BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona thrashed Real Sociedad 5-1 with Lionel Messi scoring twice, striking first yesterday in the likely two-way fight for the Spanish league title after Real Madrid had drawn 1-1 against Valencia.
To sweeten the debut of Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova, David Villa played his first competitive minutes since breaking his leg last December and capped the win with a goal.
While Cristiano Ronaldo was lacklustre when Madrid opened their title defence, Messi picked up right where he left off after scoring a league-record 50 goals last season.
With the score level at 1-1 early on, the three-time Ballon d’Or winner scored two quick goals to decide the match at the Camp Nou.
“We started on the right foot. We are lucky to have Messi, for us he is the best player in the world,” said Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez. “The win is great, but Villa’s news is the most important thing.”
Earlier in the Spanish capital, Madrid appeared set to carry on their winning ways from last season when Gonzalo Higuain scored in the 10th minute. But Jonas levelled for Valencia in the 42nd to give coach Mauricio Pellegrino a hard-earned draw on his debut.
Ronaldo, who set a club record with 46 league goals last season, was uncharacteristically subdued and failed to manage a shot on goal.
Madrid coach Jose Mourinho downplayed the draw.
“We didn’t play well but we played well enough to win,” the Portuguese said. “We had enough occasions to score, but throughout the season you always draw some games.”
Also, Real Betis defeated Athletic Bilbao in a 5-3 shootout at San Mames stadium after the Basques had fought back from a three-goal deficit to draw level.
Vilanova had a perfect debut for a coach called on to protect the legacy of Pep Guardiola, who led the team to 14 titles in four seasons with Vilanova as his assistant. Vilanova opted for Pedro Rodriguez and Cristian Tello in his starting 11, and both forwards had standout performances.
But it fell to defender Carles Puyol to get Barcelona started in the fourth minute. The defender showed no signs of his knee surgery that kept him out of the European championships when he rose up to head in Xavi Hernandez’s corner kick.
Chori Castro levelled for Sociedad in the ninth, but Messi dashed any thoughts of an upset two minutes later when he received a pass from Pedro, went between two defenders and looped a leftfooted shot while falling into the back of the net.
Messi struck again in the 16th. Tello returned Messi’s rebound with a low cross for the scoring ace to poke by goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.
Tello then picked out Pedro unmarked on the right side to slice home his cross in the 41st.
With the result beyond doubt, Vilanova sent on Villa for the final 15 minutes.
Moments after receiving a standing ovation, Villa brought Barcelona’s fans back to their feet when he fired in Andres Iniesta’s pass in the 84th to seal the victory.
Madrid dictated the pace early on and Higuain soon put his team ahead.
Higuain scored on the third attempt after goalkeeper Diego Alves made back-to-back saves to deny the Argentina striker.
Just when Valencia appeared clueless in attack, Jonas levelled for the visitors with a header. Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas and defender Pepe collided in an attempt to reach the ball, with both lying prone on the pitch for a few moments before restarting play with both looking groggy. Raul Albiol replaced Pepe at half-time.
The score level, Valencia regained their composure and succeeded in frustrating a Madrid attack that last season set a league scoring record with 121 goals.