The first game of any coach on the Barcelona bench is always a big test: every gesture is analysed, every detail poured over and every decision dissected in a bid to guess what can be expected from the new manager.
In this case, Ronald Koeman kicked things off with good sensations. Let's take a look at the five factors that invite optimism for Barça under the Dutchman.
Ansu Fati, unstoppable
He was the star of the show. And he promised to be again and again in many more matches. For his youth, his freshness and his incredible ability to score goals, the forward is no longer a promise for the future but a reaon to be excited for the present. A month before he turns 18, Barça's new No.22 is the biggest argument yet that there will be life beyond Lionel Messi.
No problems in defence
The defensive line (Sergi Roberto, Piqué, Lenglet and Jordi Alba) was almost the same as it was against Bayern (Sergi Roberto played further forward in that game, with Nelson Semedo at right-back), so you could understand the doubts ahead of the new season. But in the first league game of the season, they were at a good level. There were few problems for the centre-backs. And the full-backs worked well, especially Jordi Alba on the left.
Koeman's double pivot (De Jong and Busquets started and Pjanic came on) also contributed to the improvement. They helped scale back Villarreal's ambition. The visitors only created danger in the second half, when the result had already neem decided.
Depending on Messi has been a habit for Barça throughout the years. For many, a blessing, even though there's been no lack of analysts demanding other resources, beyond the Argentine.
In Koeman's first game, it looks like Barça can and will look for alternatives in attack. Without forgetting that the team still needs its No.10, even if he's now back as a false nine. Barça moved the ball well inside (Coutinho) and outside (Ansu) with players that can do damage without Messi.
Leo will remain the key player in this Barça side, Koeman's said as much, but the team is learning to elaborate it's attacking weapons.
The lack of bench options has been one of Barça's big problems in recent seasons. There's been a starting XI but little behind that. With Koeman, the team has gained depth and the level has gone up. There are eight players for the attacking positions (Griezmann, Coutinho, Ansu, Dembélé, Pedri, Trincao, Riqui and Braithwaite) in addition to Messi and up to six midfielders for the double pivot: Busquets, De Jong, Pjanic, Aleña and even Sergi Roberto and Riqui Puig (again).
The 4-3-3 formation has long been preferred at Barça. Any coach attempting to change that formation, so successful under Cruyff and perfected by Guardiola, was quickly criticised. But Koeman, true to his ideas, has backed a 4-2-3-1, a system which served him so well as coach of the Dutch national tram.
Barça attack with four forwards (Coutinho, Griezmann, Ansu and Messi) and still have order in midfield, with De Jong deeper to help Busquets. Busquets even acknowledged as much after the game when he said he no longer feels so alone in the middle.
The team showed it was capable of attacking inside or out and could also move the ball between the lines, with Coutinho performing especially well in that sense.