Camp Nou discovers Barca’s teen sensation; Hazard debuts
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — A teenage sensation led Barcelona to a commanding victory over Valencia in the Spanish league on Saturday, while Eden Hazard made his long-awaited debut for Real Madrid before both rivals face tough Champions League openers.
Barcelona visits German side Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday with Lionel Messi a doubt, and a day later Madrid plays at the Paris Saint-Germain of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
Spanish league leader Atlético Madrid lost its first game of the season, three days before it also has a difficult visit to Juventus, which eliminated it from the European tournament last season.
Barcelona youth Ansu Fati took over a starring role from the injured Messi with a goal and an assist to lead a 5-2 rout of Valencia. His second-minute goal made him the youngest player to score at Camp Nou at the age of 16 years, 318 days. It was his third appearance since his Aug. 25 debut. He established a milestone in his second match as the youngest player to score in la Liga in the club’s history in a 2-2 draw at Osasuna.
“(Fati) is a player that has something special,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “He is a striker who is mature beyond his years.”
Hazard hurt a thigh in preseason, and the club-record signing from Chelsea missed Madrid’s first three league matches. By the time he stepped onto the field with half an hour left at the Santiago Bernabeu, Karim Benzema’s double and another goal from Casemiro had given Madrid the advantage it needed to end a run of two straight draws and beat Levante 3-2.
“When he touches the ball he has his aim set on the goal, but what he needs now is to train more. He has only had four practice sessions with the team,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said of Hazard.
Atlético won the first three rounds until its attack failed at Real Sociedad, which dictated the game, the playmaking, and scored the opening goal through Norway midfielder Martin Odegaard in the 2-0 victory.
Atlético leads Madrid and Athletic Bilbao by one point. Barcelona is two points behind.
Fati, officially a player on Barcelona’s third team for 16-18 year olds, needed only two minutes to write his name into the club’s history a second time.
With his second touch of the ball, the player born in Guinea-Bissau rifled in a pass from Frenkie de Jong who found him arriving to the center of the area.
He returned the assist to de Jong five minutes later after he sped down the left flank, juked past a defender, and set up for the Netherlands midfielder.
Gerard Pique netted Barcelona’s third after Kevin Gameiro had pulled one back.
Luis Suárez, who hadn’t played in a month due to injury, netted Barcelona’s fourth and fifth goals after replacing Fati with half an hour remaining.
Maxi Gómez scored late for Valencia, which was playing its first match under Albert Celades since he replaced Marcelino García Toral on Wednesday.
Odegaard, who is on loan from Real Madrid, put Sociedad ahead in the 58th when he culminated a quick buildup by cutting across the area before firing a shot that deflected off an Atlético defender and left goalkeeper Jan Oblak without a chance.
Usually so sure in goal, Oblak was at fault three minutes later when he fumbled a ball in the box and Nacho Monreal blasted it home in his debut with the Basque club. The ball smacked Oblak in the face before going in, leaving him in need of medical assistance.
Oblak was substituted even though he appeared to tell team doctors he was feeling fine.
“Those of us up front lacked the poise we needed to find a way through. They deserved the win,” Atlético midfielder Saúl Ñíguez said. “Fortunately, we have an important game in three days, and if we change how we played today, we will be fine.”
Benzema started the scoring against Levante with a header in the 25th, and six minutes later added a second after a slick pass from James Rodríguez.
The French striker has four goals in four rounds.
Levante got back into the match in the second half with strikes from Borja Mayoral and Gonzalo Melero.
Only one player in La Liga has more goals than Benzema so far. Villarreal striker Gerard Moreno took his tally to five after striking twice to help beat last-placed Leganés 3-0.