MADRID, Spain (AFP) — A first-half hat-trick by Lionel Messi ensured Barcelona maintained their 100 per cent start to the La Liga season, with a thrilling 3-2 win over Valencia as Real Madrid also made it three wins from three games yesterday.
Messi had looked far from his best in Barca's Super Cup victory over Atletico Madrid in midweek, but looked more like his old self as he put Barca 2-0 up inside 39 minutes and was then brilliantly set up by Neymar to complete his hat-trick.
However, Valencia were amazingly back in the game by half-time as Helder Postiga struck twice in first-half stoppage time.
Barca then passed up a host of chances to put the game to bed in the second half and were nearly punished when Jonas struck the post four minutes from time.
Real Madrid continued their unblemished start under new manager Carlo Ancelotti as they beat Athletic Bilbao 3-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu to move alongside Villarreal at the top of La Liga.
After a promising start from the visitors, who had also won their opening two games, Madrid began to take control midway through the first half and went ahead when Isco collected Karim Benzema's lovely scooped pass and lifted the ball beyond Iago Herrerin.
Cristiano Ronaldo then registered his first goal of the season when he nodded Angel Di Maria's free kick home in first-half stoppage time and Isco made it 3-0 with a deflected strike in the second period before Ibai Gomez scored a consolation for Athletic late on.
"We have won all three games and this is the right road to having a good year," Isco told Canal Plus afterwards.
"We have started well and there is still margin to improve. We are improving with every game and this is our objective."
With all the transfer speculation surrounding Gareth Bale's imminent arrival in the Spanish capital, it was the absence of one of those rumoured to be leaving the Bernabeu that was the big news pre-match as Mesut Ozil was dropped to the bench by Ancelotti.
Ander Herrera was also only a substitute for Athletic following Manchester United's bid for the midfielder earlier this week as Mikel Rico came in to make his debut.
After a slow start, Madrid's passing and movement steadily improved as the first half wore on and Ronaldo was first to seriously threaten as he saw a low drive tipped around the post from Herrerin before Pepe just failed to turn in Sergio Ramos's header from the resulting corner.
However, the hosts had to wait just a few minutes more for the opener as Benzema picked out Isco and he controlled and finished calmly to register his second goal in as many games at the Bernabeu since joining from Malaga.
Athletic were enraged moments after the opener, though, as Benat Extebarria's free kick struck Sami Khedira's arm in the wall and referee Carlos Clos Gomez awarded another free kick just outside the box rather than a penalty. Benat stepped up again and this time saw his effort whistle just past Diego Lopez's left-hand post.
Madrid were continuing to look the more threatening, however, and it was no surprise when they doubled their lead just before the break as Ronaldo rose highest to power home Di Maria's in-swinging free kick.
Ronaldo was denied his second of the afternoon after the break by an excellent stop by Herrerin as the keeper got down low to parry the Portuguese's free kick, but Isco did complete his double 20 minutes from time as he controlled another pass from Benzema and saw his volley from the edge of the box deflect in off an Athletic defender.
The visitors did finally get some recompense for their efforts six minutes later when Ibai swept home De Marcos's cut-back.
Real held on to ensure Ancelotti has started his maiden league campaign in Spain with three straight wins, a feat Jose Mourinho failed to achieve in his three years in charge at the Bernabeu.
Atletico Madrid also maintained their perfect start to the campaign with a 2-1 win away at Real Sociedad.
David Villa and Koke scored either side of half-time to put Diego Simeone's men in charge.
However, the visitors were thankful to Thibaut Courtois for the three points as the Belgian produced two stunning saves after Xabi Prieto had reduced Sociedad's arrears 22 minutes from time.
And on a night filled with goals, Sevilla and Malaga played out a 2-2 draw in the first Andalusian derby of the season.
Pedro Morales and Roque Santa Cruz twice put Malaga in front, but French international Kevin Gameiro levelled on both occasions with his first goals for Sevilla since joining from PSG.