Lionel Messi earns perfect 10, sub Philippe Coutinho also stars in opener vs. Alaves
BARCELONA, Spain -- A second-half brace from Lionel Messi and a Philippe Coutinho strike got Barcelona's defence of La Liga off to a winning start on Saturday as they beat Alaves 3-0.
Alaves, who were the last team to win at Camp Nou in the league, back in September 2016, made it to the break goalless, but their resistance was eventually broken in the 64th minute when Messi ripped a free kick under the wall.
Coutinho, who came on at half-time, sealed the points late on, bursting into the area and hammering past Fernando Pacheco before Messi added the third in stoppage time.
Disappointment at the World Cup with Argentina is clearly not going to have an effect on Messi's club form. He looked in brilliant shape, creating, organising, scoring and even hitting the woodwork twice. His first goal was Barca's 6,000th league goal -- he also scored the 5,000th way back in 2009 -- and his second goal means he now has 385 goals in Spain's top flight.
Coutinho's second-half cameo will also have pleased coach Ernesto Valverde, who will be happy to have started the season with three points and no injuries.
Barca once again relied on Messi to find the breakthrough and the lack of support from Luis Suarez was once again an issue. The Uruguayan struggled at the start of last season, too, eventually scoring 31 goals in all competitions, but it's his sluggishness and poor touch which are really worrying. Missed chances don't help, either.
Manager rating (out of 10)
7 -- To compensate for picking Messi, Suarez and Ousmane Dembele, Valverde opted for a more conservative midfield. Due to that, Barca struggled to create at times in the first half, but the coach had the foresight to bring Coutinho on after 45 minutes. The change made an immediate difference to how much of a threat his side posed.
Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 7 -- Didn't have any real goalkeeping to do but made sure his performance would be remembered with an outrageous piece of cold-blooded skill, intercepting a through ball meant for Jony and dinking it over the Alaves player's head in the process.
DF Nelson Semedo, 6 -- Did OK in the first half and will feel aggrieved to have been pulled at half-time for Coutinho, even if the Brazilian's introduction was necessary.
DF Gerard Pique, 7 -- Back from a jaunt to Orlando, where he finalised a proposal to revamp tennis' Davis Cup, he began the season in good form. Made a nice block on Ruben Sobrino in the first half and displayed an impressive range of passing.
DF Samuel Umtiti, 6 -- Due to France's World Cup exploits, Umtiti didn't have much of a preseason. At times, then, it looked as if he were playing a friendly here given how little was demanded of him.
DF Jordi Alba, 7 -- Always making the right runs and always in the right place but unable to capitalise. Missed three chances to add his name to the scoresheet: hitting the side netting, shooting straight at Pacheco and seeing a third chance deflected wide.
MF Sergio Busquets, 6 -- A typical Busquets performance. Calm on the ball and alert to Alaves' threat on the break.
MF Sergi Roberto, 6 -- Not at his sharpest in the first half in midfield but improved after the break when he reverted to right-back.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 6 -- Played two brilliant Hail Mary passes for Messi but also gave the ball away a couple of times. It was a surprise to see him start, given he's still getting back up to speed after reaching the World Cup final with Croatia last month.
FW Ousmane Dembele, 7 -- A promising performance which featured plenty of hold your breath moments as he ran at defenders. The one complaint would be his lack of efficiency in front of goal, as he wasted two good chances, but early signs suggest this could be a big season for him.
FW Lionel Messi, 10 -- New season, same Messi. Once again his free kick, which crept under the wall, paved the way for Barca to kick off the season with three points. He was the best player on the pitch by a mile, setting up chances for Suarez and Dembele, hitting the woodwork twice, scoring the opener and then adding another with the very last kick of the evening.
FW Luis Suarez, 5 -- Still involved as ever but struggling to find his best form. His touch was off when put through by Messi in the 12th minute and that was a theme which continued throughout the night. Sensing his frustration, the crowd responded by chanting "Uruguayan" but they couldn't help him turn things around.
MF Philippe Coutinho, 8 -- Coming on at half-time, the Brazilian added more attacking intent to Barca's midfield, which they lacked in the first half. Scored a fine goal, too, to suggest, like Dembele, this could be a huge year for him in Catalonia.
MF Arthur N/R -- Given the last quarter of an hour in the middle of the park after joining from Gremio for €31 million this summer.
MF Arturo Vidal, N/R -- Replaced Busquets for the final five minutes as he made his La Liga debut for Barcelona.