Barcelona have emerged from a cloud of pessimism to make a perfect start to their La Liga campaign and travel to Getafe on Saturday looking to stretch their advantage over Real Madrid, whose early optimism has been dampened.
A pall of gloom hung over the Catalans in the close season following the departure of Neymar to Paris St Germain and other failures in the transfer market, leading club members to sign a petition of no confidence against the club president.
Yet their off the pitch problems have seemingly had no effect on their performances.
Three wins from three has put them top of the table and with a four-point advantage over rivals Real, who have stumbled with two draws in their last two games in the absence of the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo.
Barca, fresh from Tuesday’s emphatic 3-0 Champions League victory over Juventus, will have the chance provisionally to move seven points clear of Real and Atletico Madrid and coach Ernesto Valverde has indicated he will give game time to fringe players.
“Up to now some players have played more than others but everyone will get their chance,” he said.
“I picked the best set of lads to get the job done against Juve and I’ll see who I think the best are for Getafe.”
Spanish and European champions Real Madrid began the campaign by winning the continental and Spanish Super Cups to firmly establish themselves as the country’s dominant force, but their last two league results have brought them down to earth. They travel to high-flying Real Sociedad in Sunday’s late kickoff without the suspended duo of left back Marcelo and Ronaldo, who serves the final match of a five-game domestic ban for pushing a referee.
Real, who are also without injured French striker Karim Benzema, are desperately missing Ronaldo’s goalscoring instinct.
The Portuguese’s importance was further illustrated as he scored twice in Wednesday’s 3-0 Champions League victory over APOEL Nicosia.
Sociedad sit alongside Barcelona at the top with nine points from their first three games and Real coach Zinedine Zidane said his side will need to improve this weekend as he looks to compensate for attacking absentees.
“Ronaldo is a key player for us, he’s always there and always scores,” Zidane said. “I hope it’s the last game of the season that we’re without him. We’ve not got Cristiano nor Benzema, but we will have other players and we’ll do well.
“We’ve won two trophies in spectacular fashion already and we played well (in the 2-2 draw) against Valencia. Against Levante (1-1) we weren’t good and we weren’t against APOEL in the first half either. Against Real Sociedad this weekend we need to start in a different manner.”
Atletico Madrid will play their first game at their new Wanda Metropolitano stadium as they host pointless Malaga while Levante host Valencia in the Valencian derby. (Editing by Toby Davis)