Football had been wild on Saturday and Sunday. There had been quite a few hiccups and there had been the fall of the giants at the hands of determined units in an astonishing manner. While Bayern Munich and Manchester City were left reeling after the heavy defeats, all eyes were focused on how Barcelona would start the new season.

Already their arch-rivals, Real Madrid found the going tougher and with so much chaos dominating the headlines during the offseason, Ronald Koeman’s Barca were thought to be suffering from a lack of self-confidence.

But as soon as the ball started rolling against Villarreal, all those offseason-chaos and anxiety diminished.

Lionel Messi’s desire to leave Barcelona showed no sign of impacting his on-pitch performance. The young Ansu Fati got the ball rolling with an impressive double in a five-minute period, before then winning the penalty that was scored by Messi, who subsequently saw a cross of his turned in by Villarreal defender Pau Torres.

Unai Emery’s side tightened up in the second half, with Barca consequentially having a little less freedom in the final third, but Villarreal’s slight improvement had no impact on what was an easy start for Koeman in LaLiga.

With Messi’s future up in the air, Fati had seemingly been billed as the poster boy of this new era at Barca and fittingly he was their inspiration here, opening the scoring 15 minutes in with an emphatic first-time finish from Jordi Alba’s cut-back.

The teenager was decisive again a few moments later, latching on to Philippe Coutinho’s through-ball and coolly slotting past the helpless Sergio Asenjo, who also had no answer to Messi’s penalty, which was won by the omnipresent Fati as well.

Things got even worse for the visitors on the stroke of half-time, Torres poking Messi’s cross beyond Asenjo as the unlikely specter of Sergio Busquets lurked for a tap-in.

A bright start for Barcelona and Fati and Messi are hitting the headlines and it was expected.

But somewhere between Fati and Messi – Philippe Coutinho is lost as usual.

Koeman shaped up Barcelona in a 4-2-3-1 formation, where Coutinho was given the role to play behind Messi as a central attacking midfielder or center forward. Fati and Antoine Griezmann started on the left and right respectively while Sergio Busquets formed the double pivots.

Coutinho relishes the central role and last night he showed when he is given his ideal position, he could become better and better. Neither the wide midfield on the left nor the left-wing was the best position for him, but this is the position where Coutinho thrives.

He was brilliant while passing the ball from center to the right and to the left with an accuracy of 91.5% and then not only linked up well with Messi and Fati, but dictated the game by linking up with the pivots as well.

Then there was that key pass, which opened up the opportunity to Fati second.

Holding on the ball, dribbling, and through-balls during the match; made one think of the return of the old little magician.

One of the most important aspects of Coutinho’s game was his ability to exploit the spaces smartly. It was not evident before, but since returning from Bayern Munich, one could notice the shadow of Thomas Muller in him. A season with Bayern Munich seemed to have helped Coutinho.

It is a long season and one needs to maintain the best of fitness and skill level to prove a point.

Most importantly, the player needs to be utilized properly.


Koeman used Coutinho appropriately in the first match.

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