BARCELONA - Cesc Fabregas and Alexis
Sanchez marked their home debuts for Barcelona in La Liga with
goals as the champions crushed Villarreal 5-0 in their opening
match of the campaign on Monday.
World Player of the Year Lionel Messi netted twice and Spain
Under-21 midfielder Thiago Alcantara was also on the scoresheet
for Barca in their bid for a club record-equalling fourth
consecutive Spanish title.
The victory was an impressive response to title rivals Real
Madrid after Jose Mourinho's side inflicted a 6-0 demolition on
Real Zaragoza on Sunday when Portuguese forward Cristiano
Ronaldo scored a hat-trick.
With 75,000 fans packed into a sultry Nou Camp, Barca coach
Pep Guardiola opted to leave Spanish World Cup winners Xavi and
David Villa on the bench and started with Fabregas in midfield
alongside Alcantara, Andres Iniesta and Seydou Keita.
With a number of defenders missing, including injured centre-backs Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique and the suspended Daniel
Alves, he deployed Sergio Busquets in a three-man defence with
Javier Mascherano and Eric Abidal.
After dominating the early stages, Barca went ahead on 25
minutes. As Alcantara ran at the Villarreal defence they backed
off waiting for a pass, allowing him space to shoot low past
Diego Lopez into the corner of the net.
Former Arsenal captain Fabregas, who returned to his boyhood
club this month after eight years with the Premier League side,
made it 2-0 just before half-time when he raced on to a Messi
pass, rounded Lopez and slotted home.
The 24-year-old, who also scored from a Messi assist in
Barca's 2-0 European Super Cup win over Porto on Friday, was at
the Catalan club's youth academy with the Argentina forward and
the pair already look to have created a formidable partnership.
"Cesc knows his team-mates very well," Guardiola said at a
news conference. "He has a very big and strong personality. He
was the captain of an important team."
Chilean Sanchez, another new signing following his
close-season move from Udinese, put Barca three up two minutes
after the break before Iniesta played Messi through to round
Lopez and make it 4-0 five minutes later.
Messi grabbed a second and Barca's fifth when he turned in
Alcantara's fine centre with 15 minutes left.
La Liga kicked off a week late at the weekend after the
first round of matches fell victim to a strike called by the
players' union (AFE) over unpaid wages. The dispute with the
league (LFP) was finally resolved on Thursday.
Villarreal's defeat and a shaky performance on Saturday from
Valencia, the other two Spanish teams in this season's Champions
League, suggests it will again be a straight fight between Barca
and Real for the title.
Villarreal coach Juan Carlos Garrido noted at his post-match
news conference that Barca and Real's domestic dominance was due
to them being so much richer than their La Liga rivals.
Barca's annual budget was just under 430 million euros last season compared with less than 70 million at
"Today we weren't at our best level, but it's also to do
with the fact that the team we were playing are so good,"
Garrido said. "All we can do is congratulate our opponent and
admit that on this occasion they were clearly superior.
"The fact that you have a team with Xavi and Villa on the
bench says it all."
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