Ernesto Valverde is on borrowed time at Barcelona

The rot appears to have already set in at Barcelona.

In four away matches this season in all competitions, the Catalans have failed to win any.

Two of those have come against teams that were promoted from the Segunda Division last season, Osasuna and Granada, and against the Andalusians last weekend, they were well beaten.

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Top La Liga Strikers in 2018/19: Lionel Messi

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The different descriptions of how to praise such genius ran out a long time ago and it is no surprise to see Lionel Messi ranked as the best La Liga striker of the season. He didn’t just amass more points he engulfed and controlled that position so that the next nearest striker, Karim Benzema was a cool 75 points behind him.

Personally for Messi it was another terrific season, true it could have been better as Barcelona ‘only’ won the league this season but the magician from Argentina still scored 36 goals in the league and assisted in another 13. That means that he was involved in 49 of Barcelona’s 90 goals, so well over 50% which is simply a stunning statistic.

Messi could have been yours this season but he would of cost the most out of every other player and was valued at 20m. He did end up collecting a huge 172 points though which as you’ve probably guessed was good enough to be ranked number 1 right across the board from strikers to any other player in any other position in any other major league. Whew! are we lucky to be able to witness his greatness in our lifetimes.

Messi started the season in fantastic fashion earning 20 points in his first 3 games including 12 alone when Barca beat Huesca 8-2 at the Camp Nou on matchday 3. In that game Messi scored 2 goals and two assists so even if that match was involved in 50% of the goals.

There were only 6 times when Messi failed to score a point and on two of those occasions the club had already won the league and so were concentrating on other competitions including the final stages of the Champions League and the Copa del Rey final.

Messi scored some huge points in games that other players could only dream about, 14 against Real Betis and 16 against Sevilla. But that wasn’t even his biggest haul, no that was saved for the game against Levante where Barcelona were playing away. The game finished 5-0 to Barca and Messi scored a hat-trick plus got two assists so was involved in every goal. To top that he picked up an extra 2 points as a bonus for getting the hat-trick.

The plaudits have long run out for him but he still amazes and seems one of the main reasons to watch La Liga football. Despite his attacking greatness it is also worth noting his disciplinary. This is important given in fantasy football how points can be lost and Messi was shown the yellow card just 2 times this season in the league.

It was another season where Messi made scoring hat-tricks seem normal and scored some fantastic goals once again, proving he is one of the greatest players ever to play the game. He will be back next season where he will most likely be the most expensive purchase but can your team really live without him?

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What next for Barcelona?

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With the debacle at Anfield still fresh in the memory of everyone connected with FC Barcelona, a win against Valencia in the Copa del Rey final was a chance for the Catalans to exorcise those demons.

Against a team who’d beaten them only three times in 11 years, and a coach who’d never triumphed over them in 20 years of trying, Barca realistically only had to turn up to add another trophy to their cabinet.

And yet, turning up is the one thing they failed to do. Continue reading

Why successful Ernesto Valverde has to leave Barcelona

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For almost any other club there would be no question that Ernesto Valverde would be staying with them- after all if Barcelona win the Copa del Rey this weekend then in 2 seasons he would have won 2 doubles, and 5 trophies, that is more than fantastic. And yet if Barcelona do sack Valverde whatever the outcome of the Spanish cup final there should be no surprises.

The reason is simple enough, under his guidance Barcelona have not been able to win the Champions League and it is the trophy alongside La Liga that teams such as Barcelona crave for each season.

Barcelona have not won the Champions League since 2015, which for most clubs wouldn’t be a problem, be for Barca they are not most clubs and each one of those 4 defeats since has hurt. Two of them were under the watch of Valverde and that is a huge reason why he could be given his marching orders at the end of this month.

Last season in the quarter finals of the Champions League Barcelona were paired with Roma and there wasn’t expected to be any problems. The first leg in Spain confirmed that as Barca beat Roma 4-1. But in Italy the players froze once Roma scored first and the Italians went on to claim a 3-0 victory and go through to the semi-finals on away goals. It was a huge shock, not so much to be beaten by Roma, but the way that it had happened. On top of that Roma were then knocked out by Liverpool a team who understand how European football works. Liverpool didn’t just beat Roma, mind. They pulverised them, much like Barcelona fans thought this is what Lionel Messi and co would do to Roma. Liverpool scored 7 against them en route to the final.

This season Barcelona had reached the semi-finals and were now paired with Liverpool, Roma’s conqueror’s from the season before. While Liverpool played well in the first leg of Spain some Messi magic ensured that Barcelona won that game 3-0. All is well, well no it wasn’t, had Valverde not learned to motivate his team differently? He was taking his side to Anfield one of the most difficult grounds and atmospheres for teams to go to. When Liverpool scored early the game seemed to drift away from Barcelona and of course we know the rest, Liverpool came back, won 4-0 and sent Barcelona and Valverde shockingly out again. Not the teams, the result, rinse and repeat.

