Lionel Messi appeared in mid-season form as he led Barcelona to a 3-0 victory over Alaves to open their 2018-19 LaLIga title defence on Saturday night at the Camp Nou in Barcelona.
Messi fired in a brilliant free-kick in the second half and added a stoppage time goal to help earn Barcelona a hard-fought three points against a defensively solid Alaves side.
The goal was Barca’s 6000th in the top flight and came nine years on from their 5000th, which was also scored by Messi.
It also ensured the club captain has now found the net in 15 league campaigns in a row, a feat that will be matched by Sergio Ramos if he scores for Real Madrid against Getafe on Sunday.
There could have been more goals for Messi, too, as the Argentine twice struck the
woodwork, a trend that has apparently continued into the new campaign from last season.The fans at the Camp Nou also got their first live look at new signings Arthur and Arturo Vidal, who each came off the bench in the second half, while fellow summer arrivals Malcom and Lenglet were unused substitutes.
Manager Ernesto Valverde had an interesting wrinkle in his starting XI to open the club’s league campaign, as Sergi Roberto was slotted into midfield, while Philippe Coutinho took a seat on the bench.Barcelona had near complete control of the ball but were doing little to make Alaves feel uncomfortable.
The Basque side sat in and defended with lines and four and five, making things complicated for the hosts in the final third.About the only takeaway through the first half-hour was the fine passing form of Lionel Messi. The Argentine flighted several cross-field passes that landed with astounding accuracy at the feet of the intended target.Barcelona were creeping closer though and Messi was inches away from breaking the deadlock via free kick but it stung the crossbar. Minutes later Ousmane Dembele was played in and had the first goal on his right boot, only for Pachecoto stand tall and make the save.
Valverde did not hesitant to make a change at half-time to try to spark the Barcelona attack, and so Semedo was yanked off and replaced by Coutinho, with Sergio Roberto shifting to right-back. But even with the Brazilian, Barcelonawere still bereft of ideas to crack Alaves’ defensive code, and by the hour mark the frustration was starting to build with each missed chance.Yet if there is one thing that Barcelona has in their favour that can tip the scales, it is the genius of Messi.
Fouled right outside the Alaves area, Messi’s second crack at goal via free kick was not wasted. Instead of his trademark curling left-footer into the corner of net, the Argentine opted to cheekily go under the leaping feet of the Alaves wall and the ball skipped in past the flat-footed Pacheco for a 1-0 Barcelona lead.
The goal opened things up and after three occasions Barcelona in which they had clear chances to double their lead — Messi hitting the post, Luis Suarez and then Coutinho — the Brazilian would put the victory on ice by polishing off a build-up with a strong right-footed shot to make it 2-0.For good measure, Messi would add a stoppage time goal by skillfully trapping a ball with his chest and fighting off an Alaves defender before beating Pacheco to complete his brace and earn Barcelona the 3-0 final scoreline.
Next up for Barcelona is a visit to newly-promoted Valladolid next Saturday.