By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) – La Liga champions Barcelona began the new campaign with a 3-0 win over Alaves on Saturday with the help of a spectacular under-the-wall free kick from Lionel Messi, who scored twice, and curling shot from substitute Philippe Coutinho.
Barca had dominated the late kick-off at a quiet Nou Camp but again struggled to convert chances against a shrewd Alaves, who are the last team to win a league game at the Catalans’ home, beating them 2-1 in 2016 and nearly repeating that feat last season before losing 2-1.
Messi had clanged the crossbar in the first half from a set- piece and Ousmane Dembele forced visiting goalkeeper Pacheco to make an impressive save while Luis Suarez looked immobile and ineffective.
New Barca captain Messi finally broke the deadlock in the 64th minute with his enterprising free kick, which recalled a similar strike against Celta Vigo last season and brought the Nou Camp to its feet.
Record signing Coutinho’s curler sealed the three points but Messi, the top scorer in La Liga last season with 34 goals, had the final say with a simple left-foot finish at the near post which proved to be the final kick of the game.
Barca joined Levante and Real Sociedad on three points at the top of the table, with Real Madrid hosting Getafe on Sunday and Atletico Madrid visiting Valencia on Monday.
(Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Ed Osmond)