Below is a quick Q&A we did with Diego Llorijn of SB Nation’s Barca Blaugranes. If you’re interested for more thorough Clasico build-up discussion, please check out my appearance on D Spot yesterday, or the Clasico mailbag podcast I did with Alex Kirkland of Real Madrid TV.
Kiyan: Diego, you guys are flying right now. Are you surprised, given the way the off-season transpired? Also, is this run 'real', or will Barca eventually cool off?
Diego: Of course I’m surprised! Anyone who tells you they expected Barça to be 11 points clear over Madrid and have Paulinho be one of our top goal scorers is flat out lying! COOL OFF??!! Haha NO! I except Valverde’s offensive strategy to flourish once Dembélé makes his return.
Kiyan: What has been the biggest key to Barca’s blitzing start? I mean, the obvious answer is Messi, but I'm more interested to hear your thoughts on the other contributing factors (Valverde, Alba's influence this season, Paulinho, etc).
Diego: Yes to both Alba and Paulinho. However let’s not kid ourselves either...Spider-Man aka Marc Ter Stegen has been absolutely crucial! Without him in goal we would not have had half the success we’ve had so far!
Kiyan: No Samuel Umtiti on Saturday, obv. How big of a blow is that?
Diego: HUGE! This has been his breakthrough season. He’s really showing just how good he is when it comes to reading the game and making goal-stopping interceptions as well as participating in the offensive end in strategic build-up.
Kiyan: As a Madridista, I would rather face Semedo (as good as his start has been to the season) than Sergi Roberto. Sergi has looked great this season, and his offensive prowess is great. Vindicate my opinion.
Diego: I hear what you saying. However I can’t help but feel that Sergi is not being played in his natural position. He truly shines as CM.
It’s like a fish in the sea: sure the fish looks nice in an aquarium (or in Sergi’s case, as RB), however in the sea is where he’s at home. He’s got Barça DNA written all over him and I don’t understand why managers don’t have enough confidence in him to showcase his talents in the position most suited for him.
Kiyan: The counter-press has looked great under Valverde this season, though I do see some holes defensively if Real Madrid can be the press-resistant team we saw in the SuperCopa. What do you think Valverde learned from those two games in August? What will be different this time?
Diego: I think el Txingurri has managed to make us more solid defensively then we’ve been since many years. The SuperCopa could not have come at a worse time for a Barça squad that was wounded due to the traumatic departure of Neymar and with a new manager trying to figure things out. Things are completely different now. Valverde has found stability while still not counting on having all the players he needs to really make this side play the way he wants. I’m excited to see the progress on the offensive end once Dembélé is back and hopefully Santa can leave us a nice present during the winter market too!
Kiyan: Call it.