In a damning observation on the current state of Barcelona, Gerard Pique admitted that for the first time in the nine years since he joined the club, arch-rivals Real Madrid seem far superior than his team. The statement came after Barcelona were drubbed 5-1 on aggregate by Zinedne Zidane’s men, who thereby lifted the Spanish Super Cup on Wednesday night.

Not a lot of things have gone right for Barcelona in the last few weeks, ever since striker Neymar went to Paris Saint-German in a world-record transfer. The frontline has looked depleted despite the presence of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. With Andres Inietsa missing the second leg due to injury, the midfield looked weak as well. Meanwhile, Madrid were on an incredibly rampant run.

Madrid had won 3-1 at camp Nou on Sunday in the first leg, where Pique had scored an own goal. In the second leg, Barca failed to get on the scoreboard as Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema struck in the absence of suspended Cristiano Ronaldo, and first-team regulars Gareth Bale, Isco and Casemiro.

“In the nine years I’ve been [at Barca], it’s the first time I feel inferior to Madrid,” Pique was quoted as saying by Spanish media after the defeat at the Santiago Bernabeu.

However, he had a message of hope and unity as well. “We’re not having our best time as a team or a club. We should all be as close to each other as possible and move forward. We must live with this defeat and accept that Madrid are better than us [at the moment], but the season’s very long and there’s room for improvement,” he was quoted as saying by ESPN.

However, to compound Barcelona’s worries, Pique was taken off in the second half with an injury. He will undergo tests to see if he is fit.

Meanwhile, new Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde was left to rue the worst possible start to his reign with back-to-back defeats against the Catalans fiercest rivals.

“We have to recover quickly, the league is on the horizon,” said Valverde, ahead of Barca’s La Liga opener against Real Betis on Sunday.

“In three days we find ourselves against the ropes,” added Valverde. “Things have happened in pre-season that have affected the balance of the team and our job is to refind that balance.”