For the first time since Pep Guardiola's untried team took the football world by storm in 2008-09, Barcelona enter the new LaLiga season as clear underdogs to their fierce rivals – the reigning Spanish and European champions Real Madrid.
It is a state of affairs that might stir misty-eyed nostalgia for some Barcelona fans.
For decades in this bitterly entwined rivalry, Barca revelled in the righteous role of the downtrodden foe to the mighty Madrid. Striking blows against the capital club and their empire formed a romantic centre point to the carefully cultivated narrative of "Mes que un club".
Madrid's title win last season was only their second since Barca's historic first treble. LaLiga has resided in Catalonia for six of the previous nine campaigns – an unparalleled period of Barcelona success.
Now, without top spot and the sensationally departed Neymar, the Blaugrana could find comfort and inspiration in the challenge of trying to slingshot Madrid's Goliath between the eyes once more. At least, they might if the reality was not so utterly daunting.
"This is the first time that I have felt we are inferior to Madrid"
Zinedine Zidane was without the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo for Wednesday's second leg of the Supercopa de Espana but, with a 3-1 advantage, he still felt able to rest Gareth Bale, Isco and Casemiro. Barcelona, operating at close to full strength, were flattered by their 2-0 loss on the night.
Madrid eviscerated Barca before half-time, the final tune-up for the season showing a worrying gulf for Ernesto Valverde as the ex-Athletic Bilbao man aims to prove Luis Enrique's shoes are not too big to fill as head coach.
"In nine years at Barcelona this is the first time that I have felt we are inferior to Madrid," a weary Gerard Pique tellingly observed afterwards.
In the other dugout, Zidane must have been straining to keep a grip on his "game by game" mantra. It is tantalising to imagine what more this Madrid team might achieve.
Such was their effortless mastery of the run-in at home and abroad last season, Zidane shuffling his pack to preserve established stars and unearth others simultaneously, it is easy to forget the paucity of the situation the France great inherited.
3 - Zinedine Zidane is the first Real Madrid manager ever to remain unbeaten in his first three Clasicos as a visitor (W2 D1). Smile. pic.twitter.com/Erm0XIPa4t— OptaJose (@OptaJose) August 13, 2017
Game by game, trophy by trophy - Zidane on course for more glory
In 2015-16, Rafael Benitez's instantly and deeply unpopular reign limped on until the midway point of the season, at which stage Zidane – for all the gravitas accrued during his playing days – was viewed as another man passing through the Santiago Bernabeu storm.
Initially, it was not pretty. Zidane cannily traded on his reputation by putting out a functional, grinding and sometimes dull Madrid side. Lesser figures would have been forced to play the Madrid way or face a hail of white handkerchiefs.
But Zidane added grit and solidity and his team rode their luck to edge out Atletico Madrid for Champions League glory.
On they rumbled into 2016-17, when they reached a Spanish record of 40 games unbeaten. Points being banked week after week allowed Zidane to gradually add embellishments. As this season's curtain-raising Clasicos secured their coach's seventh piece of silverware in 20 months, Madridistas could marvel at how far their team had come.
Ronaldo is on course to tie his personal Ballon d'Or battle with Lionel Messi at five apiece this year but it is Madrid who seem better equipped for life after their superstar as the two defining forces of this generation enter the final chapters of their careers.
Marco Asensio followed up his dazzling long-range strike at Camp Nou last weekend by repeating the trick early on in Wednesday's game, setting the tone for a dominant half. The 21-year-old looks ready made to thrill on the big stage – the type of youngster Barcelona would churn out at will not so long ago.
Paulinho, Coutinho and Dembele - Barcelona rolling the dice
However, with La Masia's production line spluttering, the test is to see how quickly and how well the Neymar bounty can be spent. The hefty price tags slapped on to Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele by Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund suggest €222million does not go nearly as far as it once did.
Paulinho arrives as a 29-year-old defensive midfield specialist, the position where players from Guardiola to Sergio Busquets dictated terms. Men steeped in everything Barcelona means, not parachuted in from the Chinese Super League.
Barcelona's work in the transfer market over recent years has shown the same lack of forward planning that made Neymar's departure a remote possibility. They must do better over the coming days.
If not for Messi's enduring genius, it would be harder to make a case for this Barca squad usurping Madrid than it is for Atleti – still with Antoine Griezmann in their ranks – sustaining a more credible title challenge.
"We're not in our best moment," Pique said. "I'm not just talking about the team, but the club in general. We must all pull together."
Shuddering from the impact of the Madrid juggernaut, Valverde must act calmly and shrewdly to mould a winning side, as Zidane has on the other side of the divide. If not, with the threat of the latest Bernabeu dynasty apparent, he runs a huge risk of becoming the Barcelona Benitez.
