For the first time in almost a decade in La Liga, us fans don’t have the top two players in the world to drool over.
However, the magic of one remains and was evident as champions Barcelona launched the defence of a title which they are favourites to retain—certainly according to La Liga 2018 betting odds
Highlights of the game
Lionel Messi celebrates with fans after leading Barcelona to a 3-0 victory against Alaves during La Liga season opening game
The magic of Lionel Messi remains alive and well.
That was evident, even if Barcelona did leave it rather late to secure a hard-fought victory.
In many ways, the spirited-but-limited Alaves were perfect opponents, failing to muster a shot on target and laying the red carpet out with a guard of honour—in recognition of Barca’s title triumph last season and their Spanish Super Cup success earlier later in the week.
To their credit, the Basque said set themselves up so they were difficult to break down, with lines of four and five frustrating the hosts who naturally dominated possession.
Just as frustration was notching up a level and the Catalan giants were meeting resilience at every turn, Alaves’ defensive code was breached.
A superb free-kick under the wall after 64 minutes—remember this one at Russia 2018—opened the scoring from the little No.10 talisman who had earlier hit the crossbar from a free-kick.
Then half-time substitute Philippe Coutinho, for whom so much is expected as he starts his first full season in Catalonia, sealed the victory when he curled home a second seven minutes from time.
Messi, of course, had the final word in stoppage time when he trapped the ball with his chest, held off the attention of two defenders and steered a low shot into the bottom corner.
Looking ahead, there is a feeling that boss Ernesto Valverde has shipped out some of the players who probably weren’t up to scratch for a top squad, namely Andre Gomes, Yerry Mina and Marlon.
With respect, they are all players of calibre (and Gerard Deulofeu and Lucas Digne have more promise than the aforementioned), but Barca now seem to have more quality in key areas. The recruitment of Malcom and Arturo Vidal seem good business now, while the return from injury of Rafinha is a boost.
This match seemed to prove that point.
There’s also the fact some players who have not had a pre-season due to their exploits at the World Cup will need time to get up to speed, notably Ivan Rakitic and Samuel Umtiti.
Meanwhile, the likes of Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele, who showed plenty of promise here, will be looking to start their Barca careers in earnest.
Fans even got the chance to see two of their new recruits in the second half, with Arthur and Vidal brought on while fellow summer arrivals Malcom and Clement Lenglet remained on the bench.
In a post-Cristiano Ronaldo era at Real Madrid, Barca are the team to beat, even if they will miss Andres Iniesta at some point.
Whether it will be quite the margins of last term—a 14 point advantage over second-placed Atletico Madrid and a 17-point gap between themselves and arch-rivals Real Madrid—is highly unlikely, but they have started in style.
Messi, Barcelona’s top scorer last term with 34 goals, is up and running too!
Messi’s opener was Barcelona’s 6,000th La Liga goal. He also scored the club’s 5,000th league goal in 2009.
As well as scoring twice, the diminutive Argentina international also struck the woodwork twice.
Interestingly though, Messi has now scored in 15 consecutive La Liga campaigns. Furthermore, he alone has scored just over six percent of Barcelona’s top-flight goals in the club’s history with 385.
Alaves were the last club to win a league game at the home of Barcelona. They defeated them 2-1 at the Nou Camp in September 2016.
This was Luis Suarez’s 200th appearance for Barcelona since he joined the club in 2014.
Barcelona have only lost once at home on the opening day of the season (against Espanyol in 1939).
Next up for the champions, who will feature in plenty of La Liga 2018 highlights, is a trip to newly promoted Valladolid.
They then welcome another newly promoted side to the Nou Camp in Huesca on September before the international break.
Alaves’ first home match of the campaign is against Real Betis next weekend.
It’s a double-header for the hosts who then entertain Espanyol on September, again directly before the international break.
CHECK OUT OUR BLOG FOR MORE FOOTBALL STORIES & ODDS
Stay updated with everything sports and betting.
Follow us on social Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.