Barca's title defence off to a flying start

Madrid, Aug 19 (IANS) Spanish football giants Barcelona began their title defence in fine style with a 7-0 thrashing of Levante at the Camp Nou Stadium to throw the gauntlet down to eternal rivals, Real Madrid.

After a summer of doubts, Barca were out of the blocks Sunday evening almost as fast as Usain Bolt to leave a hapless Levante reeling in the sun that burned down on the pitch at the Camp Nou, reports Xinhua.

The league champions looked as if they have recaptured their hunger, although it may sound cruel that the arrival of Gerardo 'Tata' Martinez as the result of Tito Vilanova's illness in the summer, seems to have sparked new life into the squad.

Barcelona needed less than three minutes to open the scoring as Alexis Sanchez virtually walked the ball into the Levante net after two minutes and 40 seconds in what could be an example of what to expect this season.

Javier Mascherano won the ball high up the field, fed Xavi Hernandez, whose fine through ball set up Cesc Fabrigas to square the ball for Alexis to finish into an empty net.

It was almost 30 degrees in the Camp Nou and with high humidity, which only served to complicate the lives of a Levante side destined to spend a lot of time pursuing the ball as it pinged around the Barca midfield.

Another combination between Messi, Cesc and Pedro Rodriguez ended with Pedro squaring the ball for Messi to double Barca's lead after 12 minutes.

Messi was in the side after recovering from a muscle problem, while Pedro's start meant that new signing Neymar had to be content with a place on the bench as Martino looks to slowly adapt him to the side.

Dani Alves added a third after more good work by Messi and Cesc after 23 minutes and Pedro then put the game beyond doubt two minutes later when he scored his side's fourth.

There was still time for more before the break, however, as Messi scored a penalty to double his personal tally for the evening after Pedro Lopez fouled Adriano in the Levante penalty area. That made it 5-0 and Xavi made it 6-0 after another fine move involving Cesc.

After that opening and with the game already won, the second half was always destined to be something of an anti-climax as Barca looked so reserve strength for their Spanish Supercup game against Atletico Madrid next week and it turned into a parade of near misses and almost with Messi, Pedro, Cesc and Gerard Pique all going close, but without luck.

Neymar replaced Alexis after 64 minutes and Iniesta replaced Messi seven minutes later, just before Pedro scored Barca's seventh on 73 minutes and in turn being replaced by Cristian Tello.

The Brazilian did get him name in the statistics, but it was for a booking after a late tackle. That won't worry Barca, whose season is under way in fine style, while Levante can be grateful that they only play the Catalans twice a season.

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