Lionel Messi was back in scoring business for Barcelona on Sunday, leading them to a resounding 4-0 win at home against Villarreal in a near-perfect La Liga opener for the Catalans under new coach Ronald Koeman.
Teenage forward Ansu Fati was in inspirational form for Barca, combining with Jordi Alba to side-foot home first time into the net in the 15th minute and then striking again four minutes later with another ice-cool finish.
Fati, the 17-year-old in his second season in Barca’s first team after a stunning rise last year from the club’s youth set-up, then won the penalty which captain Messi dispatched to score the third in the 35th.
Villarreal defender Pau Torres scored an own goal right at the end of the first half to heap more pain on Unai Emery’s side and Barca continued to dominate the game in the second half without managing to add to their hefty advantage.
Koeman, who succeeded Quique Setien in August after the crushing 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League, could hardly have hoped for a better start after the chaotic close season overshadowed by Messi’s attempt to leave the club.
The Argentine had unleashed his latest attack on the club’s hierarchy only on Friday, criticising the manner in which his former strike partner Luis Suarez had been forced out of the club.
Suarez enjoyed a superb debut at Atletico Madrid earlier on Sunday but here Barca did not seem to be missing the Uruguayan as they played with more pace and freedom than for many parts of last season, launching quickfire counters as well as building from the back.
“It was a good game for us especially in the first half, we were much better than them, we created lots of chances and scored four goals,” said Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets.
“We dropped our intensity a bit in the second half and they made things more difficult for us but overall we leave our first game with good sensations. We’re close to the team we want to be.”
The former Barca defender Koeman handed La Liga debuts to 17-year-old Pedri, Portuguese winger Francisco Trincao and Bosnian midfielder Miralem Pjanic in the second half.
Ousmane Dembele also came on for his first competitive appearance for Barca since last November after returning from hamstring surgery.