Barcelona’s good start to the season should come as no surprise. Let's not beat around the bush - it wasn't an easy summer for those who follow the Blaugrana.
Failed pursuits of big-money targets such as Marco Verratti and Phillipe Coutinho; the new contracts of Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta still not signed, humiliation in the Super Cup against their fiercest rivals, a simmering discontent with the board. And to top it all off; Neymar's world-record defection to Paris Saint-Germain.
In the midst of all this, the Catalans also appointed a new Coach, who is trying to make his mark at the club against this backdrop. Managing a team of the stature of Barca will always carry its own unique pressures, without the added burden of possibly the most calamitous summer in the side’s modern history.
But when were the big trophies won in August? Is a season not meant to last nine months, instead of nine (admittedly disappointing) weeks? A bit of perspective is needed - something to remember when you're playing one of the games available on ChanceHill. This is still a side packed with talent and experience.
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic for Los Cules. And despite everything that's happened behind the scenes, Ernesto Valverde’s men have responded with an imperious, and not unsurprising, start to the season.
Domestically, they have begun in ominous form. With maximum points on the board, the Camp Nou giants are sitting top of La Liga, five points clear of Real. They have also scored an impressive 17 times, conceding just twice.
Admittedly, it is very early in the campaign and there will be tougher tests to follow, with key trips to face both capital teams away from home before Christmas. But Barca are still comfortably one of Spain’s best outfits. They will challenge for the League title – again.
The Champions League draw has been relatively kind too. Aside from Juventus, Barca will not expect to be seriously tested until February. And even then, the Italian champiins were brushed aside with apparent ease on matchday one. With such disdain shown to last term’s beaten finalists, the 3-0 victory was just the type of result that reminded Europe of the threat Barca posed.
The arrival of Ousmane Dembele for a club-record €135m also helped to dispel some of the gloom surrounding the Catalans. His injury was a cruel blow to both the club and player. A dynamic forward, the Frenchman is a definite upgrade on the eternally-frustrating Gerard Deulofeu, who began the season in the starting XI.
Bought to replace the departed Neymar, Dembele not only took the vacated No 11 shirt, but when he’s fit, he will also take his role in the attacking trident alongside Messi and Luis Suarez. A fearsome proposition indeed, but even with the former Borussia Dortmund winger ruled out until the New Year, there remains an exceptional goal threat in this side.
Another major acquisition saw Nelson Semedo arrive, meaning there is now a specialist player for the position of right-back this season. Marc-Andre ter Stegen, meanwhile, grown into Barca’s No 1 jersey, whereas Samuel Umtiti looks more assured each time he plays in central defence.
Even the much-maligned signing of Paulinho has added power to their midfield, managing to score the winning goal at Getafe over the weekend and chip in with another against Eibar just a few days later.
Added to this, of course, is the raft of experience already in the squad that Valverde can rely upon. The big players. The players that can be trusted in the big games, when Barca need them to stand up and be counted. The players that have been there and ‘done it’. Players such as Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets and the evergreen Javier Mascherano.
With Real Madrid going from strength to strength domestically and major European rivals all strengthening, the knives were out all summer for the Blaugrana’s downfall. The end of an era; a cycle coming to an end; a rebuilding job; the end of a dynasty.
These are just some of the phrases that have been used to describe last season’s Copa del Rey winners. The obituaries have been well and truly written for FC Barcelona, yet their players aren’t listening. Crisis, what crisis?