It looked all too easy and it was. It took Barcelona barely three minutes to carve up Levante and open the scoring in their Week 1 fixture. Before half-time, they had scored another five goals. By full-time, the score-board read 7-0. And it could have been more, though it was enough to set a new record – the biggest opening match day winning margin in the club’s history.
It was not the best preseason by any accounts for the Catalan giants. Tito Vilanova was forced to step down just as the players were returning from holiday with Tata Martino quickly installed as the new boss. Yet judging by their display at the Camp Nou on Sunday evening, one would not know it. Barca were sublime.
The intensity, which they lacked at times last season, was back. The Blaugrana pressed all over the park, chasing and harrying. It was reminiscent of the Pep Guardiola days when he set the side a six-second time limit to win back the ball. And it proved as effective as ever and no more so than with the third goal. Lionel Messi robbed David Navarro of the ball near his goal line and after a few quick interchanges, it eventually bobbled through to Dani Alves to poke it home.
Messi twice got on the score sheet himself – the first two of many to come this season one expects. Pedro also bagged a double while Xavi Hernandez and Alexis Sanchez got in on the scoring too. Virtually every goal was trademark Barcelona. Lots of crisp passes coupled with superb link-up play between the lines. It was delightful to watch. However, it must be said, Levante, who probably are a good bet for relegation this season, did not put up much of a fight.
Many teams will fear succumbing to the same fate when they have to travel to Barcelona. Worryingly for them, Andres Iniesta, Jordi Alba and Neymar were all on the bench. Once these guys are in the team and in form, well, it is a scary thought for the rest of La Liga.
If the rout at the Camp Nou raised a few concerns about the competitiveness of the League this season, the following match at the Santiago Bernabeu quelled such fears as Real Betis gave as good as they got.
Carlo Ancelotti was making his debut for Real Madrid on the touchlines and the home crowd were expecting to see what he had promised them – free flowing attacking football. The early signs were promising, as Los Blancos retained possession and went on the offensive. But, much like they did last season under Jose Mourinho, they still went behind first, to an inspired Betis outfit.
The Madrid players seemed a little out of step. Karim Benzema who was caught offside on countless occasions and, in fluffing his lines more than once, cut a frustrated figure. Still, he did get the equaliser after being played in nicely by Isco – one of the few Madrid players to shine.
In fact, Isco proved the saviour on his debut – the pint-sized midfielder popping up to score the winner, scoring with a header for the first time in his career and instantly endearing himself to the Madrid faithful. Interesting to note, Ancelotti left Iker Casillas on the bench.
The night got even better late on. The most competitive game, at least on paper, lived up to expectation. Two golazos, one from Sevilla’s Diego Perotti and one from Atletico’s Cristian Rodriguez, lit up the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan but it was Diego Costa who stole the show with his two goals to earn all three points for Diego Simeone’s men. No Radamel Falcao, no problem.