Barcelona were nothing short of excellent in their 7-0 dismantling of Levante on Sunday at the Camp Nou. Lionel Messi and Pedro Rodriguez both score twice and Alexis Sanchez continued to his fine form from the preseason. For new head coach Gerardo Martino, it was a pleasing beginning to his time with Barca.
Martino discussed his team's performance during his post-match press conference, along with addressing Lionel Messi's substitution and the debut of Neymar.
"We can be more intense. We can prolong our pressure and we can continue to look for alternatives when we go forward. We need to play on the inside, on the outside, the right and left backs need to come forward, the interior players need to crash the area."
There's no doubt that Barcelona looked sharp against Levante. Their passing and movement was crisp, back at a level we hadn't see from the team in the second half of last season.
Xavi's comments to the media on Monday mirrored his head coach and provided some insight into what Martino is trying to do with Barcelona.
"The boss doesn't want interiors to drop & build the play up from the back, that's what the full backs do. He wants us to be in influential zone of pitch, he wants us to give the assists, be closer to the area."
Martino is undoubtedly pleased that his experienced team is embracing and absorbing the tactical adjustments he's making to the Blaugrana. There was no doubt that Barca looked more organized on Sunday with Xavi and Sergio Busquets doing a much better job of playing in their area and not getting positionally out of whack.
While Xavi was still involved in the attack and even scored a goal, it felt like the midfielder was staying back just a bit and letting Cesc Fabregas and Lionel Messi run circles around the Levante defenders. Another positive was seeing Barca not trying to dribble the ball into the goal, something they've been accused of at times in the past. There was definitely plenty of unselfish play but every pass made sense and when it was time to shoot the ball, the shot was taken.
It was a splendid performance but don't jump the gun and proclaim Barcelona "back". It's one game against a very, very bad Levante side.
The Granotes were an absolute mess from the opening whistle and didn't even manage to generate a shot on goal until the dying minutes of the match. Since the defense was barely tested at all, we really weren't able to learn anything about how Martino's tactical tweaks have affected the back line.
We should get a far better idea of where things stand when Barcelona faces Atletico Madrid in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Wednesday.
Many were surprised when Lionel Messi was subbed out of the match in the 70th minute. If you've watched Barca regularly over the past few seasons, you're used to Messi playing 90 minutes week in, week out. It was rare that the striker ever left a match early, but in the opening game of the season Martino removed Messi with 20 minutes left to play.
Was this a new coach trying to impose his will on his new team? Not at all according to Martino, it was all part of the plan.
"We've talked to Messi from the beginning. The season is long and this way he can rest if he doesn't play every minute in a couple of matches. We came to an agreement quickly,"
"Agreeing on substitutions beforehand is a complicated matter. No one would ever take Messi out of a match if the teams are evenly matched. But it can be done in matches where we take a big advantage, this way he can preserve his fitness."
It's such simple logic and such a common thing, it makes the fact that Messi was never rested in past season a bit confusing.
Neymar made his debut for Barcelona on Sunday, entering the match in the 64th minute. Despite the clamor to see the new signing team up with Messi, they were only on the field together for six minutes and didn't have enough time to generate any play of note.
Again it was part of Martino's plan to limit Neymar's minutes and give the young star time to settle and adapt to life with the club.
"Everyone wants to see Neymar and Messi play together. But that would hurt the player. I want him to adapt to the team quickly, but I don't want to force anything. We will see his best form in short order. This is how I see it and it's my decision"
How well Neymar is able to integrate into the team is one of Martino's biggest challenges this season. Ideally there wouldn't be any push for Neymar to play right away, but that's not how fans and the media think. Despite the excellent performances from Pedro and Alexis on Sunday, there will likely be a continued chorus calling for Neymar to play.
Martino's personality is such that he's not likely to bow to that type of pressure, nor should he.