Lionel Messi scored Barcelona's 6,000th La Liga goal as the Blaugrana began their title defence with a 3-0 win over Alaves at the Camp Nou on Saturday. Messi opened the scoring in the 64th minute for the champions, who also got a goal from substitute Philippe Coutinho seven minutes from time.
Messi netted his second in stoppage time to cap a marvellous display and ensure Barca laid down a marker to their prospective title rivals.
Lionel Messi Won't Slow Down After Andres Iniesta Departure
After seeing creative talisman Andres Iniesta leave for Japan, Messi may have been expected to slow down without the luxury of regular supply.
Yet if this performance is evidence of things to come, Messi will be just as good as he's always been, per the Evening Standard's Ben Hayward:
The Argentinian magician showed no signs of slowing as he dazzled the Alaves defence with wizardry and purpose. Messi cracked a free-kick off the bar, threaded a pass Ousmane Dembele should have scored from, and generally ran his markers ragged.
The skill and vision on display from Barca's No. 10 was a reminder recent events haven't distracted Messi, per La Liga writer Andrew Gaffney:
Messi's now 31 but remains firmly the main man for his club—a fact he underlined when he took it upon himself to conjure the breakthrough on 64 minutes. His sweetly struck low free-kick was a moment of magic from a player approaching peak form rather than the downturn of his career.
It was fittingly also a landmark goal for both player and club:
Messi needs help with carrying the load after fellow attackers Luis Suarez and Dembele floundered for much of the game.
Ousmane Dembele Won't Make the Grade
Messi's burden would be eased if Dembele started to justify the £135.5 million fee the Blaugrana paid to sign him from Borussia Dortmund in 2017. So far, though, injuries and inconsistency have blighted the France international forward, who continues to misfire in the final third.
Barca acquired Dembele for his pace, technique and eye for both a pass and goal. All of those qualities deserted the 21-year-old during a lacklustre first-half display, as football journalist Rik Sharma noted:
There was no surprise when manager Ernesto Valverde substituted a disappointing Dembele for Arthur on 78 minutes. His being replaced before 90 minutes had passed was one more reminder Dembele's career at the Camp Nou is flagging.
He has a lot to prove before he can be considered somebody with the talent to support Messi, let alone make the same kind of impact. It's already looking like the one-time Rennes ace won't make the grade in Spain's top flight.
Philippe Coutinho Must Start More Often
Dembele may not be the player Barca expected, but Coutinho can become the team's creative talisman—provided he starts more often. The Brazil international didn't always make the starting XI after moving to the Camp Nou from Liverpool in January, and he began the new season on the bench.
Yet Coutinho's introduction 12 minutes from time proved why he should be a regular in Valverde's best lineup. The diminutive schemer added an artful flourish to Barca's passing, upping the pace of possession and varying their movement off the ball.
Coutinho's ability to spot a pass encouraged more incisive runs from Messi and Co., while his own knack for getting beyond the front made him an obvious target for through passes.
Messi had already played him in once, before the same combination created the second goal.
Barca were quicker and more fluent with Coutinho on the pitch, meaning he has to be a regular feature.
Messi and Coutinho will be in Valladolid next Saturday, while Alaves will host Real Betis.