BARCELONA, Aug 25 (AP): Lionel Messi scored twice to help 10-man Barcelona start the Spanish league with a 3-0 win over Elche in the debut of coach Luis Enrique on Sunday, with the Argentina star looking eager to put last season’s disappointments behind him.
Barcelona’s Lionel Messi (C) celebrates his second goal with teammate Munir El Haddadi (L) and Jordi Alba during their Spanish first division match against Elche at Nou Camp stadium in Barcelona on Sunday
Messi used a signature burst of speed to dribble free of a pack of opponents before slotting in Barcelona’s first goal in the 41st.
Minutes later Barcelona lost Javier Mascherano to a direct red card when he fouled Elche’s Garry Rodrigues with only goalkeeper Claudio Bravo to beat.
But Barcelona’s 18-year-old Munir El Haddadi, starting for the injured Neymar, scored seconds after halftime before Messi got his second goal in the 63rd after again confounding a group of defenders.
Elsewhere, promoted Eibar beat Real Sociedad 1-0 for a winning debut in the first division, while Celta Vigo beat Getafe 3-1.
After Barcelona lost its Spanish league title in the last round of last season and Argentina lost to Germany in the World Cup final, Messi summed up his desire for the new campaign to begin by writing on Facebook before the game: “First match today!!! I hope God is on our side for a great season.”
It started with a bad omen, though: Just seconds after kickoff, the game was paused when a black cat ran onto the Camp Nou pitch before stewards managed to herd it off.
But aside from Mascherano’s red card, there was no bad luck for Barcelona.
Messi looked back to his best and his pair of goals seemed the perfect answer to critics who had said the four-time world player of the year had lost a step.
He was lively from the start, both in attack and in defense, and scored his goals in classic Messi fashion: putting the ball on his left boot to breeze around his markers before picking his spot in the opponent’s net.
With Neymar out and new signing Luis Suarez suspended until October, Munir got the nod from Enrique and had Barcelona’s first chance when he fired the ball off the goalframe in the 22nd. Andres Iniesta followed suit with a strike onto the crossbar in the 32nd as Barcelona piled up chances before Messi converted. Sergio Busquets sent an errant Elche pass to Messi, who used four quick touches to open an angle around three Elche players before slotting home his first goal.
Moments after Barcelona grabbed the lead, Busquets’ poor back pass forced Mascherano to foul Rodrigues to stop a one-one-one opportunity with Bravo.
Elche failed to take advantage of the extra man and Munir, who had only debuted with Barcelona’s “B-team” in March, doubled the lead with a skillful tap with the tip of his left boot to float Ivan Rakitic’s long pass over goalie Przemyslaw Tyton.
Messi added the third goal despite being shadowed by four defenders, skirting along the edge of the area until he saw the chance to slot the ball inside the post.