Lionel Messi made amends for a missed first-half penalty by scoring both goals in the second period as Barcelona won 2-0 at Alaves on Saturday to make it two wins out of two at the start of their La Liga campaign.
The Argentine, who hit the woodwork three times but failed to score in last week’s 2-0 win over Real Betis, endured further frustration when his spot-kick was parried away by Fernando Pacheco in the 41st minute after Gerard Pique was fouled.
He had better luck after the interval, however, breaking the deadlock with a scrappy effort in the 55th minute that took a heavy deflection off Alaves defender Alexis Ruano.
The five-times world player of the year then showed his class with a ruthless shot into the bottom corner after Ruano gifted the ball to substitute Paco Alcacer, who had nodded it into Messi’s path.
Messi was denied a hat-trick when his effort from outside the area bounced off the bar.
Barca, who suffered a shock defeat at home to Alaves in the third week of last season, headed to the Basque country without Luis Suarez, although their morale was boosted by the signing of Ousmane Dembele on Friday, even though the Frenchman will not arrive in Barcelona until Sunday.
Andres Iniesta returned from injury to give them more stability in midfield, although a lapse in concentration from Gerard Pique gave Alaves a golden opportunity to take the lead.
Striker Ruben Sobrino raced into the box ahead of the stranded Spain international but was thwarted by Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the Barca goal.
It was one of two scares in an otherwise comfortable — if unremarkable — win for Barca, and Valverde praised his side for a professional display in defiance of the gloomy atmosphere around the team in recent weeks following Neymar’s departure.
“We came here at a time when people are saying a lot of things about Barca, and that can have a negative impact. But the team showed that was not the case,” the coach told reporters.
“We’ve had some difficult moments and we’ve overcome them. Now we’ve got six points and we’re moving on upwards.”
Zinedine Zidane’s son, Enzo Fernandez, made his Liga debut as a late substitute for Alaves but was unable to help the Basque side get back into the game. Paulinho made his Barca debut when he came on in the 88th minute.
Atletico Madrid visit Las Palmas later on Saturday and champions Real Madrid host Valencia on Sunday.