A huge amount of work behind the scenes during the latest transfer window saw the departure of many players either permanently – Coutinho, Aubameyang, Trincao, Mingueza, Manaj, Wagué, Alves, Puig, Neto, Braithwaite - or on loan - Lenglet, Nico, Umtiti, Dest, Abde, Collado - and the arrivals of Lewandowski, Raphinya, Koundé, Kessié, Bellerín, Christensen and Alonso. Following a tame 0-0 home draw against Rayo Vallecano when all the comings and goings were still being resolved, this new Barça got their season on track with three convincing league wins: 4-1 at Real Sociedad, 4-0 at home to Valladolid and 3-0 at Sevilla.
If you add Dembele, Ansu Fati, Memphis and Ferran Torres to the promising partnership developing between new boys Raphinya and the sublime Robert Lewondowski, then this Barça is an attacking force to be reckoned with. Especially when you consider that youngsters Pedri and Gavi are now in their second seasons with the first team and can play most La Liga teams off the park with their ingenuity. The slick forward passing and audacious assists and goals witnessed in the last three games - including Ansu Fati for Dembele, and then Lewandowski for Ansu Fati in a second half demolition of Real, and Lewandowski’s flicked goal vs Valladolid - are a sign that Rayo may be one of the only sides to keep a clean sheet against Barça this season.
At the other end of the pitch, the late additions of Bellerín and Alonso, as well as Jules Koundé after a drawn-out summer transfer saga, means that the defence will also be on a surer footing as the season gets going.
One thing is for certain, Xavi’s new side will be put to the sternest of tests this month of September when they travel to Bavaria to take on Bayern Munich in the Champions League after being drawn in the “group of death” against Bayern, Inter Milan and Viktoria Plzen. Given the way Barça have now clicked into gear, the German champions will not be relishing the tie themselves, however.
The season started with a promising 2-2 draw at Celta for new coach Diego Martinez, after his side had fallen 2-0 behind on 63 mins. Exposito reduced the arrears from the edge of the area before Espanyol were awarded a penalty in the 97th minute. New signing Joselu showed nerves of steel to slot the ball into the top corner and earn Espanyol a first-day point at a tricky ground.
There then followed two home defeats, the first at home to Rayo, who had proven such stern opponents for Barça in their opening fixture. An early red card for the visitors gave fans hope, but a second first-half red, this time for a home player, Sergi Gomez, left the game at 10 vs 10 after just half an hour. Rayo took the lead from the resulting well-worked free kick, and a second goal by the visitors on 59 mins left Espanyol with a mountain to climb. Despite several good chances, including two headers against the post and a good stop from Rayo’s keeper, Espanyol could not break their opponents down and fell to their first defeat of the season.
The second came against Real Madrid a week later. Joselu equalised an early Vinicius goal on 43 mins and Espanyol looked like hanging on until the 88th minute, when Benzema broke their resistance first with a typical poacher’s finish and then, after VAR sent the referee back to look at an incident on the edge of the box, new keeper Benjamin Lecomte was deemed to have fouled Ceballos and sent off, leaving the unusual sight of an outfield player - defender Leandro Cabrera - having to go in goal for the last few minutes. Benzema took full advantage by slotting home the resulting free kick past the hapless Cabrera from 20 yards.
There was better news right around the corner, however, as new signing Martin Braithwaite notched the winner in a 1-0 away win at Athletic to chalk up the Periquitos’ first victory of the campaign.
Girona lost at Valencia on the opening day thanks to a needless penalty awarded for handball when Valery Fernández raised his arm to block a free kick in the wall. Soler sent Martin the wrong way from the spot. Although Valencia had defender Comert sent off on 52 mins, Michel’s side were not able to find a way through and opened the season with a frustrating defeat.
The reaction was immediate, however, as Girona beat Getafe convincingly at Montilivi in their first home game of the season, with strikes from Stuani, a Duarte own goal and Castellanos seeing the hosts into a 3-0 lead before Getafe pulled one back.
The next visitors to Montilivi were Celta, who took all three points thanks to a winner by that man Iago Aspas on 48 mins. This was followed by a hard earned point away at Mallorca to start September, Samu Sáiz scoring an injury time penalty to equalise Raillo’s late opener for the home side.
Although they could have aspired to more than the four points from twelve won so far, the good news is that the two games Girona have lost have been narrow defeats, and they are showing they can compete in the top flight this season.