They may have endured difficult summers with their countries, but Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez showed no ill effects in picking up right where they left to fire Barcelona to a 6-2 victory over Real Betis in its opening La Liga match of the season. Lionel Messi bagged himself a brace while also setting up one of Suarez’s three goals as Barcelona strolled to a first three points of the campaign at the Camp Nou.
It is the performance of Messi that will perhaps be most reassuring to Barcelona fans. The 29-year-old’s shootout miss in the final of the Copa America Centenario helped cost Argentina an elusive major title and prompted his short-lived international retirement.
He returned to Barcelona with a new look of blonde hair and ginger beard. While that may not be to everyone’s taste, he demonstrated that his ability with his feet remains thankfully unaltered.
It was a dream start to the campaign for both him and his team, which was missing Neymar to Olympics duty and Andres Iniesta and Javier Mascherano to injury. It took the defending champion, which secured the Spanish Super Cup in midweek, just six minutes to get off the mark in La Liga.
A trademark passing move was concluded when Jordi Alba cut the ball back from the byline and Arda Turan, given his chance to make amends for a poor first season at the Camp Nou because of the early-season absentees, finished confidently.
Betis, though, which lost 4-0 in the same fixture last season, had an initial response for the home side. Ruben Castro struck a fine free-kick into the back of the Barcelona net, leaving Claudio Bravo, who has been strongly linked with a transfer to Manchester City, with perhaps at least a tinge of disappointment that he couldn’t get across his goal in time.
The visitors parity would be short-lived. With nine minutes to go before the interval, Messi took the game by the scruff of its neck, embarking on a trademark dribble through the middle, working the ball on to his wand of a left foot before, from the top of the arc, arrowing a drive into the back of the net.
There were plenty of other positives for coach Luis Enrique beyond the early form of his star man. For the first time in nine years, Barcelona was beginning a season without a player who has been so integral to the club’s success over that period, Dani Alves. But the versatile Sergi Roberto made a strong early case that he is the man to step into the Brazilian’s boots.
Having already registered his assist with a pass to set Messi on his way, the converted midfielder registered his second three minutes before the break, Latching onto a typically precise through ball from Messi, Roberto pulled the ball back right into the path of Suarez who swept the ball home first time.
If it wasn’t already, Barcelona put the result beyond any doubt with two goals in three minutes before the hour mark. The fourth goal again featured a scintillating move from the home side, with Messi at the heart of it. After dancing past a defender, he played a one-two with Turan to get in behind the Betis defense and lay the ball on a plate for Suarez to tap in his second goal.
Almost instantly, Messi had his second. Newly arrived Betis substitute Charly Musonda was caught on the ball and Turan quickly found Messi, who again took the ball with ease to the edge of the box before this time drilling the ball low and firm past former Real Madrid goalkeeper Antonio Adan.
Messi came close to getting his season up and running with a hat-trick, forcing a fine save from Adan, but instead it was Suarez, winner of La Liga’s Pichichi award last season, who put himself at the top of the scoring charts for this campaign. The Uruguayan, who failed to get on the pitch for Uruguay as his country crashed out at the group stage of the Copa America, took full advantage of a rare chance to hit a free-kick, sending it curling over the wall and beyond the dive of Adan.
Ruben Castro struck his second to grab a late consolation, but Barcelona and two of its famed forward trio had begun the season suggesting there will be no let up for the rest of La Liga this season.