Valverde is a really good coach, you don’t get the job at Barca if you are not. However he keeps coming up short when the games really matter in Europe. And so if he is sent packing it shouldn’t come as a shock. If nothing else Barcelona need a new face, a freshen up, and they could be set to get that this summer.

Ernesto Valverde under growing pressure at Barcelona

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As soon as Barcelona went a goal down at Anfield in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final, you could sense what was about to unfold. Liverpool, three goals down from the first leg, were shorn of attacking stars Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino. This was as close to an unassailable lead for the Blaugrana as they were ever likely to get in the competition.

The manner of their collapse would be bad enough in isolation but held up against what had happened the previous year against Roma at the quarter-final stage, it really is close to unforgivable. Ernesto Valverde’s side held a 4-1 lead (in what did not reflect the play of the Camp Nou clash) before being blown away by a hungry, energetic side in the return. Continue reading

Lionel Messi must not be made out to be the scapegoat when his teams lose

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When Barcelona or Argentina win that usually means that Lionel Messi has been at the heart of the result, if he hasn’t scored a hat-trick then he scored a goal and if he hasn’t scored a goal then he influenced the game by assisting the winning one. The best player of his generation is everywhere in a game, but that can’t always be the case of course, even if he goes quiet once or twice a year.

The problem for being so great and getting praise is that when it all goes wrong you get the other side of the stick which is that the blame seems to lie on you. When Argentina lost the World Cup Final to Germany in 2014, Messi was blamed, he became the scapegoat for the loss but surely it was the only explanation as to why Argentina failed to become the first South American side not to win the World Cup in the region. In truth Gonzalo Higuaín’s shocking miss was the real blame as Germany went onto win the match 1-0.

Last summer Messi had a quiet World Cup but he was in a side who could not defend. It meant that they were failing the game before Messi could find the right balance in the game to get his own style together. When Argentina actually took the lead against France in the round of 16, Messi looked the most shocked, and of course France would go on to win the game 4-3. The final score made it look close but it really wasn’t.

Recently in the Champions League for Barcelona, Messi was hailed yet again as a masterclass as his one man show was just too much for Manchester United in Spain. Again at home in the semi-final v Liverpool Messi was simply too good and scored 2 goals as Barcelona won that game 3-0. But the tie was not dead far from it and Liverpool won the 2nd leg 4-0. Messi was devastated of course and the blame was put all on him.

In reality even at Anfield when Liverpool were far the superior team Messi created four decent chances. Barcelona’s best chance fell to Jordi Alba who really just needed to shoot, at that stage one goal from Barcelona could have killed the game. However Alba decided to pass to Messi who look puzzled given that he knew Alba was in the much better position. The reliability on Messi is too much within the team and it showed once again at the most crucial point.

Of course Messi fails sometimes, he is only human, and it can be frustrating to watch a star player not be able to turn it on. But blaming just Messi is near pathetic, lazy and short sighted. You win as a team and lose as one, as for the Liverpool defeat Ernesto Valverde the Barcelona coach naturally has to take quite a lot of the blame, if anything he failed to motivate his players in the right way at one of the most difficult grounds in Europe.

 

Liverpool knock Barcelona out of Champions League with stunning ease

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Liverpool beat Barcelona 4-0 to reach the Champions League final where they will either play Ajax or Tottenham on June 1st. The match ended 4-3 on aggregate to the Reds who stunned Barcelona and world football with their magnificent comeback. But Liverpool’s win tells us just one story of the game. This piece is concentrating on Barcelona and their coach Ernesto Valverde who clearly did not do their homework.

A couple of days before the game it was confirmed that Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah would miss the encounter through concussion that he had picked up after Reds Premier League win at Newcastle United that weekend. Losing Salah, arguably Liverpool’s best player of the past two seasons was a massive blow. The club then lost Roberto Firmino. One had to be reminded of the disadvantages Liverpool had had to face, and now they were facing Barcelona in a match where they were already 3-0 down. Clearly there was only going to be one winner. And yet anyone that has followed football for a long time knew that this story wasn’t dead. It’s unfortunate that Barcelona did not.

Rewind back 11 months when in the quarter finals of the Champions League Barcelona beat Roma 4-1 in the first leg only to lose 3-0 in the 2nd  and go out on away goals. It was a shocker, never supposed to be repeated, well as long as Ernesto Valverde was coach and as long as Lionel Messi was still playing. And yet the team catapulted again. You almost sensed there would be trouble when Liverpool were 1-0 up at Anfield within the first 10 minutes when Divock Origi put his side in front. That Barca held out until half time at 1-0 gave them a faint glimmer of hope.

