What are FC Barcelona's keys to success this season?
A month and a half ago, Barcelona were struggling. Detailing this struggle, they were well beaten by their arch-rivals, Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup. As simple as that. Before that, they had lost one of their key players, Neymar Jr., in a shocking world record transfer to PSG.
The team was in the news for all the wrong reasons. At a time like that, even the players were sceptical if they could muster anything noteworthy. You don't expect someone like Gerard Pique admitting the supremacy of Real Madrid. That was clearly a sign of doom.
Before the season began, if you had asked the fans their opinion of where the team would be in September, you might have received pessimistic answers. But the reality has been far different. Why so?
Ernesto Valverde - the early impact
There were doubters when Valverde was announced as the head coach, simply because he wasn't someone who was known for working with top teams. His philosophy was not something the Camp Nou faithful was impressed with; Bilbao played a crossing game during his tenure.
Two El Clasico defeats under his watch would have made even the optimists doubtful. But Ernesto didn't even flinch. He is not dragged by emotion, he knew he was appointed to do a job, not to make excuses. This is where his vast experience as a coach came into play.
He is also a keen observer. One of his first decisions was to deploy Lionel Messi in a false 9 role. He wanted him at the centre of everything. Well, no one in the world is better at that job than Leo.
Valverde has also got a genuine knack of introducing impact subs. He has stretched the opponents as wide as possible with his full-backs, allowing the likes of Suarez, Deulofeu, Denis and Dembele (until he was injured) to play closer to Messi who has run the show.
Lionel - The one, the only
He is and always was the key to the team's success. The best footballer on the planet for the past 9 years or so, he has been working his magic at an incredible consistency.
Remember 2012? The year he broke the world record for most number of goals in a single calendar year; 91 goals. Not bad, eh? He played a very special role under Pep Guardiola, a role the pundits named False 9.
False 9 is a withdrawn striker who takes up the position between the lines where he can create and score, making it a difficult role to execute and defend against. Lionel Messi is the only player in world football that has executed this role to absolute perfection.
When Neymar joined Barcelona, he had to sacrifice his original position and move to the role of a wide-creative winger and in 2015-16, that of an attacking midfielder. He enjoyed success in all the positions he played because he is such a brilliant footballer.
But like any other person, you'll enjoy your favourite position more. That's exactly what Valverde did. Making Lionel Messi a False 9 again. So far he has enjoyed a blistering start to his season, scoring at will. He surely is Barcelona's cheat code in a season where they are lacking in firepower.
An efficient clinical engine - The pivotal factor
Barcelona were in need of a right-back and a controlling midfielder in the summer window. While they failed in their pursuit of a player of Marco Verratti's mould, who could have added more control to their midfield, they additionally lost Neymar Jr. who was a crucial player up front.
They might not have the best personnel in every position right now, but Barcelona can certainly go a long way just by being a well-defined engine. Ernesto Valverde has managed to do so already, as it is evident from the results.
Barcelona have managed more control in the midfield as the duo of Busquets and Rakitic have been used in the central midfield. The other part of this engine would be its clinical nature, the team needs to score their chances, which is so so crucial.
Messi has been in stupendous goalscoring form this season. The team need some help from squad players too, especially in tough matches. Players like Paulinho and Denis Suarez have scored in some crucial moments this season when the team was struggling, which substantiate the need of goal scorers in the team.
Although, the worrying form of the star striker, Luis Suarez, is something Valverde should work on. While many believe that it's just a matter of time until the striker bounces back, it is Lionel Messi, once again, who will carry this team on until such a time.