Barcelona started well their Camp Nou La Liga season, winning a tough stadium opener against Málaga, getting a narrow, yet important 1-0 win to maintain the lead in the standings. Here's a few takeaways from another winning night.
1. Neymar is still in preseason, so patience is necessary. The Brazlian was very clearly a few steps down when compared to his teammates. He was slow sometimes, made some bad decisions and wasn't as sharp in his dribbling. He picked things up in the second half for a few minutes, but he got tired quite easily and basically walked until the final whistle. He had no preseason because of the Copa América, and he couldn't train for two weeks because of mumps. He'll come back to his normal, world-beating self soon, but as of now, he needs time.
2. The defense has stepped up. Since the second leg of the Spanish Supercup against Athletic Bilbao, Barça have been a very strong team defensively. In the two league games, two clean sheets and two very safe performances from the whole defensive system, but especially the center-back pairing of Javier Mascherano and Thomas Vermaelen. They have both been on point and alert during all 180 minutes played together thus far, and with the help from the full-backs and the midfielders, they helped stabilize a shaky, worrisome preseason defense. Things look good again on the goal-prevention department.
3. VERMAELEN!!!!!!!!!! What a happy surprise he has been. After a whole year battling injuries and jokes about his physical problems, the Belgian kept working hard to get ready for high-level competition with the Blaugrana, and from the start of the preseason, he had been a solid contributor. But in the last two games, he has been very impressive, and he capped off a great week with the game-winner against Málaga. To make things better, he's back with the national team. What a great story. Please be healthy, because you're good, Verminator!