Life continues. The city will heal. That was the message as Lionel Messi shone, inspiring Barcelona to a crushing victory over Real Betis at a Nou Camp not cowed by the terror attacks in Catalonia on Thursday.
Barcelona hung a canvas outside the stadium with the hashtag ‘TotsSomBarcelona’ (We are all Barcelona), with some tourists returning their tickets after the horrific events which shook the city, but nearly 60,000 fans watched on as their side started the season with a comfortable victory.
An impeccable minute’s silence was observed, and then it was business as usual. Although the focus has understandably shifted, Barcelona as a club has endured a difficult summer.
On top of losing Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain and failing to sign any of their top transfer targets — Bellerin, Verratti, Coutinho, Dembele — they were thrashed 5-1 by Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup and lost Luis Suarez to a knee injury.
The MSN attack line lit up Nou Camp over the past three years, but only the M could carry the banner for the Catalans here, flanked instead by Paco Alcacer and Deulofeu, downgrades on Suarez and Neymar.
Sporting the name of the city, Barcelona, on his back—the team did as part of the club’s tribute to the victims of the attacks — the Argentine carried the weight of the team too.
Messi dipped a free-kick into the roof of the net, hit the post with another dead ball, drilled a low effort against the woodwork and struck it a third time with a cannonball from the edge of the box, as he spearheaded a new 4-1-4-1 formation constructed by Ernesto Valverde to account for losing two-thirds of his attack.
It looked for all the world like Messi had netted the goal he deserved when Barcelona broke the deadlock after 36 minutes, but replays showed it was Betis defender Alin Tosca who nudged Deulofeu’s cross beyond Antonio Adan.
Messi played in the man Barcelona brought back from Everton down the right and his fired in a low ball which Tosca diverted home under pressure from Messi.
Betis then demonstrated the price of not taking your chances at the Nou Camp. The Andalusians had an immediate chance to equalise but it led to Barcelona’s second goal.
Sergio Leon broke in down the right and Javier Mascherano, playing in Gerard Pique’s stead as the defender recovers from a groin injury, pulled off a sensational lunging tackle to rob the forward just as he was ready to strike.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen grabbed the loose ball and started a brutal counter-attack, which culminated in Deulofeu teeing up Sergi Roberto, who tucked home from inside the area to give Barcelona a cushion.