Tito Vilanova’s Barcelona fired a warning shot to champions Real Madrid with an emphatic 5-1 win over Real Sociedad on Sunday.
Talismanic forward Lionel Messi kicked off a scintillating start to the Vilanova era at Camp Nou with a brace inside 20 minutes after Carlos Puyol had opened the scoring.
The win saw Barcelona immediately seize the initiative at the top of La Liga after Real Madrid were held to a 1-1 draw with Valencia at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Puyol headed Barca in front on four minutes and Messi scored a pair of clinical poacher’s goals minutes after Chory Castro had restored parity for Sociedad.
Pedro added the fourth just before half-time and the perfect start was complete when striker David Villa scored the fifth on his return to the side from a broken leg.
Vilanova was not the only debutant for Barca, as Jordi Alba, the 14 million euro signing from Valencia, was handed a start at left-back.
Earlier, Real Madrid were less than convincing as they began the defence of their crown.
Gonzalo Higuain, who was preferred to strike partner Karim Benzema, justified Jose Mourinho’s selection, scoring 10 minutes in after exquisitely controlling Angel Di Maria’s clipped ball.
Real were then guilty of sitting back, with Jonas equalising for Valencia with a header three minutes before the break.
The home side were unable to regain their advantage in a tepid second half and were forced to settle for a point in front of a disgruntled crowd.
Real Betis squandered a three-goal lead before going on to seal an enthralling 5-3 win over Athletic Bilbao at San Mames.
The visitors strolled to a 3-0 lead thanks to calm finishes from Jorge Molina, Ruben Castro and Benat Extebarria but were called into action again when Oscar de Marcos and a double from Mikel San Jose in the second half levelled the scores for Bilbao.
Substitutes Jose Canas and Pozuelo combined to make it 4-3 as Pozuelo slotted home, and with Bilbao’s defence ripped open, Molina sealed the win with a delightful chip over the goalkeeper.
Atletico Madrid picked up a point at Levante in a 1-1 draw thanks to Arda Turan’s stunning strike from distance.
El Zhar had given Levante a fifth-minute lead from the edge of the area but points were shared following Turan’s 22nd-minute effort, despite Atletico dominating possession for much of the match.