There were goals galore as the European leagues kick into high gear over the past weekend.
Luis Suarez hit a hat-trick in Barcelona’s La Liga opener while Gonzalo Higuain got off to a scoring start at Juventus.
But it’s the Uruguayan who is the main topic of discussion on KICK’s YouTube channel.
The former Liverpool and Ajax man keeps plundering goals and is making a strong case to be considered as the premier centre-forward in world football.
What’s your opinion? Who is the best striker in the world? Get in touch with us on social media using #360fans to let us know.
As season openers go, Barcelona could not have asked for much more than this comprehensive dismantling of outclassed Real Betis.
Flowing football, the character to respond to conceding a shock equaliser, goals galore – including a hat-trick for the centre forward – and a pair of assured debuts…all the necessary ingredients were in place for Luis Enrique’s reigning champions.
And then there was Lionel Messi.
Even by his own stratospheric standards, this was a performance of astonishing brilliance from the Argentine master.
As well as scoring two brilliant goals and acting as the conduit for nearly every attacking move, Messi was sharp and determined off the ball, closing down opposition defenders at every opportunity and regularly snapping into tackles to regain possession.
Despite everything he has achieved – and the frustration of his on-off retirement from international football – Messi still somehow seems to be as hungry as ever, and that can only be wonderful news for Barca as they attempt to secure a third consecutive La Liga title.
It only took six minutes to open the deadlock and Messi, inevitably, was heavily involved as his pinpoint crossfield pass picked out Jordi Alba, whose cutback was dispatched by Arda Turan.
Barca started the game with plenty of zip and zest, but Betis grabbed a leveller with their first shot on target as Ruben Castro blasted a 20 yard free-kick goalwards and Claudio Bravo, probably playing his last game for the Blaugrana, couldn’t keep it out despite getting a strong left hand on the ball.
Any thoughts that the hosts would be thrown off track by conceding were soon dispelled, though, as they resumed their attacking menace with Turan and debutant Denis Suarez going close before Messi smashed a right-footed shot against the crossbar.
Messi would not be denied for long, though, restoring his team’s lead with a masterpiece as he received the ball 30 yards from goal and cut inside to arrow a perfectly struck left-footed missile into the bottom left corner.
The points were made safe before the break as right-back Sergi Roberto, again taking advantage of the lack of defensive width provided by Betis boss Gus Poyet’s 3-5-2 system, advanced to pull back a low cross which Luis Suarez drilled into the bottom corner.
Barca opened the second half with a mesmerising exhibition of attacking football, threatening more goals as Messi and Denis forced saves from visiting keeper Antonio Adan, who was also relieved to see Ivan Rakitic’s low strike fizz past his post.
The fourth soon arrived as a brilliantly executed counter attack resulted in Turan finding Messi, whose unselfishly squared pass gave Suarez a simple close-range finish.
Luis Suarez bags yet another hat-trick as Barcelona score six against Real Betis.— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) August 20, 2016
Goal machine. pic.twitter.com/y7WsNc365w
And within seconds it was five as Messi, producing a level of performance which must rank among his personal best, drove towards goal before rifling a fierce low strike past helpless ex-Real Madrid stopper Adan.
With the game well won Barca took their foot off the gas, allowing Enrique to give a league debut to summer signing Lucas Digne, who slotted in next to impressive fellow new boy Samuel Umtiti in the home team back four.
Suarez completed an excellent hat-trick with a powerfully swept free-kick into the left corner, before Betis had the final word with a snapshot from Castro.
But the day belonged to Barca, and specifically to the undisputed king of Nou Camp kings, Messi.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Finding new words to describe Lionel Messi’s performances is impossible, but his football spoke loud and clear for itself for anybody fortunate enough to witness another masterpiece from the little Argentine. His two goals were brutally dispatched, he could have scored more, he created plenty of chances and he worked devilishly hard. What more do you need?
Although the outrageously good Messi will steal the headlines, this was a mightily impressive all-round performance from Barcelona, whose summer reinforcements helped them overcome the absence of seven squad members.
The only black mark was the two goals scored by Betis, and Claudio Bravo will be frustrated to leave Barca – assuming he joins Manchester City next week – after conceding a goal he could have prevented. Betis had no chance, but things will get easier for Gus Poyet’s men.
With Neymar otherwise engaged in the task of helping his country to an Olympic gold medal, Barcelona were denied the services of their record-setting MSN strike force forSaturday’s La Liga opener.
But even in the absence of the flamboyant Brazilian, Barca still had more to offer.
With six goals thumped past hapless Real Betis, the reigning champions gave birth to a new frontline acronym: MAS – Messi, Arda and Suarez – which, handily, translates from Spanish as ‘more’.
Messi was almost beyond description and Suarez, last season’s leading scorer in Spain, started where he had finished with yet another hat-trick, but it was the contribution of the third man, Arda Turan, which is perhaps the best news for Barca fans as they celebrate their team’s ability to deliver ‘more’.
This is a crucial season for the Turkish international, who consistently delivered sparkling football during his four-year stay with Atletico Madrid but was notably underwhelming in his first season at Barcelona.
More accurately, Turan was disappointing during his first half-season at the Nou Camp, and therein perhaps lies the explanation for his struggles in adapting to life with his new club.
Although Turan joined Barca during the summer of 2015, due to the club’s transfer ban handed down by UEFA he was unable to make his debut for six months.
By then, everyone else was already into the thick of the season, accustomed to the rhythms of playing competitive games twice a week and in tune with the movement and tempo of their teammates.
When you also consider the elite technical excellence of the players around him, it’s perhaps no surprise that Turan, coming in from the cold, looked lost – as did, not uncoincidentally, his fellow January new boy Aleix Vidal.
Arda Turan in 2015-16: Two goals in 25 games— Ben Hayward (@bghayward) August 20, 2016
Arda Turan in 2016-17: Three goals in three games
But that difficult first season is now in the past, and Turan has the chance to start afresh. It is a chance he must take – sections of the Catalan media and fanbase were open to the idea of selling the Turk this summer, and if he underperforms again this season will almost certainly be his last with Barcelona.
The early signs, though, have been excellent: a brilliant chest-down for Suarez to score in the Super Cup at Sevilla, two goals in the rematch and now the opening goal, along with a very bright all-round performance, in the league opening trashing of Betis.
If this form continues, Barca have got themselves another world-class performer.