Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 25 September 2020

Barcelona's struggles seem to be behind them with Lionel Messi back and at his best

Win over Sevilla sets Ernesto Valverde’s side up nicely for next home league game – against Real Madrid

Real Madrid are top of La Liga, not a boast that football’s most successful club have been able to make as often as they’d like this decade. They lead Barcelona and Atletico Madrid after eight games, though the leading three have all suffered early season hiccups – yet Madrid’s have come in Europe rather than La Liga.

Barcelona and Sevilla were the last teams to play at the weekend, with the Catalans winning 4-0 against the side who are sixth – despite finishing the game with nine men. Sevilla, so strong at home, have lost their last eight games at Camp Nou, but they looked dangerous at the start.

They also soon found themselves 3-0 down and the damage to them was done long before Barca’s Ousame Dembele and Ronaldo Aruajo were sent off towards the end.

Goals from Luis Suarez, Arturo Vidal and Dembele inside eight first half minutes put Ernesto Valverde’s side 3-0 up. A wonderful Lionel Messi free-kick – his 100th goal from outside the box for Barca – after 80 minutes made it 4-0. Messi was sublime throughout as he became the first footballer to score in sixteen consecutive seasons of La Liga.

The Argentinian was badly missed at the start of the season, but he’s back now and at his best, dribbling and running at players. Notable mention to full-back Nelson Semedo, too. Frenkie de Jong has settled well into Barcelona, another plus.

Barca’s forwards of Messi, Suarez, Dembele, Griezmann and Ansu Fati are looking like the best in the world right now, with Suarez finding form after his annual slow start to the season. His two goals against an excellent Inter Milan last week showed the 32-year-old can still produce the spectacular under pressure.

Dembele will miss the clasico later this month after saying something to the referee which earned a red card. Whatever he said surprised his manager Valverde, who wryly pointed out: “It’s a mystery. It’s hard to get a phrase out of him in Spanish. It won’t have been a long phrase, for sure”.

It was perfect preparation for Barcelona’s next home league game in three weeks – against Real Madrid.

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 05: Karim Benzema of Real Madridn reacts during the Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Granada CF at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on October 05, 2019 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Karim Benzema scored against Granada. Getty

Zinedine Zidane’s side are the only unbeaten one in the league as they aim towards only a third title in a domestic decade dominated by Barca. Madrid put four past a promising Granada side with Karim Benzema opening the scoring on Saturday. The Frenchman, in his tenth season at the Bernabeu, is the joint top scorer in the league with six.

Uruguayan midfielder Federico Valverde, 21, impressed with an all round attacking midfield performance. The clamour for Paul Pogba has quietened, but will Valverde even get in the Madrid side when Luca Modric is fully fit or Casemiro is available? It’s a pleasant problem for Zidane to have.

Atletico Madrid drew three of their last four games 0-0. Fans hoping for a more attacking side this season have been left underwhelmed. Diego Simeone’s side have scored seven goals in eight matches. Barca have hit 20 – 16 of them at home in four games. Madrid have scored 16 home and away, while even Betis, in 16th, have scored 11.

With only four goals conceded in a defence which includes new signing Kieran Trippier, Atleti do have the joint best defence with another team who’ve scored just seven, Athletic Club. The Basques briefly hit the top of the table before losing their last two matches. Ditto their neighbours Real Sociedad, now playing in a very smart and fully completed stadium after two years of construction. Their home defeat to Getafe on Sunday was a surprise.

Another Basque team, promoted Osasuna, have lost only once, but it’s Granada who’ve been the biggest surprise so far. The promoted side are fourth having beaten Barcelona, but succumbing 4-2 to Madrid at the weekend. That was Granada’s first defeat on the road – a fine start to the season after winning promotion in June.

Valencia sacked their popular manager Marcelino only four months after winning Copa del Rey and three league games into this season, outraging fans who’ve vented their anger towards their Singaporean owners.

Marcelino brought stability to an unstable club in his two year spell – Valencia had 11 managerial changes in the previous five years. Yet Albert Celades, the 44-year-old former Barca and Real Madrid player, has been commendable in his first full managerial job after stints as an assistant with the Spanish national side and Real Madrid.

Further down in the relegation positions, Espanyol have suffered a wretched start to the season, with one win from eight. Their squad was always going to be stretched after they lost their manager, their two best players and gained the additional games of Europa League and its qualifiers. They are set to replace coach David Gallego, promoted from the second team in the close season, with former Sevilla boss Pablo Machin.

Espanyol were so bad that they lost to Mallorca at the weekend, the Islanders who have struggled after promotion and currently sit 18th.

Updated: October 7, 2019 08:44 PM

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