Spanish giants Barcelona had a season to forget last season as they fell short of their lofty heights. For the first time in as many seasons, they exited the Champions League in the quarter-final stage and also failed to win any of the major trophies on offer (La Liga, Champions League and Copa Del Rey).
With such a poor season, certainly, heads had to roll and it started with that of former manager Tata Martino who resigned after the last match of the season. In the summer, the Catalans cleared their deck, selling many players and bringing in some new ones. Stars like Fabregas, Sanchez, Song, Tello were all shown the door while Rakitik, Suarez, Vermaelen, Ter Stegen were brought in.
Besides the many new players, a new manager in the person of former fan favourite Luis Enrique was brought in to replace the departed Argentine manager. Barca have had a great start to the season. They have won 5 of the 6 games played, drawing it. It is not even winning alone that has surprised everyone, it is the fact that they are yet to concede a goal. It is not a surprise that they have scored 18 goals in 6 La Liga games, the Catalans have a reputation for been ruthless in attack but it is certainly a big surprise that they are yet to concede. Just like they have a reputation for scoring, so do they have a reputation for conceding. In fact, good defence has never been their mantra.
That is the pleasant surprise Enrique has brought to the fore. The Blaugranas are just not conceding. Seeing them keep clean sheets might be a surprise on face value but for anyone that has seen their games this season, it won’t be so much of a surprise. For once, they now have above average defenders and also good goalkeepers. Bravo and Ter Stegen are certainly upgrades to Valdes and Pinto. Also in Rakitic, they have an attacking and defensive midfielder rolled into one. The Croatian is happy going forward but doesn’t slack in his responsibilities if he needs to defend.
Another thing I have come to notice about Barca this season is the return of the Guardiola style. Under Riijkard, all they were known for was sumptuous passes and lofty possession but their former manager introduced the high pressing game which saw them dominate possession and recover it almost as soon as they loose it. This made them almost unplayable. Former boss Vilanova tried to do it but couldn’t do it to perfection while Martino totally abandoned it and that left them vulnerable. Under Enrique, that old style is back. They still string passes together which gives them abundant possession and once they loose the ball, they hunt for it in packs. If this style was successful under Guardiola, it would almost be as successful under Enrique.
The race for the La Liga is a three-horse race between Barca, Athletico Madrid and Real Madrid but early signs are tilting the pendulum in the direction of the Catalans. If they are playing this well despite not been in top gear just yet, I wonder what would happen if they reach cruise control. Lest I forget, there is still a certain Suarez and Vermaelen to come. Suarez would further strengthen an attack that is no longer over reliant on Messi and Vermaelen would further shore up their
defence. It looks like Barca would be scoring more goals and enjoying more clean sheets this season.