Barcelona cruised to their second 2-0 win of the season on Saturday afternoon, with a comfortable victory over Alaves, as Lionel Messi became the first ever player to hit 350 La Liga goals.
Ernesto Valverde's men had some scores to settle going into the match. Alaves' 2-1 victory at the Nou Camp last September was one of the shocks of the season, and another defeat would compound a horrible August for Barcelona.
Valverde made three changes from his side that beat Real Betis last week, with Aleix Vidal, Gerard Pique and Andres Iniesta coming back into the side. Messi was deployed as a false-nine in the attack.
It was a mixed first-half for Ernesto Valverde's men, as they enjoyed much of the ball but with very little end product. Barca had 80% possession in the opening 45 minutes but looked relatively uninspiring against their Basque opponents.
With Messi playing in a false-nine role, Barcelona were often left without a direct attacking focal point and with Gerard Deulofeu as their most advanced player. This was bread and butter for Alaves, who looked like a comfortable defensive unit ahead of their goal.
It was in the 38th minute that the biggest moment of the first half came. A cross from the right of the Alaves box saw Gerard Pique appear to attempt an overhead kick to produce an effort on goal.
However, the referee pointed to the penalty spot, claiming that Alaves defender Rodrigo Ely had been grappling him to the floor. Whilst replays suggested that this may be true, it was certainly a harsh decision against the home side and the otherwise impressive Ely.
Step-up Messi, searching for his first goal of the La Liga season and 350th of all time, to take the penalty. His run-up was short and slightly laborious, offering a hint of foreshadowing of what was to come. The Argentinean stroked the ball towards the left corner but was denied by ex-Real Madrid keeper Fernando Pacheco, who made an excellent save.
The penalty miss sent the two teams into the break in contrasting fortunes: Barcelona ruing the potential fact that it may not be their day and the home side thinking exactly the opposite.
The away side started the second-half with renewed vigour, and they finally managed to break the deadlock in the 55th minute. Nice interplay between Jordi Alba and Andres Iniesta led to the left-back putting in a low cross into the box. Messi nipped in ahead of four Alaves defenders before hitting a deflected shot into the net. 1-0.
It was soon two for Barcelona and two for Messi, as chaotic defending in the Alaves defence allowed substitute Paco Alacer to head the ball through to the Argentinean. Messi lashed the ball first time into the corner of the net, ensuring a second victory of the season for Valverde's men.
The remainder of the match was played at an exhibition pace by the Catalan side, with Messi hitting the woodwork the only major action of the remaining half-an-hour. New Barcelona signing Paulinho was also introduced to his new team with a five-minute cameo at the end of the match.
So, as against Real Betis, another solid - if not dazzling - win for Barcelona. If asked two weeks ago, Valverde's men would certainly have taken six points, four goals and two conceded after two matches. Messi and co. are doing their best to banish the negativity that has swirled around the Nou Camp in this early season period, and the star is leading the way.