Madrid: Lionel Messi’s double and a David Villa goal on his return from injury helped Barcelona hammer visitors Real Sociedad 5-1 to give new coach Tito Vilanova the perfect start to their La Liga campaign on Sunday.
Carles Puyol and Pedro scored the other goals as Barca claimed an immediate lead in the standings over arch-rivals Real Madrid, who were held 1-1 at home by a feisty Valencia side.
The champions had earlier dominated the match at the Bernabeu, but were frustrated by a new-look Valencia and some outstanding saves from goalkeeper Diego Alves.
World Player of the Year Messi, who scored a league record 50 goals last season, carried on where he left off by settling Barca down with quick strikes to give them a 3-1 lead inside 15 minutes at the Nou Camp.
“I like scoring, but I like Barca winning even more,” said Messi. “I’m just continuing to play the same way, trying to help the group and playing so our fans can enjoy it.”
Pedro volleyed in a fourth just before the break but the biggest cheer was reserved for Spain striker Villa when he was brought on in the 74th minute after eight months out with a broken leg and then stroked home the fifth goal towards the end.
“It’s always important to start with a win,” Vilanova, who has stepped up from assistant to replace Pep Guardiola, told a news conference.
“It has been a perfect night because David (Villa) has returned with a goal. I’m very pleased but this is only the beginning.”
Although it is the first round of matches, Barca’s two-point advantage over Real is significant because Jose Mourinho’s side only dropped 14 points in their 38 games last term on their way to a league record tally of 100.
In the Real match, Gonzalo Higuain gave his side a 10th-minute lead from Angel Di Maria’s cross and, in stifling temperatures, they comfortably held Valencia at bay until just before the break.
The visitors, with a host of new faces, had few ideas going forward but levelled when Jonas headed in from a free kick.
Real defender Pepe clashed heads with Iker Casillas trying to prevent the goal and at half-time was substituted and taken to hospital to spend the night as a precaution, the club said.
Ronaldo, who set a club record with 46 league goals last season, was uncharacteristically subdued and failed to manage a shot on goal. The Portugal forward acknowledged that neither he nor the team played well.
“I’m not 100 per cent but I hope to get into shape as soon as possible,” he said. “It wasn’t a good game for us. We played poorly in the first half, better in the second. We created chances but we couldn’t finish them off. We have to keep our chins up and play good football.”
Goalkeeper Alves was Valencia’s outstanding player in the second half, keeping out a string of efforts as Real raised their game and pressed but their opponents held firm to help earn a point for their new coach Mauricio Pellegrino.