Lionel Messi believes Neymar’s departure has had a positive impact on the club, despite the initial disappointment in seeing the Brazilian leave Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain.
In one of the deadliest attacks the game has ever seen, Neymar, Messi and fellow striker Luis Suarez won nine trophies in three seasons under Luis Enrique, scoring 364 goals between them.
However, back in the summer, Neymar took the surprise decision to move to PSG for a world record €222million in search of ‘a new challenge.’
This season, new Barca coach Ernesto Valverde has had to build a fresh Barca side, with the emphasis on a deeper laying defence and midfield, with Barca having only conceded six goals in their last 19 games.
"Neymar's departure has led to a change in our playing style," told German magazine Kicker. "We've lost some attacking power but we are better organised defensively. Our midfield is playing more calmly and we are better balanced. It has made us stronger defensively."
Barcelona are one of three European teams who remain unbeaten in both their respective domestic leagues and the Champions League this season, along with Neymar’s new home PSG and Manchester City.
Messi has singled out those two clubs as Barca’s biggest threats to European glory this season, but wouldn’t rule out rivals Real Madrid or Bayern Munich either.
"[Man] City have been one of the strongest teams so far this season together with PSG," he added.
"But the season is still young; I would never discount Real Madrid because of their class and experience, even though they aren't picking up the expected results at the moment. Nor Bayern Munich -- Bayern are the other big team that will be ready come the end of the season."
Real have fallen very much short of expectations so far this season, even after beginning the campaign by demolishing Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup.
But in the last three months, Barcelona have an eight-point lead over Zinedine Zidane’s side 13 games in, with Valencia a surprise second place at only four points behind.
But Messi was quick to dispel any ideas that Real are in a crisis.
"It's only temporary," the Argentinian added, "it's not the first time we see a club like Real in such a situation. In the end, though, because of their squad and players, they'll be fighting for every title again. Because it's always this way."