BARCELONA (AFP) - Barcelona started life without Lionel Messi by defeating Real Sociedad 4-2 in their La Liga opener at the Camp Nou on Sunday (Aug 15).
Captain Gerard Pique gave them a 19th minute lead with Martin Braithwaite finding the net in first half injury time and in the 59th minute. Sergi Roberto added a fourth in the last minute of the game.
Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi, 34, called time on his two-decade career at Barcelona last week and moved to Paris Saint-Germain, one of the few clubs who can afford to pay him.
Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman admitted that he would "prefer to still have Lionel Messi" in his team.
"Hey, if I had to choose, I would still prefer to have Leo Messi in my team," said the Dutchman.
"We no longer have a player who can decide the fate of matches on his own - now it will be a collective effort."
Koeman praised the patience and support of the 20,000 inside Camp Nou as crowds were allowed to return for the first time since the start of the pandemic 18 months ago.
"From the start, our supporters pushed us, they were behind the team. It makes a huge difference," he said.
"If you compare a game like this with a game from last year, it's totally different. As I said before, the image of the team is the most important thing."