needed to stay in touch with leaders Barcelona. But then came the textbook Atletico goal as Koke delivered a corner to the near post and Miranda rose high to power home a header.
A second nearly followed as Arda Turan produced some lovely skill to work his way into the area, but Ruben once again intervened.
Almeria had hardly threatened Miguel Angel Moya’s goal all night but gave Atletico a scare in the final stages when Verza’s free-kick cleared the wall but just missed the target.
Holders Manchester City smashed Sheffield Wednesday 7-0 and Chelsea edged Bolton Wanderers 2-1 as both teams overcame Championship opposition to reach the League Cup fourth round on Wednesday.
Frank Lampard and Edin Dzeko each scored twice as City strolled to victory with seven second-half goals at the Etihad Stadium, setting up a home game with Newcastle United.
Chelsea gave a first appearance of the season to goalkeeper Petr Cech and took a 25th-minute lead against Bolton when debutant Kurt Zouma lashed home after Gary Cahill's header was blocked at a corner.
Matt Mills equalised for Bolton six minutes later with a header from a deep free-kick that crept inside Cech's right-hand post, but Oscar gave Chelsea victory in the 55th minute with a low long-range drive.
Chelsea will visit fourth-tier Shrewsbury Town in round four.
Meanwhile, Tottenham Hotspur had to come from behind to win 3-1 at home to Nottingham Forest.
Championship leaders Forest made a bright start, hitting the bar through Ben Osborn's curler, and took the lead in the 61st minute when 19-year-old Jorge Grant tucked in a Lars Veldwijk cross.
But substitute Ryan Mason drew Spurs level with a 25-yard shot in the 72nd minute and late goals from Roberto Soldado and Harry Kane sent Mauricio Pochettino's side through.
Spurs will now host second-tier Brighton and Hove Albion, who won 3-0 at fourth-division Burton Albion.
Paul Dummett scored an extra-time winner as Alan Pardew's Newcastle, who are without a win in the league this season, claimed a much-needed 3-2 victory at Crystal Palace.
Emmanuel Riviere's first two Newcastle goals put the visitors 2-1 up after Dwight Gayle had given Palace the lead with a penalty, only for home debutant Sullay Kaikai to scramble home a 92nd-minute equaliser.
Newcastle then had Mehdi Abeid sent off after he collected a second yellow card, but Wales full-back Dummett's diving header with eight minutes of extra time remaining secured a fourth-round date with City.
In the night's other all-Premier League tie, West Bromwich Albion produced a stunning late rally to beat Hull City 3-2 and set up a trip to Championship outfit Bournemouth.
Goals from Tom Ince and Robbie Brady put Hull 2-1 up after Brown Ideye had given the hosts a 15th-minute lead, but Gareth McAuley equalised in the 87th minute before Saido Berahino grabbed the winner a minute later.
Barcelona’s early season optimism was dented as they dropped their first points of the campaign in a dull goalless draw at Malaga.
Although Luis Enrique can take the consolation that his team’s run of clean sheets has continued to six matches, it was a tepid attacking performance from the Catalan side who didn’t manage a single effort on target all night.
Lionel Messi and Neymar were disappointing in attack while Barca’s midfield creativity deserted them as Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic simply ran out of ideas.
Malaga had the first opportunity when a speedy counter-attack created an opening for Nordin Amrabat – preferred to Roque Santa Cruz in attack – but his effort lacked the power to trouble Claudio Bravo.
The first of few chances for the visitors came after 15 minutes when Messi tried his luck with a long-range free-kick, but it sailed well over the top.
The Argentine came close to the opener in an unconventional manner when he met a cross from Jordi Alba with his shoulder but the ball flew wide of Malaga keeper Carlos Kameni’s right-hand post.
With Malaga getting everyone behind the ball, it was a dour contest containing little goal threat at either end as the action took place almost exclusively in a congested space in the middle of the home team’s half.
Barca full-backs Alba and debutant right-back Douglas were unable to provide any attacking width as the hosts maintained their defensive discipline, with the exception of a dangerous low ball from Alba which flew across the face of goal and narrowly eluded Messi.
Malaga were showing next to no attacking intent, and off-colour opening periods from Barca’s front three of Messi, Neymar and Pedro ensured the stalemate stayed intact until the interval without ever really looking like being broken.
The second half started in a very different fashion as Malaga went on the offensive, penning Barca back into their own half without creating any goalscoring opportunities.
Struggling to find any fluency, Barca didn’t mount a meaningful second half attack until 12 minutes into the period, when Alba was again the outlet as he received a smart pass from Sergio Busquets and sent another centre bouncing across the face of goal.
However, the visitors then nearly took the lead on an unlikely route as Marc Bartra, making his first start of the season in defence, rose to meet a corner from Rakitic and headed narrowly wide.
Barca’s struggles were evident from Enrique’s decision to make a double change in attack shortly after the hour mark, introducing Sandro and Munir El Haddadi for the ineffective Neymar and Pedro.
Malaga threatened when Roberto Rosales ran onto a cut back from Juanpi and unleashed a ferocious shot which flew harmlessly well wide of the left upright, and Barca then had a huge let-off when Ignacio Camacho drilled a narrow-angled free-kick to the near post and Bravo clawed it off the goalline.
An off-the-ball spat between Messi and Weligton, which could have seen the Malaga defender sent off, enlivened the latter stages but there were no more chances and the right result ensued.