Sensible Pre-Season Has Barcelona and Luis Enrique in Good Shape for La Liga

Rik SharmaFeatured ColumnistAugust 26, 2014

Barcelona are in fine fettle.
Barcelona are in fine fettle.Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

Luis Enrique's Barcelona looked streets ahead of title rivals Atletico and Real Madrid after La Liga's opening weekend, and in part it's thanks to their pre-season plans.

Real Madrid beat La Liga new-boys Cordoba 2-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu but it was more of a struggle than you might have expected.

Nearly at full strength, Real laboured to overcome Albert Ferrer's men, under close scrutiny from the home support.

With Angel Di Maria heading to the exit, some fans are unhappy that the club are prioritising star names over the team as a whole.

It's been that way for a long time at Real Madrid so we shouldn't be surprised, but Luka Modric and Toni Kroos will have a lot of extra pressure on them in the centre, given that new-boy James Rodriguez doesn't play with the same relentless energy that Di Maria possesses.

James Rodriguez plays differently to Angel Di Maria.
James Rodriguez plays differently to Angel Di Maria.Daniel Ochoa de Olza/Associated Press

Cristiano Ronaldo had a shaky summer, not playing well at the World Cup after an injury-plagued end to the season and he was far from his best against Cordoba.

However, he did produce two brilliant moments, one perfectly judged cross for Gareth Bale and then the second goal, a brutal low strike from distance into the near-post corner of the net.

Real's city rivals Atletico were taking on the third Madrid side, Rayo Vallecano.

Vallecas is never an easy place to play at but La Liga champions Atletico were by far the weaker side on the night and were lucky to escape with a 0-0 draw.

Mario Mandzukic missed two good chances in the first half, showing he has a long way to go to replace Chelsea's new hitman Diego Costa, but it was all Rayo in the second period.

The likes of Gael Kakuta, Manucho and Javier Aquino were far too hot for Atletico to handle and they could easily have fallen to a shock defeat.

Mario Mandzukic missed some good chances.
Mario Mandzukic missed some good chances.Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

Furthermore, manager Diego Simeone was banned from the touchline after accumulating five managerial yellow cards last season and he's now going to be spending more time away from the action, after his behaviour in the Super Cup, per Sport.

Ah, the Super Cup. The tip of the iceberg which shows why Barcelona looked a level above their two competitors for the title.

Real and Atletico clashed twice last week, with the final game on Friday, won 1-0 by the latter at the Vicente Calderon.

Playing on Friday and then on Monday is not ideal for players, particularly when Atletico's squad is far less well stocked than either Real or Barca's.

Barcelona stayed in Europe during pre-season, allowing the players plenty of time to rest and recover following the World Cup.

Luis Enrique and his men had a chilled out summer.
Luis Enrique and his men had a chilled out summer.Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

The squad got to know new manager Luis Enrique and stay settled, with a week's stay at St George's Park in England.

In the meantime, Atletico Madrid set off on a voyage to South America, while Real Madrid played glamour friendlies in the United States. Good for the club's coffers, but not for the players.

Barcelona played a handful of games in Europe, from the south of Spain to Helsinki, but no further afield.

They got their reward against Elche, with a 3-0 win at the Camp Nou, even without Neymar and Luis Suarez.

Lionel Messi looked fantastic, but that's just standard for him. What was interesting to see was how comfortable new-boy Munir El-Haddadi looked up top with him.

The youngster benefited from a stable pre-season training with the first team, without too much travel.

Before long, Atletico and Real Madrid should get up to speed, but in a league as tight as this one, Barcelona have made the right move by setting up well this summer to be ready for the opening day.