August 16, (THEWILL) – Catalan Side Barcelona started life in the La Liga without Lionel Messi by showing what a future without the greatest player that ever wore their colours will look like with a 4-2 win over Real Sociedad at the Camp Nou as several players appeared to be playing with more freedom to express themselves.
Football fans returned in their numbers inside the stadium for the first time in nearly 18 months and they demonstrated their undying love for the “little magician” by chanting Messi’s name in the 10th minute of the fixture, an homage to the titular number he iconised in the club.
It did not take long for the 34-year-old’s shock exit and subsequent transfer to Paris Saint-Germain to be placed on the back burners as the Messi-less side went to work to prove themselves still a side to reckon with. Coincidentally, centre back, Gerard Pique, whom THEWILL reported conceded to a substantial cut in his salary so that new teammates could be registered was first on target for the season.
It was poetic justice that Pique scored after benefiting from an assist by one of those who benefitted from his salary cut as new Culer, Dutchman Memphis Depay, pulled out the cross that the Spanish defender headed for the opener.
The formerly under-performing Martin Braithwaite, came alive in the tie and made it 2-0 on the stroke of half time with a header of his own. He had the efficient Frenkie de Jong to thank for the assist as Barca went into the break with the two-goal cushion.
As he did before the break, Braithwaite scored his second, and Barcelona’s third, after the interval. He reacted the quickest to pounce on a Jordi Alba cross that Sociedad keeper Alex Remiro parried his way and powered his shot into the net to set the Camp Nou alive with fan fervour.
It was not going to be a one-way traffic for La Blaugrana, however, as Sociedad substitute Julen Lobete pulled one back for the visitors with a well-taken finish back across goal and into the far corner of the net. Then, to unsettle the home fans, Mikel Oyarzabal gave the visitors a real chance of a comeback with a stunning freekick strike from 25 yards out to make it 3-2.
The momentum the late resurgence gave the visitors kept alive the faint hopes of a draw as the ascendancy had swung Sociedad’s way late in the tie. But, all that was extinguished when Barca produced a fourth goal in stoppage time through Sergi Roberto to kick off the post-Messi era beautifully.