Barcelona got their consecutive title defence off to an ominous start as they thrashed Real Betis 6-2 in their La Liga opener on Saturday.
Claudio Bravo started what was likely to be his last game in a Barca shirt ahead of his proposed switch to Manchester City as new Betis boss Gus Poyet handed debuts to five new players, including ex-Blaugrana striker Antonio Sanabria.
Barca wasted no time in exerting their dominance on the match as Lionel Messi, just minutes after he led his side’s League trophy presentation, squared the ball to Jordi Alba at Antonio Adan’s far post, the left-back then cutting back for Arda Turan to finish off first time.
However, Betis were given a surprise reprieve 15 minutes later, when Ruben Castro – accountable for over half of the Andalusians’ goals last season – stood over a free kick on the edge of Barca’s box and blasted it into Bravo’s top-right corner, the goalkeeper failing to get a strong-enough hand on the ball.
Nonetheless, the Catalans only came back stronger and restored their advantage through Messi, who did what he does best, slaloming past opposition players from the right, pulling the ball onto his left foot and bending a deft effort past a flailing Adan.
They had time for a third goal before half-time as Luis Suarez got off the mark for 2016-17 with a razor-sharp finish from Sergi Roberto’s pass into feet in the box, the Uruguayan pinging the ball across Adan and into the bottom-left corner of the former Real Madrid man’s net.
A storm of Barca chances engulfed Camp Nou within the opening five minutes of the restart as Arda poked the rebound from a saved Messi shot past Adan but was rightly adjudged offside, before the Argentine forced the goalkeeper into another save moments later, the fallout of which couldn’t be tucked away by Ivan Rakitic.
Not that they wouldn’t add to their lead. Messi and Arda combined from a counterattack to play in Suarez for a tap-in, followed by the No 10 taking matters into his own hands after he collected the Turk's layoff and unleashed a daisy-cutter past Adan.
Munir came on for the impressive Denis on 70 minutes and looked to be staking his claim for the role of Barca’s fourth striker again as he picked out the run of Messi perfectly with a cutback, although Adan pushed the Argentine’s shot away.
Annoyingly for Barca, Castro – the veteran that keeps giving – fired a shot past Bravo near the penalty spot for his second of the game, capitalising from a piece of slack defending, but Adan was soon forced into another pair of top saves, first to keep out substitute Lucas Digne’s close-range finish from Messi’s layoff, before he tipped over a Rakitic piledriver.
Barcelona 6-2 Real Betis
Arda 6, Messi 37, 57, Suarez 42, 56, 82 (B) Castro 21, 84 (RB)
Barcelona: Bravo; Sergi, Pique, Umtiti, Alba (Digne 76); Busquets, Rakitic, Denis (Munir 70); Messi, Suarez, Arda
Real Betis: Adan; Bruno, Mandi, Pezzella; Cejudo, Jonas (Ceballos 36), Petros (Fabian 59), Felipe (Musonda 55), Durmisi; Sanabria, Castro
Referee: Undiano Mallenco