Barcelona began the defence of their La Liga title in promising style on Saturday evening with a 3-0 home victory over Alaves - the last team to overcome the Catalonians on home soil in the Spanish top-flight.
The visitors started brightly, although were unable to find a tangible reward. And, as was destined simply due to the number of chances the hosts were creating, Barça eventually broke the deadlock via a smart Lionel Messi free-kick - which was rounded off in style as Philippe Coutinho smashed home after entering proceedings at half-time before the Argentine grabbed his brace in stoppage time.
#BarcaAlaves 0-0 HT: The visitors started brightly; however, Barcelona began to turn the screw as half-time approached. Messi rattling the crossbar is the closest the hosts have come, but Dembele has been inches away on three occasions from unlocking the defence. Good opening 45.— Joe Owens (@jwpowens) August 18, 2018
The result will be seen as a solid foundation to build on by Ernesto Valverde, who knows from last season the dedication required to lift the La Liga trophy come May.
Key Talking Point
Although it was only Barcelona's first outing of the domestic season proper, Valverde's decision to field an, arguably, weakened XI from the full squad at his disposal could be a significant message concerning things to come.
12 months ago, it was almost unfathomable to think of Barça setting up in anything but a 4-4-2 formation, and the XI - especially in La Liga - would not be made up of the strongest possible selection available.
On the opening day of last season Barcelona’s three substitutions were Lucas Digne, Aleix Vidal, and Denis Suarez.— EiF (@EiFSoccer) August 18, 2018
Tonight? Coutinho, Arthur, and Arturo Vidal.
Incredible squad transformation.
However, for Alaves' visit, Valverde opted instead to leave all four summer signings on the substitutes' bench, despite featuring heavily in pre-season, as well as overlooking
Coutinho in favour of a 4-3-3 set up with Sergi Roberto in midfield and Nelson Semedo operating at right back - for the first half at least.
And maybe this will be a trend for things to come in the league, with new captain Lionel Messi already stating to the fans Champions League success is high on the club's agenda this term following two consecutive quarter final exits.
Starting XI: Ter Stegen (6); Semedo (6), Pique (7), Umtiti (6), Alba (7); Roberto (8), Busquets (6), Rakitic (6); Messi (9*), Suarez (6), Dembele (8)
Substitutes: Coutinho (8), Arthur (7), Vidal (N/A)
Despite Ousmane Dembele orchestrating several attacks and coming close on several occasions to breaking the deadlock in the first half, Messi's second 45 showing was the standout performance on Saturday evening.
Barcelona's awaited debut delivered what fans have been used to seeing for over a decade by now: an absolute show by Messi. Just wonderful.— Rafael Hernández (@RafaelH117) August 18, 2018
The Argentine's ever-present intricate footwork and overall mind-boggling wizardry was on full display yet again, with the 31-year-old hitting the woodwork on two separate occasions either side of recording Barcelona's 6000th league goal via a beautiful under-the-wall free kick.
After the World Cup, there were doubts cast over the Camp Nou great's state of mind and whether he would be able to find a similar level to that of last year following such a disappointing summer.
However, if his showing against Alaves is anything to go by, including the strength and tenacity showed to secure his brace late on, Messi is still very much the same player he was 12 months ago.
Despite an overall free-flowing showing, Suarez lacked the cutting edge many would associate with the Uruguayan at times, and sloppy build-up play, as well as an absence of his customary defence-bending runs, only added to Saturday evening's frustrations.
And although he grabbed a last minute assist to set up Messi for his second of the evening, it was a stark contrast to the 31-year-old seen during pre-season.
Starting XI: Pacheco (9*); Aguirregabiria (8), Laguardia (8), Maripan (8), Duarte (8); Torres (6), Menendez (7), Mubarak (6), Garcia Sanchez (6), Gomez; Sobrino Pozuelo (5)
Barça were gooood. Alaves defended very well but on another day we score double what we scored today. We lacked the final pass in the box so many times and Pacheco had a great game.— Guardiolista (@LaComputadora14) August 18, 2018
Substitutes: Marin (6), Gonzalez (6), Burgui (6)
Despite conceding three times, visitor's goalkeeper Pacheco - alongside his defensive guardian's herculean efforts during the opening 45 minutes - made sure the Basque Country outfit left Catalonia with their pride still intact.
Damn you Pacheco!— totalBarça (@totalBarca) August 18, 2018
In what would have been a contest with added personal spice after graduating from Real Madrid's academy and featuring for both the B and C teams over three senior years in the Spanish capital, the 26-year-old custodian made several excellent saves to keep the scores level for over an hour.
And with very little fault lying with the custodian over Messi's opener, or the additional duo of strikes, it will be a performance to remember for the former Spain Under-21 international.
It seems unfair to label any of Alaves' XI as the 'worst player' after what was - on the whole - a solid opening showing against the reigning champions.
However, lone striker Ruben Sobrino Pozuelo, although maybe through no fault of his own, was largely ineffective throughout the contest and offered his side little support in search for an out while under Barça's consistent pressure.
There is still much to learn about this Barcelona outfit, although a 3-0 victory to kick things off is not a bad introduction.
Valverde will be pleased with his side's application for the entire 90 minutes, an aspect, on occasion, which was absent last term.
However, it is when the games begin to come more frequent, particularly after the winter break, when the Catalonians' true colours will bear through. But, so far, so good.