It made news stories outwith Spain last weekend, for instance, that for the first time in 317 matches Barcelona's opponents enjoyed better possession stats; the result itself, a 4-0 defeat of Rayo Vallecano, seemed an afterthought.
The changing face of Barca ought to be encapsulated by the youthful, and often mischievous, intent of Neymar, the young Brazilian striker who signed last summer as the counterfoil to the endless, all-encompassing brilliance of Lionel Messi. Gerardo Martino was less heralded when he arrived as the successor to Tito Vilanova as manager, but it is the latter who has provoked a bout of introspection by the Catalan fans and media.
Barcelona's devotees expect wholesale dominance, as though opponents must be stifled. Pep Guardiola built on the legacy of Johan Cruyff and Louis van Gaal by extolling the virtues of passing, of hoarding possession. This was, in turn, continued by his assistant and successor, Vilanova, who also maintained the approach of pressing high up the field, of attacking full-backs and a defensive midfield pivot in Sergio Busquets. Martino has not radically altered the tactics or formation, but reports have noted the number of times goalkeeper Victor Valdes has kicked long, or that some of the goals in the 4-0 win over Ajax in the Champions League two weeks ago were scored on the counter, as if that somehow lessened their worth.
Yet football, like any sport, is essentially pragmatic, so the carping around Barcelona's evolving style is misplaced. An era hasn't ended at the Camp Nou, only the strict adherence to a single, pronounced strategy. Martino built a reputation in South America for developing teams that pressed high up the pitch, that passed the ball carefully and rhythmically, but he does not possess a puritanical streak. "I am not annoyed by the debates," he said. "Whenever you have a team that has been as successful as this side, these debates will occur, especially when the coach is not from Catalunya or Holland. I have not come here to make changes. If you want to question our possession, then last year the average was 66% and this year it's 65.8%. If because of that 0.2% you want to say we have changed everything, go ahead."
The prickly defensiveness was understandable, since Martino was the subject of growing criticism. He might have responded by noting that his side had won six out of six La Liga games before yesterday - scoring 22 goals and conceding five - as well as the comprehensive dispatching of Ajax. Neymar has fitted into the side, and scored his first goal, while Messi has struck 10 times this season already and seems unaffected by the change in manager. There was a suggestion of disgruntlement when he was substituted late against Real Sociedad last Tuesday, but he remains pivotal to the team rather than indulged.
In some respects, Martino demands more from the Argentine. Guardiola used to allow Messi to rest when opponents had the ball, excusing him from the pressing duties of the rest of the forwards so that he would be fresh and energetic for the next attacking phase. Martino does not allow the same latitude, even if on occasion, particularly against Ajax when they sat deeper than usual, there has been a subtle shift in the team's tactics. The new manager has introduced variety to the team's strategy, which in theory should make them more formidable. "We've had homegrown coaches for the last few years - first Pep and then Tito and maybe we just overdid our playing style to the point that we became slaves to it," said Gerard Pique. "Tata has come from outside the club and, while he shares the same basic ideas around maintaining possession, he is also keen to show us alternative approaches."
Transition is often awkward, although much of the scrutiny appears forced when the team is undefeated in nine matches this season. There are issues to overcome, not least the fact Busquets now operates in a much wider sphere of influence, and so can become physically stretched, and the centre-backs are more exposed. After Neymar, the transfer priority last summer was at least one defender, and the club focused on the likes of Daniel Agger and David Luiz, who are comfortable with the ball but primarily robust centre-backs.
The likes of Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Pedro, Neymar and Alexis are still allowed free reign. A shift in emphasis, however, is welcome when the team failed to cope with the refined power of Bayern Munich in last season's Champions League semi-final.
Celtic sat deep and sought to play on the counter against Barcelona last season, so there may be little change in the their approach this term, but Martino is encouraging a more pragmatic application of old values. Barcelona still aim to overwhelm teams, there is just an acceptance now that there are different ways to achieve this.