If there’s anyone that suggests they had an inkling that FC Barcelona would be sitting pretty at the top of La Liga at the end of October, unbeaten and eight points ahead of Real Madrid, ignore them.

When Neymar took his P45 and ran as quick as his legs would carry him to Paris, not one commentator or expert stuck their head above the parapet and said it would be the best thing for the Catalans.

Indeed, after Los Blancos handed them a footballing lesson over the two legs of the Spanish Super Cup, you could hear and read about Barcelona being written off before the league season had even begun.

Once Paulinho signed for €40 million, the football fraternity went into overdrive. For the uninitiated, the Catalans had, for all intents and purposes, completely lost their minds.

But what is it they say? When things appear to have reached rock bottom (they hadn’t but bear with me), the only way is up…

Fortunately for the club, they’d already installed Ernesto Valverde into the managerial hot-seat to replace Luis Enrique and the murmurs of discontent at his ‘safe’ appointment – the locals wanted Jorge Sampaoli – soon settled down once the results began to arrive.

Winning his first three league games without conceding could’ve been foreseen, with the greatest of respect to those opponents (Betis, Alaves, Espanyol), but it was the manner of the 3-0 demolition of last season’s Champions League runners-up, Juventus, that got everyone excited.

Far from being the team everyone had expected in the wake of Enrique’s departure, Valverde’s calm and experienced manner had paid immediate dividends.

A comeback win at Getafe where late sub Paulinho scored the winner and shut a few mouths in the process, merely underlined the teams potential. Nelson Semedo’s raw power and pace in the right-back problem slot also won some early-season plaudits. The Blaugrana now had steel and grit to go with their free-flowing signature football.

Catalan independence and closed doors

Eibar, Girona and Sporting Clube de Portugal were all dispatched with relative ease before Las Palmas came to the Camp Nou on the day of the Catalan independence elections. The mood was grim, given that Spanish Police had decanted into Barcelona and the surrounding areas and were using brute force to stop people voting.

At least two Barcelona players didn’t want to play the game, which eventually went ahead behind closed doors. It was unprecedented, but this is where Valverde came into his own.

Keeping the players focused on the job in hand for the 90 minutes would have been one of the most difficult assignments the manager has faced, but he again passed with flying colours – and earned even more respect in so doing.

A hard-fought point at Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano in the next game has been the only time they’ve dropped points this season, the team going on to beat Olympiacos in the Champions League, Malaga and Athletic Club in La Liga and Real Murcia in the Copa del Rey.

Barcelona’s best ever beginning

At the time of writing, Valverde’s side have only conceded three goals in La Liga (four in all competitions), have scored 28 in the Spanish top flight and 35 overall. Lionel Messi is flying with 12 in domestic competition already and his nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo is trailing in his slipstream with just one.

In fact, Messi has scored more than Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema combined, and all down to a small tactical tweak that has seen the Argentinian move back to the false nine position where he can do the most damage.

Nine wins and one draw from the start of a league campaign is Barcelona’s best ever beginning to a season.

Yes, even better than the likes of Johan Cruyff, Pep Guardiola, Luis Enrique and Tito Vilanova… and all managed without Neymar anywhere to be seen.

This Valverde’s a bit special right?!

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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