Barcelona start life without Lionel Messi with thrilling victory

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Barcelona started their new post-Lionel Messi era with a thrilling 4-2 win over Real Sociedad on Sunday.

It was the first time in 18 years that the club had started a campaign without the Argentinian, who had joined Paris Saint-Germain on a two-year contract on August 10.

Many fans wore Messi shirts and sang songs about the club’s tallest player as they watched an entertaining match at Camp Nou.

Longtime Barca servant Gerard Pique was leading his side ahead before Martin Braithwaite scored on either side of half-time to give Barcelona seemingly total control.

But two late goals from Real Sociedad’s Julen Lobete and Mikel Oyarzabal reduced the deficit to just one, setting up a tense final minute.

As the visitors looked to equalize, Sergi Roberto completed a sweeping counterattack in added time to ensure Barcelona took all three points in the team’s opener of the new La Liga season.

“We complicated things for ourselves, but we played a good game,” Pique said after the game.

READ: $ 138million transfer shows business continuing as usual for English Premier League elite

Fans returned to Camp Nou and many paid tribute to Lionel Messi.
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Urbanandsport / NurPhoto / Getty Images

Fans returned to Camp Nou and many paid tribute to Lionel Messi.

Fans were allowed to return to the stadium for the first time in 526 days on Sunday, and 20,000 supporters watched as the young Barcelona side attempt to establish themselves without Messi.

There were certainly promising signs that this team could still produce at the highest level despite the crippling financial situation the club find themselves in.

He dominated great periods of the game and showed that he is still capable of exciting attacking football.

It was also fitting that Pique opened the scoring, with the club announcing that the center-back had suffered a pay cut to relieve some of the financial pressure.

“I grew up here, I played most of my life here, and it was a move I had to make and I talked to the other captains and they are going to do the same too,” added Pique, who celebrated his goal by kissing the badge on his shirt.

READ: Ditching Manchester United to support my home side. Now they are in the Premier League

Gerard Pique celebrates his goal against Real Sociedad on Sunday.

Andreu Dalmau / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock

Gerard Pique celebrates his goal against Real Sociedad on Sunday.

Elsewhere in La Liga, Real Madrid started with a Matchday 1 win over Alavés.

A brace from Karim Benzema and goals from Nacho and Vinícius allowed Carlo Ancelotti to start his new chapter at the club with a 4-1 victory.

Meanwhile, Atlético Madrid began their title defense with a spirited 2-1 victory over Celta Vigo.

Both teams were reduced to ten after the expulsion of Hugo Mallo and Mario Hermoso for an incident in the finals. Eight yellow cards were also displayed throughout the moody affair.

But a brace from Argentina striker Ángel Correa pulled the champion to victory, despite Iago Aspas initially equalizing from the penalty spot.

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