Lionel Messi scored two goals and set up another Sunday to help mark the debut of Neymar and Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino in a 7-0 thrashing of Levante, ensuring the Spanish champions start their title defense in style.
With signature signing Neymar watching from the bench, Messi almost single-handedly dismantled the overmatched Levante.
After Alexis Sanchez opened the scoring, Messi claimed Barcelona’s second goal, stole possession to create the third, and passed for Pedro Rodriguez to score the fourth.
Messi scored his second goal from the penalty spot before Xavi Hernandez made it 6-0 against the demoralized visitors just before halftime.
Neymar, who has been recovering from anemia since his (euro) 57 million move from Santos in the offseason, went on in the second half in time to see Pedro strike again and polish off the lopsided victory.
The applause Neymar received when warming up grew to a standing ovation when he went on for Alexis in the 64th for his first official minutes in Barcelona’s burgundy and blue.
Those eager to see Neymar and Messi together were disappointed, however. The two were only on together for seven minutes before Martino sent Andres Iniesta on for Messi.
The 21-year-old Neymar was active on the left flank but couldn’t find his new teammates with crosses. Goalkeeper Keylor Navas saved his best chance before he was booked for tripping.
Later, Carlo Ancelotti will take charge of a Real Madrid team embarking on a new era after three seasons under Jose Mourinho in a match against Real Betis. Also, Atletico Madrid visits Sevilla and Osasuna plays Granada.
Martino was hired in a rush last month to replace Tito Vilanova after he announced he was stepping down to focus on his fight against a recurrent throat tumor. But despite a hectic preseason and little preparation time, Barcelona’s talented squad made the Argentine manager’s first game in Europe an easy stroll.
Barcelona made a bright start by scoring in the third minute through one of its trademark passing combinations that turned the flatfooted Levante defense into onlookers.
After Javier Mascherano recovered possession, Xavi used one touch to redirect Pedro’s pass through the defense to Cesc Fabregas, who generously laid off for Alexis to tap into the open goalmouth.
Messi netted the hosts’ second goal in the 12th after Fabregas started the move with a nifty chested pass to free up Messi to work a one-two with Pedro before slotting the ball home.
Messi’s defense produced the third in the 24th. The four-time world player of the year chased down David Navarro and stole the ball near the corner flag to begin another weave of passes that ended with Dani Alves knocking in a rebound.
Far from done, Messi showed off his passing skills two minutes later by serving a perfectly weighted long ball for Pedro to fire beyond Navas.
Levante couldn’t help but add to its own demise when Pedro Lopez fouled Adriano just inside the area, letting Messi drill in the spot kick in the 41st. Xavi poked in the sixth goal in the 45th.
Barcelona appeared to be on course to break its record for a biggest win – 10-1 over Gimnastic in 1949-50- but had to settle for seven with Fabregas squaring for Pedro to record his second goal of the night in the 73rd.