Barcelona 3-0 Elche
Lionel Messi opened his La Liga season in style with two goals to help Barcelona to a 3-0 victory over Elche at the Camp Nou.
But the mercurial Argentina star was joined in the limelight by teenage forward Munir El-Haddadi, who scored on his first-team debut.
Luis Enrique, making his own debut in the dugout, saw his team even brush off the dismissal of Javier Mascherano for a last-man challenge in the closing stages of the first period to claim victory with ease.
Barcelona welcomed goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, defender Jeremy Mathieu, midfielder Ivan Rakitic, Munir and Rafinha to their starting line-up.
Elche handed debuts to loan signings Przemyslaw Tyton and Mario Pasalic, while Pedro Mosquera also made his bow.
The game was interrupted early on by the arrival of a black cat on the Camp Nou pitch—perhaps the portent for the season for Enrique?
Or maybe even for Messi, who produced a tremendous piece of skill to baffle three Elche players early in the game, although the eventual chance came to nothing.
In the 11th minute, the Argentina international was at it again with a delightful pass from the outside of his boot to free Dani Alves, but Elche goalkeeper Tyton was off his line quickly.
Unsurprisingly, Barcelona bossed possession in the opening stages with captain Andres Iniesta, Messi and Rakitic all probing the Elche defence.
Messi dropping deep a lot, with Munir & Rafinha getting out of the way so Leo can switch play to raiding Alves or Alba.— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) August 24, 2014
In the 22nd minute, Iniesta played Munir into the Elche area, and the youngster created space before unleashing a drive, which struck the crossbar. Some superb passing and link-up play between Messi and Iniesta lit up the Camp Nou, but the chance, unfortunately for the home side, came to nothing.
Tyton's crossbar was again rattled in the 32nd minute with a sweet strike from Iniesta after Messi had found his team-mate in space. Alves then went close with a thunderous strike from the edge of the area from a Rakitic corner.
Seriously, Barca really are playing the crossbar challenge. #fcblive— KICKTV (@KICKTV) August 24, 2014
But the match took an unusual turn in one late first-half minute. Messi displayed brilliance with his first touch to collect a pass on the edge of the Elche area before baffling several opposition players and firing past Tyton.
Lionel Messi has scored his 244th La Liga goal. He's seven goals shy of Telmo Zarra's La Liga record of 251.— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) August 24, 2014
Messi's goal! https://t.co/iNZqwXkfiL— Football Tweets (@FutballTweets) August 24, 2014
The celebrations had only just died down when Tyton launched a long kick upfield for Rodrigues to chase. Mascherano realised the danger, but he also recognised he was a step behind the Elche forward and tripped him. The referee had little option but to brandish a red card at the Argentina international.
Mascherano was sent off for this last man challenge. https://t.co/hBOxSMoi7p— Bench Warming (@TheBenchWarming) August 24, 2014
Enrique brought off Rafinha for Marc Bartra for the second half following the red card.
Less than a minute into the second period, though, 10-man Barcelona added a second goal when a splendid Rakitic chipped ball into Munir saw the youngster fire the ball past Tyton with the outside of his left boot.
Munir's goal https://t.co/AfzLzurPKZ— BarcaHD (@Barcelona_HD) August 24, 2014
In the 63rd minute, Messi added his second of the night. After collecting an Alves pass just inside the Elche area, the Barca star found space before sending the ball beyond Tyton's despairing dive.
If there were doubts about whether he's still the master, it looks like Lionel Messi may use the 2014-15 season to squash them.— Alex Richards (@AA_Richards) August 24, 2014
Messi has done it again. 3-0. http://t.co/ueXAJzJhGX— Football Centre (@FootbaIlCentre) August 24, 2014
With the points won, Barcelona began to sit back, but there was little to concern them from the Elche forward line, despite their one-man advantage.
For Messi and Barcelona, it was business as usual.
Selected player ratings
Lionel Messi: A
The Barcelona star is clearly relishing the new season under Enrique. Playing with more freedom than under Gerardo Martino, Messi ran the show for Barcelona as always, and he left Elche chasing shadows.
Another great find from the world-renowned youth academy at Barcelona. The 18-year-old made his mark during pre-season, and his form in the La Liga opener will have given food for thought to Enrique.
Ivan Rakitic: A-
An excellent debut for the new Barcelona midfielder. It looks as though he has been part of the Camp Nou first team for years.
Barcelona travel to Villarreal in La Liga next Sunday, while Elche will play host to Granada on the same day.
Luis Enrique: "There are high expectations for Munir, but we shouldn't exaggerate. Things look good, but he still has to improve a lot."— barcastuff (@barcastuff) August 24, 2014
Luis Enrique: "I've always said Messi is the best player in the world. In everything - scoring, assisting, defending, putting pressure..."— barcastuff (@barcastuff) August 24, 2014
Munir: "Very happy with my debut, team win and my goal. It's an honor to score here at the Camp Nou, to play alongside Messi, everyhting..."— barcastuff (@barcastuff) August 24, 2014
FT: Barcelona 3-0 Elche. Barça always in control, dominated the game. Two for Messi, one for Munir, red for Mascherano. #LaLiga— Karl Matchett (@karlmatchett) August 24, 2014
FT Barca 3-0 Elche. All good at Camp Nou, Messi scoring & working hard, new La Masia grad to marvel at. Elche never at races even w/10.— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) August 24, 2014