Barcelona could have been forgiven for approaching Sunday’s Liga opener with some nervousness, they had after all just been thrashed by Real Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana while their biggest transfer news of the summer was Neymar departing for PSG. Such a shock transfer, it still seems weird now.
The game also took place amid huge uncertainty over whether Barca will actually land their top summer targets Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele, and with rumours of a Manchester City move for Lionel Messi beginning to raise its ugly head once again.
Ernesto Valverde was also without Gerard Pique, Andres Iniesta and Luis Suarez due to injury but chose to include summer arrivals Nelson Semedo and Gerard Deulofeu in his starting XI. There was also room for Sergi Roberto, who has frequently been linked with an exit, and all will have impressed the new coach.
Indeed Deulofeu could have scored after just three minutes, prodding wide when he might have done better after some good work from Sergi Roberto, the two La Masia graduates combining to good effect and giving the crowd some early optimism.
The winger then set up the opener, fizzing in a cross which Lionel Messi looked to have converted, before television replays revealed that actually it just caught a nick off Alin Tosca before flying past his own goalkeeper.
There was no doubt about the second goal, Deulofeu again involved, teeing up Roberto who fired home for his first ever La Liga goal for Barcelona.
It could have been so different in truth, just moments before Sergio Leon looked set to equalise before Javier Mascherano pulled off what will quite possibly be the tackle of the season, to deny the Betis man.
Deulofeu only lasted 72 minutes before being replaced by Aleix Vidal and it was a strong showing by the former Everton man. The doubts remain of course, but this was a promising start, tougher tests await.
Roberto too sent a clear message to Valverde. Ahead of the game the new Barca coach has insisted the youngster remained a key player, and his performance was one that suggested talk of an exit is nonsense.
And what of Semedo? Well, his was a debut to remember, his passing was flawless in the first half, and he also showed a few glimpses of just how good he is in possession. That’s not all, his pace and acceleration going forward are a real threat, while defensively he was untroubled.
Barca might have had more too, with Lionel Messi chasing his 350th La Liga goal, but somehow it wasn’t to be. Three times it looked like the landmark was his, and three times he was denied by the woodwork. When you luck is out, it’s out, but don’t worry it won’t last long.
3 - Leo Messi is the first player to hit woodwork three times in a same league game since 2005/2006 season. Unlucky pic.twitter.com/UAJVbSyYcw— OptaJose (@OptaJose) August 20, 2017
So Messi couldn’t celebrate, but Valverde will be happy, the pressure is relieved somewhat, the new boys performed and it’s possible there may be more new faces the next time Barca take the field against Alaves on Saturday.