Barcelona's worst start in over a decade is not a cause for concern
Barcelona players and staff were queuing up to take the blame after Sunday's 4-3 loss at Celta Vigo.
"I'm sorry, if I hadn't made the mistake, we could have won this game," goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen conceded after letting in four goals.
"I'm responsible for the rotations, and I'm the one who has to take the responsibility," said Luis Enrique in an attempt to remove blame from his players. It seems, though, that they would happily have taken it.
"I'm one of the culpable parties," midfielder Sergio Busquets admitted. "It's clear it wasn't one of my best games."
It hasn't been one of Barca's best starts to a season, either. In fact, it's been their worst in over a decade. The 4-3 defeat at Balaidos -- the Catalan club's second in Vigo in as many years -- sees them arrive to the October international break with 13 points from seven matches. Defeats to Alaves and Celta, as well as the 1-1 Camp Nou draw with Atletico Madrid, have contributed to the Blaugrana dropping eight points already. When they won the league under Tito Vilanova in 2012-13, they only gave up 14 points throughout the whole season.
Eleven years ago, Frank Rijkaard's Barcelona dropped 11 points in their opening seven games. They drew with Alaves, Valencia, Real Zaragoza and Deportivo La Coruna and were beaten by Atletico Madrid, with their only wins coming against Mallorca and Real Betis. Luis Enrique's side's topsy-turvy beginning to the new campaign isn't quite that bad, but it is the poorest start the club have made since 2005-06 under Rijkaard. Incidentally, that season ended with Ronaldinho & Co. winning a La Liga and Champions League double.
This one may yet end with more silverware for Luis Enrique and his players, too. Since taking over in 2014 the manager has won a treble and a double, with a UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup and Spanish Super Cup thrown in for good measure. And yet despite that undisputed success, he is not bullet proof. With each new defeat comes a fresh wave of criticism -- and it's easy to twist the knife when armed with favourable statistics such as the fact that this is Barca's worst start in the top flight since Lionel Messi was a floppy-haired 18-year-old.
Lluis Mascaro, director of Barcelona-based newspaper Sport, is one of the local journalists piling in. He likened Luis Enrique's rotations in Vigo to those of a crazy professor. "Luis Enrique's [inventions] don't bring any joy," he wrote on Sunday, "because they cost Barcelona points." He wasn't much nicer after last week's Champions League win at Borussia Monchengladbach: "It took Luis Enrique 53 minutes to realise his error. The error he made in playing [Paco] Alcacer and Luis Suarez together."
El Mon journalist Adria Soldevila's main complaint is not necessarily the defeats, but the way Barca are losing games -- when they do occasionally lose. He claimed on Tuesday that Luis Enrique has "devalued the successful model" implemented by Johan Cruyff and repopularised by Pep Guardiola. Soldevila harks back to the time when Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta joined Messi on the Ballon d'Or podium. This current Barca is a "universal club without an identity," he argues.
That debate will always linger in the background, ready to resume after each low moment. Some have such an idealistic view of how Barca should play that they're not open to accepting success over style. It's undeniable that there has been an evolution since Luis Enrique came in, with the emphasis now on the three attackers and creating space for them through quick transitions and counterattacks. The old models have not been completely abandoned, though. Barca still out-pass, out-possess and out-style the majority of their rivals. They're just finding other ways to win, too.
Inside the Ciutat Esportiva in Sant Joan Despi, Barca's players are well clear of the nit-picking. As Steven Gerrard now infamously said, they will go again after the international break. They've still got a 100 percent record in the Champions League and their slip ups in La Liga don't look too costly yet. They're just two points behind Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid, with the latter, despite being unbeaten this season, nursing their own problems after drawing four matches in a row. "This is not a crisis. This is just October," Zinedine Zidane pointed out after the stalemate with Eibar on Saturday. It's a statement that even the anti-Luis Enrique brigade should keep in mind.
Besides, the atmosphere among the Barcelona squad still appears to be positive, the belief as strong as ever. With Messi, Neymar and Suarez onside, they know they will be in the running for more trophies when April rolls around. And, for now, the players are more than happy to front up when they make mistakes or underperform. It's when there's a stubbornness to admit faults that problems can begin to creep in. That certainly wasn't the case in Vigo.
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.