Experimental yet successful might be the headline that described the first two matches in charge for Luis Enrique, who keeps throwing in teenagers to different positions while everything else revolves around Lionel Messi and a soft defense, yet Barcelona manage to get away with it.
No Andres Iniesta meant Rafinha of all people started in the midfield ahead of Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets as Barcelona came away with a 1-0 win over Villarreal. Considering that Atletico Madrid have dropped two points and Real Madrid lost, that win might turn out to mean a lot more in the long run, unless the Spanish La Liga has changed and it doesn’t take an insane amount of points to win it anymore.
Pedro on the right wing was hard working yet depressing as ever and Munir El Haddadi wasn’t as influential and surprising as in his first appearance or the preseason. Teams learn about new players quite quickly these days.
The defense is a mess. Dani Alves creates one hole after another at an alarming rate, and Barcelona not using Javier Mascherano (although this time he was suspended) as a defensive midfielder is becoming more and more ridiculous, even if he isn’t the passer Sergio Busquets is. The combination of Jeremy Mathieu and Gerard Pique obviously needs more work and time together if that is the grand plan, but it wasn’t promising on the first tryout together.
Lionel Messi? Any match Messi doesn’t score in comes off as a surprise, but his assist to Sandro Ramirez, another 19 year old who impressed in preseason and came off the bench, was something only Messi could do. It wasn’t a creation of team play, but simply of his individual brilliance, which is always enough for a few scoring opportunities for himself or someone else.
Neymar made his debut this season and showed fancy dribbling skills and no back problems whatsoever. Xavi, a teammate of Luis Enrique during some less successful years for Barcelona as well, got to make an appearance off the bench as well. That’s probably his role for this season, although a rotation and change of systems will be presented by Enrique, who doesn’t like sticking with just one formation and system.
It’s too soon to tell what the La Liga has planned for us, but it’ll probably involve a three headed title race until a certain point. Maybe all the way. Barcelona are different, but not by that much, to a team that was one goal away from winning the title, which is something many choose to forget. No revolutions were needed, but they’re still a work in progress, relying on individual brilliance and youth in the meantime to carry over the transition.