Lionel Messi unlucky but instrumental as Barcelona beat Betis
BARCELONA -- Barcelona eased to an opening day 2-0 win over Real Betis on Sunday, thanks to an Alin Tosca own goal and an effort from Sergi Roberto.
The game at Camp Nou was preceded by a minute's silence in memory of those killed in the terror attacks in the city this week. The Barca players carried "Barcelona" on the back of their shirts, where their surnames would usually appear, and #TotsSomBarcelona on the front (#WeAreAllBarcelona).
In front of an attendance of more than 56,000 -- Marca reported that thousands of tickets were returned after Thursday's attacks -- it was business as usual for Barca, who never looked likely to slip up against a new-look Betis side.
Aside from the obvious (a win, three points etc.), this result provides a huge confidence boost for Barca. Having seen Neymar leave for Paris Saint-Germain and then getting turned over by Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup so convincingly, morale had bottomed. This win should help improve spirits, especially for some of the players who have been written off.
The clean sheet is also a big plus, considering that Gerard Pique didn't play, and there was a brilliant full debut from summer signing Nelson Semedo.
Barca should have scored more. Although their two-goal lead always looked comfortable, a Betis goal could have made things interesting. Ernesto Valverde will look for his team to be more clinical moving forward.
7 (out of 10) -- Valverde took a lot of criticism in the week for playing a back three at the Santiago Bernabeu, but his team selection was much more on the ball here. Having Lionel Messi as a false nine worked well, and his players put in a huge effort to regain possession whenever they lost the ball.
Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 6 -- A straightforward night's work for the German international. Betis will improve under Quique Setien this season, but they looked like a work in progress here.
DF Nelson Semedo, 8 -- Used sparingly by Valverde in preseason but impressed on his full debut here. Displayed some dancing feet in the first half to beat his man and looked full of energy and hunger on the right flank. If this was a sign of things to come, he could prove a bargain at €30 million.
DF Javier Mascherano, 8 -- Anyone remember his tackle on Nicklas Bendtner against Arsenal in the Champions League in 2011? Well, he matched that here with a show-stopping challenge to prevent Sergio Leon from making it 1-1. Within 60 seconds, Barca went up the other end and made it 2-0. The smirk on Mascherano's face said it all.
DF Samuel Umtiti, 7 -- Looked assured in possession and, along with Mascherano, ensured that Pique's absence wasn't felt. He gave the ball away in dangerous areas once or twice but got away with it.
DF Jordi Alba, 7 -- He has looked rejuvenated under Valverde and was once again full of energy against Betis.
MF Sergio Busquets, 7 -- Played between the lines and linked Barca's play brilliantly. Barca will hope he's much more consistent this season than he was last year.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 6 -- As he has always done at Barca, Rakitic forsook the limelight in order to make sure the dirty work was done.
MF Sergi Roberto, 7 -- Did not stop. The most advanced of Barca's three midfielders, Roberto was everywhere, pressing, hounding and hassling the opposition. Robbed the ball back countless times and slotted his side's second goal from a Deulofeu pull-back.
FW Gerard Deulofeu, 7 -- Started slowly and looked set for another frustrating night but grew into the game as the first half developed, setting up both the goals in the opening period. The first came after linking with Messi and the second after grafting to win the ball back.
FW Lionel Messi, 9 -- Another hat-trick for the Argentine, albeit of a different kind. Three times he was denied by the woodwork as he somehow failed to score. Of eight shots, three hit the post, four whistled marginally wide and one was saved by Adan. Still, he was the main man and made Barca tick as a false nine in the absence of Luis Suarez.
FW Paco Alcacer, 5 -- With Suarez out for a month, Alcacer would have been hopeful of a start through the middle. However, he was tasked with playing wide, mainly on the left, albeit with a brief spell centrally in the second half. He was outshone by Deulofeu and, of course, Messi.
FW Aleix Vidal, 6 -- Replaced Deulofeu and played as a right winger in front of Semedo. Messi played him in for a great chance but was foiled by Adan as he tried to go around him.
FW Denis Suarez, NR -- Given the final 10 minutes in place of Alcacer.
DF Lucas Digne, NR -- A token introduction as the clock ticked toward 90 minutes.
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.