Joao Felix. SUR
Barça are back on-brand

Barça are back on-brand

Whereas last season they won 16 games by a single goal, this week they have recorded back-to-back five-nil victories

Rob Palmer, Commentator, ESPN

Friday, 22 September 2023, 18:03


It sounds crazy to say Barça are back, especially as they are the reigning champions - but, hey, "Barça are back."

Xavi's team won LaLiga by simply setting out to score one more goal than the opposition last season. It was like a cricketer looking for quick singles or a baseball player aiming to shuffle from base to base. This season, they are smashing boundaries and attempting to hit the opposition out of the park.

Whereas last season they won 16 games by a single goal, this week they have recorded back-to-back five-nil victories. They're back on-brand. FC Barcelona have always been renowned for playing cavalier football where they attempt to blast the opposition apart.

These are early days but it looks like a transfer market gamble is paying off. The two Joãos arrived with damaged reputations. João Félix's career had gone off the tracks with Atlético Madrid; he was unwanted after being farmed out to Chelsea on loan. João Cancelo is a player with talent that has never been developed at a succession of high-profile clubs.

Félix looks like a player reborn, scoring three goals in his last two matches and weighing in with an assist against Antwerp. He looks like the player who was valued at 120 million euros when he left Benfica. His willingness to go searching for the ball has taken the weight off the shoulders of Robert Lewandowski whose reputation was under scrutiny. Lewandowski has reacted by scoring four goals and setting up another four in five games.

Cancelo is the right full back Barça have been seeking for seven years since Dani Alves left. A succession have attempted to fill the position with little success. The Portuguese international has slotted right in and deservedly won plaudits for his early impact.

The signings are all having a knock-on effect. Cancelo playing right-back means Jules Koundé no longer needs to fill that role against his wishes. He can play in his strongest central position which is timely as Ronald Araújo is currently injured. When the Uruguayan returns, there will be competition for places.

Pedri is another player who is missing. The temptation would be to rush him back. His issues stem from him being overplayed as a teenage sensation. Now, with a stronger squad, he can be teased back at a sensible pace. It also means that the next "big thing" Yamine Lamal can also be drip-fed matches instead of going through a fast-track system which has been the norm in previous seasons.

Suddenly, players are in the team on form instead of necessity. Nobody is guaranteed a game. It has benefited Spain international Ferran Torres who looked like he was playing with the world on his shoulders last season. He was shirking whereas now he's "sharking". "The Shark" is his new nickname after stepping forward to take on free-kick responsibilities. He became the first player to score from a set-piece since Lionel Messi in 2021.

The recruitment of Félix, Cancelo and Oriol Romeu means that Barça have players who are in the peak years of their careers instead of the best days being behind them like Gerard Piqué, Jordi Alba and Sergi Busquets who were all in the team 12 months ago. It also means the next generation are not being overplayed which has been an issue in recent seasons.

The end product means big, impressive Barça-like results.

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