Barcelona started their life without Lionel Messi by beating Real Sociedad 4-2 in their La Liga opener at Camp Nou on Sunday, although fans admitted it looked like “a leap into the unknown”.
Captain Gerard Pique gave them a 19th-minute lead with his 50th goal for the club.
Martin Braithwaite found the net in the first half and 59th minute. Sergi Roberto added a fourth in the last minute of the game.
Just over 20,000 fans were in attendance as crowds returned for the first time since the pandemic.
However, they had to hold their breath at one point when Sociedad came back from 3-0 to 3-2 thanks to goals from 20-year-old Julen Lobete in the 82nd minute and a 30-yard free kick from skipper Mikel Oyarzabal three minutes later.
Six-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi ended his two-decade Barcelona career last week and moved to Paris Saint-Germain.
Messi’s memory remained heavy at Camp Nou on Sunday despite the removal of a giant photo of the Argentine superstar from the entry following his move to France.
Some banners were in place long before kick-off, expressing fans’ anger towards President Joan Laporta.
One read “Laporta, Barca are none of your business”, while another proclaimed “Barca yes, Laporta no!”
“It was an emotional blow,” said Adria De Lucas, a 23-year-old Barca fan.
“I was in my room when I saw the news. I started messaging all my friends, and no one believed it. It was emotionally difficult.”
The supporter added: “It’s a leap into the unknown (without Messi). We’ll see what happens.”
Inside the Camp Nou, the supporters took advantage of their return after 18 months by chanting “Messi! Messi!”.
The banners expressed their “eternal gratitude”.
“The supporters are with us, they want to see football,” Pique said. âWe knew they were going to react that way. We all know what Leo stands for, but everything changes and we have to keep going.
“We will be very competitive and we will fight for the titles until the end. We will not have his talent, but we have proven that we can all play together.”
La Liga champions Atletico Madrid started their season with a 2-1 victory over Celta Vigo.
Angel Correa gave Atletico the lead after 23 minutes after being set up by Thomas Lemar.
Correa added a second goal in the 64th minute just five minutes after Iago Aspas brought Celta back to the penalty spot.
However, the game was marred by a mass brawl in the finals following a foul on Atletico striker Luis Suarez.
Red cards were shown for Hugo Mallo of Celta and Mario Hermoso of Atletico.
As Barca try to close Messi’s height gap, along with inflated debts of over â¬ 1.2bn ($ 1.6bn), Real Madrid have embarked on a leaflet on the pitch as a brace from veteran French striker Karim Benzema helped bring Alaves a 4-1 victory on Saturday.
The victory, achieved with new goals from Nacho and Vinicius, allowed Carlo Ancelotti, who gave Gareth Bale a start on his return from Tottenham, to celebrate the start of his second term in charge with a victory.
A Joselu penalty for the hosts was a minor flaw after Real goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, making his 100th La Liga appearance between the posts for Real, knocked John Guidetti down.
In another action on Saturday, Cadiz and Levante parted 1-1, as did Mallorca and Real Betis, while the game between Osasuna and Espanyol ended in a goalless draw.
There are two matches on Monday as Villarreal faces Granada while Elche meets Athletic Bilbao.
Valencia got the ball rolling on Friday and pocketed three points after a Carlos Soler penalty was enough to see them defeat Getafe 1-0. (AFP)