Messi off the mark in Barca win

Lionel Messi bagged a brace as Barcelona began their title defence with a 3-0 victory over Alaves on Saturday.

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Messi's free kick broke the deadlock after an hour, before Philippe Coutinho came off the bench to fire in Barca's second and the No 10 wrapped up the win deep in stoppage time.

The Catalans were only Coutinho away from naming a full-strength XI, while Alaves travelled without defensive lynchpin Rodrigo Ely.

Abelardo Fernandez's side were the last team to win at Camp Nou in La Liga, all the way back in September 2016, and they threatened to repeat the feat after they held the Blaugrana in the first half.

However, the Glorioso were made to sweat by Messi hitting the bar with a free kick and Ousmane Dembele not only failing to take a one-on-one but also poking wide from a few yards out.

Ernesto Valverde boldly sacrificed right-back Nelson Semedo for Coutinho at the start of the second period, yet it was Messi who gave Barca the breakthrough they so craved, drilling a free kick into Fernando Pacheco’s bottom right.

As well as being their 6,000th goal, it opened the floodgates for the hosts as Alaves were forced to come out of their shell, although Pacheco was on hand to keep the visitors just 1-0 down.

However, the former Real Madrid goalkeeper could only watch Coutinho’s curler fly past him after he cut inside from the left, before Messi – on the prowl for a record-breaking 10th title – tapped in at the death.

Barcelona 3-0 Alaves

Messi 64, 90, Coutinho 83

Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Semedo (Coutinho 46), Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets (Arturo Vidal 85) Sergi Roberto; Messi, Suarez, Dembele (Arthur 77)

Alaves: Pacheco; Ruben Duarte, Maripan, Laguardia, Martin; Dani Torres (Marin 68); Jony (Borja Baston 68), Wakaso, Manu, Ibai; Sobrino (Burgui 71)

Referee: Sanchez Martinez