As Neymar departed for Paris, few could have envisaged Barcelona settling into life under a new coach as quickly as they have.
Seven La Liga matches later and Los Cules have racked up seven straight victories and sit an enormous seven points clear of title rivals Real Madrid, although the two behemoths still have to play each other twice.
Impressive as the Blaugrana’s start to the campaign has been, it must be said that they have enjoyed a favourable run of fixtures.
Where Atletico Madrid and Los Blancos have both met Valencia, Los Colchoneros have also faced Sevilla and Athletic Club. Throughout the same period, Ernesto Valverde’s charges have only faced one team in the current top 11 of the table.
A tougher test awaits
Tougher tests await Barcelona and the first of which comes on Saturday October 14th when the newly constructed Estadio Wanda Metropolitano plays host to the first heavyweight clash of the season.
Atleti will welcome Los Cules to their new stadium in a match that will truly test the visitors’ title credentials.
Diego Simeone’s side have struggled in front of goal of late, Antoine Griezmann’s lack of form has made the club’s overreliance upon him glaringly obvious.
With that being said, Atletico are an incredibly resilient team who are difficult to beat, they have yet to suffer a domestic defeat this term, Barcelona will not be able to break them down in the easy manner they did Las Palmas just prior to the international break.
It is important for Barcelona to be tested because it is difficult to assess exactly where they are as a team.
Obviously, they are a high quality side, it would be foolish to suggest otherwise, even after the seemingly disastrous summer transfer window they had to endure.
Lionel Messi remains a player capable of changing any game and any scenario, Luis Suarez’s form is good in a collective sense, even if he is struggling to find the net with the regularity he is used to. Paulinho has added a more incisive dimension to the midfield, but question marks remain.
Gerard Pique is making a lot more mistakes than he used to in defence, such mistakes cannot be made against a forward of Griezmann’s quality as he will punish you, every single time.
It must be remembered that Barcelona have a weaker front line than last season, Neymar’s departure is a serious blow, one that hasn’t manifested itself as yet simply due to the quality of opposition the team has faced.
In the Supercopa de Espana, it is worth remembering that Barcelona were outclassed by Real Madrid in every single department over the course of both legs.
The lack of creativity in attack was alarming. Gerard Deulofeu has played well since, but again he hasn’t come up against a defence as talented and well drilled as Diego Godin’s backline.
A potential psychological message to Real
There is a sense that a draw would be a good result for the visiting Barcelona, it will maintain the 5 point barrier between themselves and Los Rojiblancos and whatever happens in Real Madrid’s match with Getafe, they can only cut the lead to five points with a victory in this instance.
However, the match presents a test to Barcelona, if they can record a victory at the home of one of their fiercest domestic rivals, a fellow title challenger, it will send a significant psychological message.
It is inevitable that the Blaugrana will drop points between now and the end of the campaign, and not just in the matches with Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid.
Though, recording a victory away from home against Atletico will show that they are capable of beating any team in La Liga, it would put Los Blancos at a psychological disadvantage knowing that even if they beat Barcelona twice, they will still be a single point behind.
Valverde’s tactical changes have worked thus far; Saturday’s encounter will be a test of whether or not he can win a big game in charge of the Catalan club.
The performance in the Champions League against Juventus was near perfect; this suggested that he is capable of getting the big results.
Atleti’s style could suit Barca
Atletico’s defence is somewhat similar in style to Juventus’, however as the home team you would expect them to be a little more adventurous, especially given their attacking struggles of late.
This could play into Barcelona’s hands; Paulinho’s arrival has made the team even more of a threat on the counter attack.
Nobody can argue against how positive Los Cules’ start to the season has been, however their first significant challenge comes in the form of Atletico Madrid, it will be interesting to see how they fare and it will give an indication as to just how serious a title contender they are after the departure of the Brazilian.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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