Barcelona destroy Villarreal
Cesc Fabregas scored on his first start for Barcelona as the Liga champions opened their defence with a 5-0 win against Villarreal at the Camp Nou.
Having already secured the Spanish and European Super Cups, the Catalans continued their fine early-season form with this thoroughly convincing victory against a forlorn Villarreal side.
Thiago got the ball rolling in the 25th minute. The Spain U21 star made an attacking run through the middle and slotted the ball into the corner of Diego Lopez's goal with his left foot, after Villarreal's defence had backed off.
Then, on the stroke of half-time, Messi deftly played an exquisite through-ball into the path of Fabregas darting into the Villarreal box and the Spaniard, making his La Liga debut, had the simplest of tasks in rounding Lopez and tapping the ball into an empty net.
Matters got worse for Villarreal immediately after the break, as Thiago clipped a delightful through-ball into the path of another debutant, Sanchez, who stormed forward to drive the ball past Lopez and inside the far corner of the net.
The fourth swiftly followed as Villarreal failed to cope with the Barca's intricate passing. This time it was Andres Iniesta delivering the ball through to Messi on the 52nd minute - the Argentine rounding Lopez and finishing with aplomb for his 100th home goal for Barcelona.
Messi was not done there though and, after playing the ball out wide to Thiago in the 74th minute, journeyed into the box before clinically finishing off the latter's return pass.
A defensive injury crisis meant Eric Abidal was Barca's only full-time defender, and Pep Guardiola set them up in a 3-1-3-3 formation with the two attacking banks of Thiago, Iniesta, Fabregas, and Messi, Sanchez, Pedro used to push Villarreal onto the back foot from the off.
This tactic almost reaped those intended early rewards, as Lopez flapped at a corner in the 8th minute and, with the ball being delivered back in, Pedro headed over when unmarked from inside the Villarreal penalty box.
If that wasn't a wake-up call for the enormity of the task facing Villarreal, then it surely came in the 18th minute as Messi drove the ball in low from an acute angle that forced Lopez into a fine, sprawling save. From the resulting corner, Sergio Busquets rose highest in sending a looping header onto the top of the crossbar.
After Thiago had delivered the breakthrough for Barcelona, Villarreal began to grow in confidence, and their strikeforce of Guiseppe Rossi and Nilmar started to find their feet.
Rossi forced Victor Valdes into a fine save in the 38th minute having been played in from the left flank. Despite the Italian striker being flagged marginally offside, Valdes was not to know and the 'keeper produced some flying acrobatics in scooping the ball away, after his initial save led to the ball bouncing back off the crossbar directly underneath his own goalline.
However, that confidence was shaken with Fabregas' goal just before half-time, and was then truly blown out of the water following Sanchez's and Messi's efforts in the opening phases of the second 45 minutes.
In attempting to stem the tide, Villarreal took off Nilmar in the 56th minute and brought on Marcos Senna as a fifth midfielder, but the damage had already been done.
But with Barcelona able to call on the likes of Xavi and David Villa, there was only going to be more misery heaped on the visitors, and this came once again through the enigmatic Messi in the 74th minute.
There were late chances for Villa to make it six and for Villarreal substitute Javier Camunas to claw one back, but neither opportunity was taken.
And so it ended with a strong message being sent to Madrid and all over the league that, once again, Barcelona mean business this season.