FROM LEFT: Barcelona’s Dani Alves, Adriano, Gerard Pique and Lionel Messi celebrate a goal against Levante during their Spanish First division league match at Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona, yesterday.
MADRID, Community of Madrid: Barcelona welcomed new manager Gerardo Martino with a stunning display in his first competitive match in charge as they hammered Levante 7-0 at the Camp Nou yesterday.
The Spanish champions showed no signs of early season rust as they ripped the visitors apart with goals from Alexis Sanchez, Lionel Messi (2), Dani Alves, Pedro and Xavi giving them an incredible 6-0 lead at half-time.
There was even more for the home fans to cheer after the break as Neymar made his competitive debut as a substitute and even after Martino had shown the visitors some mercy by withdrawing Messi with 20 minutes remaining, more woeful defending allowed Pedro to round off the scoring with his second of the game.
Martino had taken the decision to leave Neymar, Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba on the bench after their international commitments in midweek and the Argentine’s mark on the side he only took charge of on July 23 was very much in evidence as the hosts pressed high up the field from the off to leave Levante camped inside their own half.
It only took Barca barely two minutes to register their first goal of the campaign as a slick pass from Xavi released Cesc Fabregas through on goal and he unselfishly squared for Sanchez to roll into an empty net.
Messi then got his account for the season up and running as he and Pedro exchanged a lovely one-two inside the area and the Argentine side-footed home from close range.
The third arrived on 23 minutes as this time Messi’s pressing high up the field proved decisive as he robbed the ball and fed Fabregas and even when Keylor Navas got a hand to the former Arsenal man’s pass, the ball dropped kindly for Alves to convert.
Another incredible defence splitting pass from Messi allowed Pedro to curl home the fourth moments later and after Pedro Lopez had stupidly upended Adriano inside the area, Messi stepped up to slam home his second of the evening from the penalty spot.
Barca’s first-half rampage still wasn’t complete though as Xavi marked the 15th anniversary of his Barca debut with a prodded finish from another delightful lofted through ball by Fabregas.
The Catalans weren’t quite as clinical after the break as Navas got down to parry efforts from Gerard Pique, Adriano and Messi.
However, the moment many inside the crowd had been waiting for arrived on 62 minutes as Neymar made his competitive bow in a Barca shirt in place of the impressive Sanchez.
Messi was then also surprisingly withdrawn by Martino for Iniesta with the Argentine boss most likely looking ahead to the first-leg of the Spanish Super Cup to come on Wednesday away to Atletico Madrid.
Even without Messi on the pitch though Barca still had another goal in them as Fabregas pounced on a slack passback by Hector Rodas and after rounding Navas he allowed Pedro to add the finishing touch on a wonderful start to the defence of their league title for the reigning champions. AFP