Barcelona started the new La Liga season with a very good win over Real Betis at Camp Nou. The Blaugrana were great in the first 45 minutes and kept the clean sheet in the second half on their way to a solid 2-0 victory.
Here are a few takeaways from what we saw on Sunday night in Catalonia:
1 - Pep Ball is coming back
Three years of Luis Enrique simply destroyed all the great years under Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova where Barça dominated possession, knew how to play their way out of pressing situations and used triangles and one-twos to create spaces in the final third, but Ernesto Valverde seems to be making a conscious effort to bring all of that back. We also saw Lionel Messi as a False Nine again, which was Valverde's answer to the absence of Luis Suárez. With Gerard Deulofeu and Paco Alcácer either side of him and a lot of support from Sergio Busquets and Sergi Roberto in midfield, Messi was sensational in a central position again, able to dribble past defenders in tight spaces and finding spaces to get shots off.
Messi hit the post three times and should have scored on the night, but as good as Leo was, it didn't look as though he was the sole reason for Barça's win as we saw over and over again over the last 12 months. The team looked strong and the collective play benefited Messi, not the other way around. That's good news.
2 - Sergi Roberto is good again
A whole season at full-back last year did no good for Roberto's development, but his return to midfield combined with the confidence he gained during the Luis Enrique Era seems to have brought the Roberto we all fell in love with in the 2015-16 season. Sergi helped with the buildup and was a constant attacking option arriving at the box, and he scored a goal to cap off an impressive display.
We all love Roberto because of that goal against PSG, but the kid has much more to his game and with him playing in midfield and Valverde slowly bringing the positional play back to the team, he might develop into a great player after all.
3 - There's a lot of potential in this team
The second half was quite boring and Barça couldn't replicate what they did in the first half, but those initial 45 minutes gave me a lot of encouragement. Valverde bringing Pep Ball back was something we expected and saw a bit in preseason, but the games against Real Madrid gave us no reason to believe it would work. Real Betis is a step down in level of opposition, but there is reason to believe Valverde can make this team a very good one. He needs more players and time to train, but the first half of Sunday's game showed that something good is happening at Barça.
The crisis is still here and something big needs to happen in this transfer window, but things are not as horrible as they seemed before the Betis game.