|Pochettino fumes over refereeing decisions after derby defeat|
|I´m happy at Juventus - Allegri rejects Italy speculation|
|Lamela returns from injury for Tottenham U23s|
|Arsenal 2 Tottenham 0: Ozil and Sanchez come up trumps for Wenger|
|Kimmich: Working with Guardiola was incredible|
|Bale thanks Coleman after Wales coach steps down|
|Kane & Alli fit for Spurs at Arsenal, Lacazette starts|
|Sydney leapfrog slapstick Jets at A-League summit|
|Christensen guides the way for Loftus-Cheek & Abraham at Chelsea|
|Mertens: Sarri´s tactics give Napoli 12 men|
|Aubameyang back in Dortmund fold pre-Spurs|
|Bosz laments ´ridiculous´ goals|
|Madrid have best kids stockpiled – Simeone|
|Guardiola backs Stones to get even better|
|Ibrahimovic will start with bench role, says Mourinho|
|Injections to play a friendly – Mourinho slams England over Jones handling|
|Championship Review: Sheffield United go top|
|Schurrle: Dortmund couldn´t deal with Stuttgart counter-attacks|
|Conte laments Italy World Cup failure|
|Amiens 1 Monaco 1: Jovetic rescues point but champions give PSG boost|
|Stuttgart 2 Borussia Dortmund 1: Bosz pressure builds after more Burki mishaps|
|Sunderland target Coleman steps down as Wales manager|
|Conte´s wife tells him to grow a beard – Conte grows a beard|
|Simeone rules out Everton job, promising ´a couple of years at least´ at Atletico|
|Pique to miss Barcelona´s Leganes trip over personal matter|
|UEFA closes Roma ´monkey chanting´ case|
|Don´t worry about Messi renewal, Valverde tells Barcelona fans|
|´Griezmann? We´ll see´ – Valverde won´t rule out Barcelona pursuit of Atletico star|
|Unsworth surprised to see Allardyce snub Everton|
|Mourinho has ´immense respect´ for Benitez|
|Howe backs Defoe to make World Cup squad|
|Everton speculation out of my control - Silva focusing on Hornets|
|Conte concerned by Manchester City´s breakaway lead|
|Man City results ´perfect´, but Guardiola demands improvement|
|David Luiz back in Chelsea squad, Conte confirms|
|Recovered Klopp offers Liverpool fitness update|
|Guardiola confident Aguero in ´perfect´ condition despite hospital trip|
|Ibrahimovic, Pogba and Rojo back for Manchester United|
|Heynckes compiling list of potential successors|
|Modric & Carvajal fit for Madrid derby|
|Bayern begin talks over Wagner deal|
|Pulis angered as Chadli sidelined for ´foreseeable future´|
|Neymar to join Ronaldo at Real Madrid? Zidane speaks out on PSG star|
|Guardiola & Sane complete Man City award double|
|Brave Chapecoense secure top-flight status|
|Tottenham have overtaken Arsenal as north London´s best - Sherwood|
|Brisbane Roar 3 Melbourne City 1: Papadopoulos at the double as hosts finally win|
|Seaman: Wenger must start Lacazette against Tottenham|
|I am more than just a goal machine - Ronaldo ignores Real Madrid criticism|
|Skriniar not interested in Barcelona speculation|
|France need Benzema, says Aulas|
|Van Dijk could leave Southampton in January|
|Sanchez snubbed Barcelona switch - Osorio|
|Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid: Simeone and Zidane face dangerous, defining Derbi|
|Aubameyang baffled by Dortmund suspension|
|Pochettino lauds Wenger longevity as he eyes 20 years at Spurs|
|Ronaldo: Real Madrid don´t fear PSG|
|Zenit´s Mancini not thinking about Italy job|
|Wenger advises Pochettino to fight the ´fear´ of winning trophies|
|Ronaldo: I want seven Ballons d´Or... and seven children!|
|Howedes ready for long-awaited Juventus debut|
|Bayern´s Wagner interest confirmed by Nagelsmann|
|Dyche ´amazed´ at persistent Everton talk|
|Manchester United post record first-quarter revenues|
|Hodgson confident Benteke will be fit for Everton clash, unsure over Loftus-Cheek|
|Klopp returns to Liverpool training after hospital visit|
|Moreno urges Coutinho to reject Barcelona switch|
|Hamsik refuses to be distracted by Maradona record|
|CAS rejects Adrien Silva´s appeal|
|Aubameyang dropped by Dortmund for ´disciplinary reasons´|
|Aguero declares himself fit to face Leicester City|
|If Griezmann isn´t committed, he should leave – Koke|
|Knee surgery to sideline PSG´s Motta|
|Kane the same as Lewandowski, Eboue proclaims|
|Let Neymar focus on football - Emery|
|Spurs quartet return but Alderweireld set for longer absence|
|Ibrahimovic eyes different role on Manchester United return|
|Transfer target Messi was beyond Manchester City, says Robinho|
|´Ultimate defender´ Zouma one of Premier League´s best, claims Shawcross|
|Cantona baffled by Neymar´s PSG move|
|Loftus-Cheek must return to Chelsea, says Willian|
|Central Coast Mariners 1 Adelaide United 2: Kitto snatches dramatic win|
|Cazorla´s fitness woes the worst injury Wenger has known|
|Wenger trusts Lacazette completely|
|Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid: Demolition derbies, Raul´s revenge and other memorable capital clashe|
|Mourinho: Ibrahimovic will return in 2017|
|Spain and England at risk as World Cup draw pots confirmed|
|Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid: Cristiano Ronaldo, King of El Derbi|
|Gareca: World Cup spot is for the Peruvian people|
|World Cup: The 32 qualified teams|
|Peru 2 New Zealand 0 (2-0 agg): South Americans qualify for World Cup after 36-year wait|
|Ronaldo congratulates Corinthians on seventh Brazilian title|
|Van Dijk focused ahead of Liverpool clash – Pellegrino|
|Ravanelli: I´d bend over backwards to bring back Conte|