We're back y'all, and not a moment too soon either. While the international break was seriously testing my patience and making me question all that I find positive in this sport (I mean, really, did Wayne Rooney really have the break the England goalscoring record off the back of consecutive penalties, first against San Marino and then against Switzerland...in front of my own despairing eyes no less), the return of the Blaugrana somewhat eased my pain this past weekend.
Suddenly, I rediscovered my love for the beautiful game, joga bonito and whatnot as Barça didn't just dispatch Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon on Saturday evening in Madrid, they utterly dominated them. That's from minute number one, right up until minute 90, in case you weren't lucky enough to watch it for yourself. So, while the world fawned over Cristiano Ronaldo scoring five goals and registering an assist against an Espanyol team that
spread their legs tried really hard to stop him and Real Madrid from picking up the three points in Catalunya, Barcelona actually won a difficult match against one of the three best teams in the world.
Did I mention that it was our fifth consecutive victory over Atletico Madrid? I didn't? Well, it was -- and that's a feat that hasn't been achieved by any club while Diego Simeone has been in charge for Los Colchoneros. Let that sink in, and maybe that'll demonstrate just how special this Barcelona outfit is under the guidance of Luis Enrique.
If Saturday is any indication, this season is gonna be hella awesome. Maybe we should put that seatbelt that Pep was talking about back on...
1) Lionel Messi
Last week: 1
Welcome back Lionel Messi. Ronaldo scored five goals earlier in the day, while Madridistas were all too keen to point out that Messi was yet to score or register an assist this La Liga season. Hmm, maybe they'll refrain from tempting fate and teasing the almighty in the future, because jeez, it didn't work out too well on the evening. Messi came off the bench to change the dynamic of the game and ultimately win the match, even with a bit of jetlag and without training, because you know, he's that damn awesome.
2) Andres Iniesta
Last week: 2
The pale-faced assassin. El Illusionista. I'm not fortunate enough to live in the States and experience Ray Hudson's magisterial commentary on a weekly basis, but I really hope that he's busy coming up with another nickname to reflect Iniesta's dominant start to this season. All of my suggestions are probably not safe for broadcast, but let's just say that if you take part of the phrase that got Pique suspended for four matches, Iniesta is doing that to opposing midfields and every team he faces at the moment.
Last week: 6
No Messi for the first hour? No problem! Of course we played better with the Argentine on the field because he is the greatest player in the history of the sport, but we were probably the better side even without him on the field, courtesy of some excellent play from Brazilian superstar, Neymar. His free-kick couldn't have been any more clutch, and it probably couldn't have been more in the top corner of the net if he picked up the ball, ran to the goal and threw it in from the six-yard box. Hostile crowd and an even more hostile defense? "Não tô nem aí!" -- Neymar rose about the hate and bossed it on Saturday
4) Sergio Busquets
Last week: 5
Another jump in the rankings for Sergio Busquets, because do you remember ever really worrying about Koke, Oliver Torres or Antoine Griezmann on Saturday? Oh yeah, that's because they barely had the ball as Busi was dominating the midfield and recycling possession for the Blaugrana.
5) Luis Suarez
Last week: 3
I guess this is part of Suarez' goofy charm; in a match like this, he does a few good things like setting up the winner (not to be understated either) and he does a few stupid things, like fall on the floor at the slightest sign of contact and generally mess up a few other good chances with some less than coordinated play. On another night, he would have had a goal to his name, but he struck the bar and as I spent the majority of the match shaking my head at his decision making, I've dropped Luisito down a couple of pegs.
6) Ivan Rakitic
Last week: 7
The good Ivan was back on Saturday, putting in a steady shift in the Barça midfield to complement Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta's general awesomeness. Back in the first-half, Rakitic had one of the first real chances of the match, created with his smart movement as the spare man at the far post in an incisive Barcelona attack. His shot was well-saved by Jan Oblak, but it was a stand-out moment in his night, which ended a little sooner than I thought as his legs were saved, presumably with an eye on Rome.
7) Jordi Alba
Last week: 8
Things that are quicker than Jordi Alba: a fighter jet, a Bugatti Veyron, Justin Gatlin; that is all. Jordi is so ridiculously quick that he stopped most attacks before anyone even knew what was going on -- and he came within inches of stopping Torres from pulling the trigger for the opening goal. Going forward, Alba was strong as well and I was very happy with his showing on the night.
8) Javier Mascherano
Last week: 9
This one is especially for @Parvsa10, who y'all might know better under the guise of Som-i-Serem here on the site. With Vermaelen injured, Pique suspended and lumbered with Jeremy Mathieu against one of the best offensive sides in the league, Mascherano once again displayed his class with an excellent performance. Did someone say...leader?
9) Gerard Pique
Last week: 10
He didn't play, but damn it I'm moving him up anyway because he'll be back on Wednesday and you just know he's going to be awesome. And come on, it's a wonder that I haven't put him in the number one spot for his golden press conference about Real Madrid and being whistled on national team duty. Boig per tu Geri. And don't ever change.
10) Claudio Bravo
Last week: 4
Aw man, I'm just brutal to anyone who gets injured. Come back soon Claudio, I'm missing you already!
11) Sergi Roberto
Last week: 12
Sergi Roberto is the best right-back at the club. SERGI ROBERTO. I've tried to make a lot of jokes in this article, but that isn't one of them. SERGI. ROBERTO. Who would have thought it, eh? This was another great showing from the Catalan ... midfielder? Full-back? As he doesn't really fit into either category, I'mma just christen him as the Catalan Dani Alves. I eagerly await his first Instagram fashion faux pas in the coming days.
12) Rafinha Alcantara
Last week: 13
Everyone is just moving up a spot now, but there was part of me that wanted to reward Rafinha a little bit more for his display on Saturday. Replacing Messi is impossible, but Rafinha did well on the right-wing and wandering the attack before eventually dropping back into a more orthodox midfield role, where he also performed well. Did someone say breakout season, because I'm pretty sure they did.
13) Thomas Vermaelen
Last week: 11
Vermaelen is injured for a year. Makes debut. Is surprisingly good. Gets injured again. See you in 2018 Thomas! In all seriousness, I wasn't surprised by Vermaelen pulling up with another muscle injury, but I was a little anxious because he has been playing really well -- but as it turned out, I was worried without reason...
14) Jeremy Mathieu
Last week: 17
Has he started smoking again? Or has he quit? Whatever Mathieu did between those displays against Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao to Saturday has worked anyway; he was steady and occasionally good at the Calderon, which was a pleasant surprise for this Cule and well received by my liver, which couldn't take any more Mathieu-related punishment so early into the season.
15) Marc-Andre ter Stegen
Last week: 15
*Shrugs shoulders* -- I'll probably get lynched by the MAtS fan club for saying this, but meh. The overriding feeling in the bar where I was watching with the London Penya was "ter Stegen should have come out" for the goal and watching back, he really, really should have. Just look back at how slow Torres was (it was Cesc Fabregas-esque), and then try and argue against my point.
16) Dani Alves
Last week: 14
Last week: 16
18) Marc Bartra
Last week: 17
19) Munir El Haddadi
Last week: 18
20) Adriano Correia
Last week: 20
Last week: 21
22) Jordi Masip
Last week: 22
(Unranked: Arda Turan, Aleix Vidal)