‘We could play for three hours and still not score’, said Gerard Pique after Barcelona’s defeat to Atletico Madrid before the international break.
That might be about to change if Sergio Aguero can finally hit the ground running as he debuts for Ronald Koeman’s side.
That, and an impending defensive injury crisis at Real Madrid will go a long way to deciding who comes off worse as the Barca coach and Carlo Ancelotti play out what could be a decisive month.
The Real Madrid coach sits on top of La Liga but he’s lost his last two and has a major injury crisis in an already under-staffed defence.
There was misery for Barcelona as they slumped to defeat against Atletico Madrid last time out
Things weren’t a great deal better for Real Madrid, who suffered a defeat against Espanyol
Real Madrid remained top of LaLiga despite that defeat but Barcelona sit a lowly ninth
Koeman is down in ninth but he does have Aguero back to save the season. The Argentine came through 30 minutes of football in a friendly on Wednesday, scoring in a 2-2 draw.
He could play a part in Sunday’s home game with Valencia with the motivation of a Clasico seven days later.
At 33 years of age and after a delayed start to this season because of a right calf problem, on top of last season’s injury and illness-affected campaign, Kun is not going to be the same player that won the Premier League with Manchester City.
But in a team that needs a finisher to make good the chances created by the likes of Frenkie de Jong, Pedri, Gavi and company, his effect on the team could surpass expectations if he can stay fit.
Barcelona managed 54 crosses into the area last month against Granada but had to satisfy themselves with a 1-1 draw.
Aguero’s movement and first-time finishing ability can make them far more efficient in front of goal, especially if he gets up to full fitness quickly and is flanked by Memphis Depay and Ansu Fati.
Sergio Aguero came through a friendly match in midweek after injury and could be available
Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman (left) and Real’s Carlo Ancelotti (right) will both be wanting to return to winning ways – Barca entertain Valencia this weekend with Real not in action
Real were left absolutely astonished when beaten by Sheriff Tiraspol in the Champions League
Rodrygo rues a missed opportunity during Real’s shock home defeat to the Moldovan side
Barcelona league form
Barcelona still have a game in hand
August 15 Real Sociedad (H) W 4-2
August 21 Athletic Bilbao (A) 1-1
August 29 Getafe (H) W 2-1
September 20 Granada (H) 1-1
September 23 Cadiz (A) 0-0
September 26 Levante (H) W 3-0
October 2 Atletico Madrid (A) L 0-2
Real league form
August 14 Alaves (A) W 4-1
August 22 Levante (A) 3-3
August 28 Real Betis (A) W 1-0
September 12 Celta Vigo (H) W 5-2
September 19 Valencia (A) W 2-1
September 22 Mallorca (H) W 6-1
September 25 Villarreal (H) 0-0
October 3 Espanyol (A) L 1-2
Pedri, who signed a new contract with a €1billion release clause on Thursday, might not be ready for this weekend – but if he makes the subsequent showdown with Real Madrid then suddenly Barcelona’s first XI looks a little more like one that could threaten Ancelotti’s team.
October can be a dangerous month for Real Madrid coaches and the late September wobble, added to injuries in exactly the positions where Ancelotti didn’t want them, has left him in far from secure position.
It was in October 2018 that Julen Lopetegui was sacked as Real Madrid coach after losing four of his five games. One of those was the 5-1 defeat to Barcelona which ended up being his last in charge.
The following season Zidane was walking the tightrope after drawing with Brugge and losing to newly promoted Mallorca in October.
And last October the team lost to Cadiz and Shakhtar as Zidane’s grip on the job began to loosen in what ended up being a trophyless season.
Gerard Pique makes his feelings known to Sergio Busquets during Barca’s loss to Atletico
Frenkie de Jong reflects on Barca’s first league reverse of the season amid a sluggish start
Real Madrid don’t play this weekend but Tuesday they go to Ukraine to play Shakhtar and the following weekend they go to the Nou Camp before they are home to Osasuna and away to Elche.
They go into this run of games without three first-choice defenders. Eder Militao was injured playing for Brazil against Colombia. David Alaba and Dani Carvajal are also out.
After selling Raphael Varane and not renewing Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid are down to three first-team options at centre-back and without Militao, Ancelotti would have paired Alaba with Nacho but, on Thursday, Alaba was declared injured too.
With first-choice right-back Dani Carvajal still struggling to make it back for the Clasico there is, what most Real Madrid supporters would agree, a nightmare scenario of a back four that includes converted winger Lucas Vazquez, Nacho and Jesus Vallejo in for his first game of the season.
David Alaba is among a number of defensive injury concerns afflicting Real Madrid
Eden Hazard returned from the Nations League finals with Belgium carrying a knock
Ancelotti will have Ferland Mendy back at left-back but pitching him in against the Ukrainian champions and then Barcelona when he has not played since Chelsea knocked Real Madrid out of the Champions League five months ago, and without first choice players around him is far from ideal.
Eden Hazard has also come back with a knock although Madrid are outscoring everyone in La Liga and five-goal Vinicius is well rested (flights aside) having not been used by Brazil coach Tite against Colombia.
It’s the other end of the team that will bother Ancelotti as he goes into a tricky period.
For Koeman, October comes as something of a bonus after he seemed to write off his own chances of staying in a job in the week leading up to the international break. He is still in charge and injured players are returning.
For Ancelotti, winter is coming, and Madrid’s gamble not to reinforce defensively in the summer is about to be tested to the full.