The international break is here and is often a time to pause for thought as players head off around the world to play for their national teams. Barcelona’s stars departed in good spirits on the back of a 2-1 win over Sevilla that leaves them four points clear at the top and still unbeaten.
Yet despite that Ernesto Valverde still does not seem to have completely convinced all Barcelona fans, largely because while the results have been superb, the style of play has, well, not been all that pretty at times.
Valverde though is completely unrepentant and, speaking after Saturday’s win at Camp Nou, was unapologetic for his side’s performances.
“Generally, results come through the way you play," he said. "First of all, you have to try to win, but we try to do that though dominating games, through high pressure and through winning the ball back. What we're not going to do is apologise for winning.”
Source | ESPN
The new manager has had to deal with a lot since taking over: Neymar’s departure, a pretty chaotic transfer market that saw dozens of players linked, before Ousmane Dembele arrived and promptly picked up a long-term injury.
Paulinho also arrived, to huge criticism, yet has quickly quietened his detractors while Luis Suarez has had a pretty awful start to the season and there’s also the small matter of Lionel Messi still not having actually signed his new contract.
Valverde is also working at a time when there is political unrest within Spain and Catalonia, which even forced their home clash against Las Palmas to be played behind closed doors due to tension in the region as an independence referendum was held.
Despite all of that he has equalled the club’s best ever start to a La Liga season after 11 games with 10 wins and a draw. Along with Valencia, the Blaugrana are the Spanish top flight’s top scorers with 30 goals. It could have been more too, Barca have hit the woodwork 13 times.
Defence has been key, goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen outstanding, Samuel Umtiti superb and Nelson Semedo looking a brilliant buy already.
No surprise then that Barca also have the best defence in La Liga, having conceded just four goals in 11 games, no mean feat according to Opta.
Atletico Madrid are eight points further back, so are Real Madrid and the omens looks good - los Blancos have never come from eight points or more behind to take the title.
It’s been the same story in the Champions League, top of the table, unbeaten, just one goal conceded and Juventus comfortably beaten 3-0 along the way.
It’s also worth noting how Athletic Bilbao are doing in Valverde’s absence, they finished seventh last season, they are currently 15th closer to the bottom three than the top six at the moment.
Valverde has acknowledged that his team have not been “spectacular” yet but, speaking ahead of the Sevilla clash, claimed that’s something they would be working on.
“What I like about the team is that they play for each other, they attack together, they defend together,” he said.
“We've had some tricky games, where we’ve gone behind but the team has always managed to fight back. I really like the team in general. Perhaps our games have never been that spectacular, we need to work on that but the results are certainly coming.”
The return of Dembele will surely help in that regard, while Suarez can surely only improve and it’s entirely possible the club may reinforce in January.
Barcelona may not be entirely convincing just yet and will be fully tested in their next three games which are all away from home, against Leganes, Juventus and Valencia.
We may have more of an idea by then, exactly just how good Valverde’s Barcelona are, but for now at least, let’s just enjoy the view from the top.