True the Catalan giants had their chances in that opening 45 minutes too and Messi had a few chances one after the other, but he was never on his required level to change this game, and the rest of the team played well within themselves.

Within 15 minutes of the restart Georgino Wijnaldum, a bit part player for Liverpool who had not even started the game, but has that uncanny ability to put in performances had scored a brace. The score was now 3-0 and we were simply waiting for Liverpool to get a 4th, of course it came, Origi again to complete a Roy of the Rovers comeback. You just knew at that point had Barca won the first leg 4-0 then Liverpool would have got 5 at Anfield.

Barcelona were a total shambles and a lot of that has and must rest on Valverde’s shoulders. He is of course a very good coach who keeps on guiding the club to domestic honours but one has to question if he really has the steel to win the very big games in Europe. The preparation for this game felt like it was close to zero. Just come here and show up and play like we know, was there any other information relayed to the team?

How could it be that even Barcelona did not understand the magic of Anfield and how Liverpool have through the years turned it on at home, no matter what a first leg result was? Where was the home work, the passion, the hunger and the dedication?

Jurgen Klopp was forced to make changes through injuries and hinted at the press conference before the game that some fans may think his tactics for this game would feel odd. What transpired last night was that even though Klopp has less trophies to show for his time at Liverpool than Valverde has at Barca, is that Klopp is a far better manager than his counterpart, the gulf in class was simply embarrassing.

Why didn’t Valverde think outside the box, instead of selecting on auto pilot the same tired team? What works at home doesn’t always work away, and it would have taken strength to have benched Messi in the 2nd leg. Yes it is easy to see that in hindsight but again sometimes we need to look at history to see it’s not such a bizarre thought.

One remembers when Barcelona failed in 1st legs v Milan and more recently against PSG. Who was their saviour from the bench in those games, Messi who had niggling injuries. But his presence once on the pitch and with fresh legs with 30 minutes to go was pivotal. Imagine last night had Messi came on with the same period to go, Barcelona’s level no matter how poor they were playing would have inevitably have gone up. They needed that secret weapon, and they simply did not need him from the beginning of the match, not this time.

There was a moment in the game that highlighted why Messi was not needed for the early exchanges. Jordi Alba in a fantastic position to shoot, instead squared the ball to Messi who knew himself was a wrong pass. Had Alba shot there was a good chance he could have scored and could have killed the game off. Instead he passed and Messi could do nothing with the ball. That reliance on Messi is no good, not in EVERY game for Barcelona.

Liverpool more than deserve to be in the final. Perhaps they are not the most technically gifted team in Europe, but they showed everything in last nights game that makes up for the very best European champions. Who ever they face in the final they will have added motivation to go on and win it after last years loss to Real Madrid.

For Barcelona, Valverde could be sacked in a few weeks, win or lose the Copa del Rey, there could be a feeling he isn’t the man to take the club onto the next level where they need to be, that’s two seasons in a row where they failed spectacularly through a mixture of bad man management and nonchalance. Things come in three’s and Barcelona’s hierarchy will know that and understand the little omen has to be put to bed and done so quickly.

Barcelona to rest stars as they push for Champions League glory

 

 

 

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Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde was firm in his commitment to pushing for further glory, after his side wrapped up an eighth La Liga title in the last 11 seasons.

A 1-0 win at home to Levante means the Catalan side have secured their title defence, with three league games to spare before the end of the 2018-19 season.

The former Athletic Bilbao coach will now focus his squad’s energies on completing a first treble since 2015. Continue reading

Dominance of Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona underappreciated

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Barcelona will soon confirm the inevitable and officially be confirmed as champions of La Liga. It will be the club’s fourth title in the space of five years and their eighth in the past 11 years. It is a period of time in which the Catalan giants have been truly dominant in Spanish football.

It has also been a period of ascendancy which has been underappreciated, partly because of its emphatic nature. This is the second campaign in a row under Ernesto Valverde where Barca will not just win the league. But they will do convincingly and with several games to spare. In neither season has there been a title race. Continue reading

Messi on fire as Barcelona win at Sevilla

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There was no looking past the world’s best player on Saturday afternoon as Lionel Messi put on another masterclass to help Barcelona win 4-2 at Sevilla.

The home side actually went ahead through a well-taken finish from Jesus Navas but Messi equalised with a sublime left-footed volley just minutes later.

Sevilla were in the lead again at half-time, however, after Gabriel Mercado scored three minutes before the break. Pablo Machin’s side were good value for their 2-1 lead at that stage.

Machin’s half-time team-talk probably consisted of something like “keep Messi quiet and we can win this”.