After Real Madrid, it was time for the arch-rivals Barcelona to start the season in style and all eyes were focused on the Catalans, how they fare without their talisman, Lionel Messi. Guess what, Barcelona looked a much better unit without their ex-star.

Martin Braithwaite bagged a brace and added an assist to make Barcelona’s first match in the post-Lionel Messi era a winning one in a 4-2 victory over Real Sociedad on Sunday night at the Camp Nou.

In the first match with fans in 17 months at the Camp Nou, Gerard Pique opened the scoring before the Dane notched his two goals. Barcelona looked to be strolling to the final whistle, only to see Real Sociedad make a late charge with two goals, but a stoppage-time score from Sergi Roberto nailed down the three points for the home side.

The first starting XI from Ronald Koeman of the season saw newcomers Eric Garcia and Memphis Depay start in defence and attack respectively, while the indefatigable Pedri was penciled into midfield.

It was a bright start from Barcelona and an acrobatic volley from Antoine Griezmann that sailed wide followed by a near-post header that skimmed the crossbar served as early warnings to the Basque visitors.

Yet it was fitting that the first goal in the post-Messi era came from Pique. The man who halved his salary this week so the likes of Garcia and Memphis could be registered in time to play the season opener met an inch-perfect freekick from Memphis and headed into the net to hand the hosts a 1-0 lead.

Real Sociedad were offering nothing going forward, making for a relatively calm first 45 minutes in the Barcelona goal for Neto, who filled in for injured No.1 Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Barcelona then capped their smooth first half with the second goal of the night, with Braithwaite thumping in a header off a Frenkie de Jong cross to make it 2-0 at the break.

It was much better from Real Sociedad to start the second half, but the next goal came for Barcelona when Jordi Alba’s deep cross was parried by Alex Remiro right into the heart of the area and Braithwaite was more than glad to take the gift and hammer the ball into the net for his second of the night and a 3-0 lead.

Koeman went to his bench for the first time with 20 minutes to go, as Sergino Dest made way for new arrival Emerson and De Jong was replaced by Sergi Roberto.

Barcelona were on cruise control going into the final 10 minutes, when Real Sociedad rattled the cage in a big way, beginning with a fine finish from Julen Lobete to cut the gap to 3-1, followed by a sensational free-kick two minutes later from Mikel Oyarzabal to suddenly make it 3-2.

In between the goals Koeman brought on fresh legs, with Nico Gonzalez on for Sergio Busquets and Ronald Araujo for Garcia, but it still made for a very nervy final few minutes for everyone inside the Camp Nou.


Clement Lenglet was another late substitute to firm up the backline, coming on for Memphis. Finally, in stoppage time, it was game, set, and match for Barcelona, with Griezmann feeding Braithwaite on the right and Dane’s cross meeting the run of Sergi Roberto, who slammed the door shut from a yard out to make it a 4-2 final score.


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