Barcelona seemed headed for a lost season after its sale of Neymar and failure to sign Coutinho, but it's off to a perfect start in La Liga under its new manager.

By 90Min
October 03, 2017

Nine wins out of nine. 27 goals scored, two conceded. These are the stats of a Barcelona team who have been stripped to the core and reinvented this season. After a turbulent summer in which arguably their most influential player last season, Neymar, left for the French capital in a world record transfer, it looked somewhat inevitable that the new season would be one of transition for Barcelona. 

To make matters worse, treble-winning manager Luis Enrique left along with Neymar, leaving Barca to feel their way through a cloud of uncertainty coming into the new season. Two humiliating losses in the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid looked set to foreshadow the oncoming season, with Madrid tipped to dominate both domestically and in Europe.

However, come October, Barcelona find themselves top of the league and seven points in front of Los Blancos, winning every game in both the league and in Europe.

So what's changed since last season's stuttering campaign? Well, new manager Ernesto Valverde has played a big part in changing the stagnating philosophy that Enrique had implemented.

Valverde played under Johan Cruyff as a player for Barcelona during the late 80s, and his idea of how Barcelona should play stems from the 'total football' philosophies that Cruyff and Guardiola used during their spells at the club.

He has brought back the 'six second rule' that so famously dominated world football in Guardiola's era, where the team would immediately try and obtain the ball after losing it, preferably in six seconds. Against Juventus in their Champions League opener, this was integral as it didn't allow the opposition to get a grip on the game, forcing players like Paulo Dybala and Miralem Pjanic out of the contest. They were eventual winners, beating the Italian champions 3-0 after they had humiliated them last season in the Champions League quarter finals.

In addition, the loss of Neymar has somewhat forced Barcelona to play a different way. Valverde is all about possession; everything starts with the ball and finishes with the ball. Under Enrique, Barcelona played direct, attacking football which often left them vulnerable at the back and cut out the need for the midfield. However, this season, the midfield is the focal point of the team, just as it was under Guardiola.

There is one fundamental difference between Valverde and Guardiola's system, however. This current team plays in a 4-3-1-2 formation as opposed to 4-3-3. This allows Messi to become a free floating attacking player one again, operating between the opposition lines where he is at his most dangerous. There is a certain freedom about Messi this season; although his conversion rate is not as high, he is attempting those outrageous attacking moves we saw a few seasons ago. With 11 goals in seven league games, there is no sign of him slowing down.

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The additions of Nelson Semedo at right back and Paulinho in centre midfield have been welcomed signings. Semedo looks to be the missing piece in the jigsaw since Dani Alves left, providing a versatility on the right hand side that Sergi Roberto couldn't quite achieve last season. Also, fringe players such as Denis Suarez and Deulofeu have been given opportunities to impress, and have done so. This shows a hunger and togetherness that was certainly lacking last season; these players feel they can break into the team which ultimately creates competition within the group.

Having conceded only two goals all season, Valverde's solid defensive system of being able to transition between attacking and defending quickly means Pique and Umtiti are able to act as the first line of attack and the last line of defence; something Barcelona struggled with in bigger games as they frequently were unlocked by quality teams.

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With £96m summer signing Ousmane Demebele still to come back from injury later on this season, Barcelona are only going to grow and get better as the team gets to grips with the new system. The system is an invigorating twist on the kind of football that we have come to love from Barcelona in recent seasons.

They face their toughest test of the season so far when they travel to the Wando Metropolitano to face Atletico Madrid after the international break. This will be a perfect indicator of how good this team really are if they end up defeating an in-form Atletico side.

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