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There were more questions than answers as FC Barcelona lined up for the start of their first competitive game after the departure of club legend and most successful coach in their history, Pep Guardiola. Over the past four years Barcelona had swept 14 out of 19 possible trophies including breaking a series of records on their way to winning the Spanish league three times and becoming champions of both Europe and the world twice, leading many to proclaim them the greatest football team to ever exist.
Having missed out on the two big prizes last year–the championships of Spain and Europe–amid a spate of injuries and occasionally sloppy performances by their own high standards, and having seen the talisman coach, Guardiola, depart citing the stress of constant pressure to be replaced by his former assistant Tito Vilanova, many doubted the ability of Barcelona to continue to dominate.
This was given further credence by the overpowering performances of eternal rivals, Real Madrid, last season, a young, hungry and athletic side that finally broke Barcelona’s stranglehold on domestic competition last year. However, in Madrid’s opener this season against Valencia immediately preceding the Barcelona game, they had drawn 1-1.
With this context, Barcelona went into their first game of the season against Real Sociedad needing to make a statement. And make one they did. Defender, Carles Puyol, headed Barcelona into the lead in the 4th minute before Chori Castro leveled for Sociedad on nine minutes. This parity would prove to be short-lived, as only 56 seconds later Lionel Messi scored and then scored yet another five minutes afterwards to put Barcelona 3-1 up in only 16 minutes.
Youngster Cristian Tello looked lively throughout, playing an intelligent and vastly improved game, and new signing, Jordi Alba, put in an untiring and dangerous performance from left-back, linking up well in his attack. In a warm night in Catalonia, Pedro Rodriguez, who had been off form much of last season, finished off a chance just before half-time to put the gloss on a great game.
With the game a formality by the beginning of the second half, Barcelona lowered the intensity of their game and introduced David Villa, who had missed most of last season due to his injury, to a rapturous reception by the Camp Nou crowd.
Villa duly marked his return to competitive play with a sharp performance and a well-struck goal in the 84th minute to cap off a result that sent out a statement, heading into Thursday’s Supercopa match against Real Madrid, to the rest of Europe for the season to come: don’t write off this Barcelona side just yet.