Barcelona thrashed Real Sociedad 5-1 with Lionel Messi scoring twice, striking first on Sunday in the likely two-way fight for the title after Real Madrid had drawn 1-1 against Valencia.
To sweeten the debut of Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova, David Villa played his first competitive minutes since breaking his leg in December last year and capped the win with a goal.
While Cristiano Ronaldo was lackluster when Madrid opened their title defense, Messi picked up right where he left off after scoring a league-record 50 goals last season.
With the score at 1-1 early on, the three-time Ballon d’Or winner scored two quick goals to decide the match at the Camp Nou.
“I like scoring, but I like Barca winning even more,” Messi said. “I am just continuing to play the same way, trying to help the group and playing so our fans can enjoy it.”
Earlier in the Spanish capital, Real Madrid appeared set to carry on their winning ways from last season when Gonzalo Higuain scored in the 10th minute, but Jonas leveled for Valencia in the 42nd to give coach Mauricio Pellegrino a hard-earned draw on his debut.
Ronaldo, who set a club record with 46 league goals last season, was uncharacteristically subdued and failed to manage a shot on goal.
The Portugal forward acknowledged that neither he nor the team played well.
“I am not 100 percent, but I hope to get into shape as soon as possible,” Ronaldo said. “It wasn’t a good game for us. We played poorly in the first half, better in the second. We had chances, but we couldn’t finish them off.”
Barcelona host Madrid in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Thursday.
Also on Sunday, Real Betis Balompie defeated Athletic Bilbao in a 5-3 shootout at the San Mames after the Basques had fought back from a three-goal deficit to draw level. Atletico Madrid drew 1-1 at Levante UD.
Vilanova had a perfect debut for a coach called on to protect the legacy of Pep Guardiola, who led the team to 14 titles in four seasons with Vilanova as his assistant.
He opted for Pedro Rodriguez and Cristian Tello in his starting 11, and both forwards had standout performances, but it fell to defender Carles Puyol to get Barcelona started in the fourth minute.
The defender showed no signs of the knee surgery that kept him out of Euro 2012 when he rose up to head in Xavi Hernandez’s corner.
Chori Castro leveled for Sociedad in the ninth minute, but Messi dashed any thoughts of an upset two minutes later when he received a pass from Pedro, went between two defenders and looped a left-footed shot while falling into the back of the net.
Messi struck again in the 16th minute. Tello got to Messi’s rebound and whipped in a low cross for the scoring ace to poke past goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.
“On the first goal, I had a little bit of luck. We like to combine close to the area and it worked out well, and Tello was great on the second,” Messi said.
Tello then picked out Pedro unmarked on the right, who sliced home his cross in the 41st minute.
With the result beyond doubt, Vilanova sent on Villa for the final 15 minutes.
Moments after receiving a standing ovation, Villa brought Barcelona’s fans back to their feet when he fired in Andres Iniesta’s pass in the 84th minute to seal the victory.
“I am very happy, but this has only just begun,” Vilanova said.
Real Madrid dictated the pace early on and Higuain soon put his team ahead, scoring at the third attempt after goalkeeper Diego Alves made back-to-back saves to deny the Argentina striker.
Just when Valencia appeared clueless in attack, Jonas leveled for the visitors with a header. Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas and defender Pepe collided in an attempt to reach the ball, with both lying prone on the pitch for a few moments, before play restarted with both looking groggy.
Pepe was replaced by Raul Albiol at halftime and was sent to hospital for observation.
With the match level, Valencia regained their composure and succeeded in frustrating a Madrid attack that last season established a league scoring record of 121 goals.
Real coach Jose Mourinho downplayed the draw.
“We didn’t play well, but we played well enough to win,” he said. “We had enough occasions to score, but throughout the season you always draw some games.”