Ernesto Valverde successes are underappreciated at Barcelona

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Ernesto Valverde is out of contract at Barcelona this summer and recent comments to club media have suggested he will leave his post at the end of the current campaign. In his first season in charge he led the club to a domestic double and his side currently sit clear at the top of La Liga.

To many outsiders it may appear surprising that the 54-year-old is under pressure at the Catalan giants considering his successes at the club. After all, his side suffered just one league defeat last season and that was after the Spanish league title had already been wrapped up in convincing fashion. Continue reading

Barcelona are wrong to put the squeeze on Valverde

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It’s not even the new year but Barcelona have already placed their demands on first team coach, Ernesto Valverde, reiterating their stance that he must make his mind up about his future contractual intentions by February at the latest.

Though they can’t be kept waiting indefinitely, one has to question the wisdom of asking for a decision during the part of the season which will be amongst Barca’s busiest.

The Champions League will have just begun again and, depending on league results in the next few weeks, the majority of the first team’s focus will have to be on domestic matters. Continue reading

Lionel Messi is masking Barcelona’s problems

On the face of things, all went well for Barcelona on Wednesday night. Against a PSV Eindhoven side intent of giving it one last go to climb their way off the foot of Group B in this season’s Champions League, the Catalans claimed a 2-1 win to secure top spot. Dig a little deeper, though, and there was plenty to concern Ernesto Valverde.

Barca gave up enough opportunities for the result to be very different – ‘gave up’ being the key term. As effective as PSV were in the final third, hassling and harrying the Spanish champions, Valverde’s side were unusually slack with possession. Sergio Busquets surely can’t have had many looser games. Ivan Rakitic wasn’t much better, with Marc-Andre Ter Stegen also extremely uncomfortable.

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The xG plot maps produced after full time backed up the notion that PSV, had they taken their chances, probably should have beaten, or at least taken a point off, Barcelona. The visitors were fortunate to leave with all three points, once again owing to the brilliance of Lionel Messi, whose stunning opener changed the course of the match as a contest.

Fears that Messi may be slowing down have been, so far, unfounded this season, with the Argentinean as lethal as ever. Playing in a ‘false nine’ position on Wednesday night, with Luis Suarez missing for the match, Messi was both Barcelona’s attacking hub and their cutting edge. He is good enough to play both roles at the same time.

Elsewhere, though, there was reason for Valverde to be concerned. Barcelona’s midfield was far too deep against PSV, with Philippe Coutinho positioned only slightly in front of the central platform of Busquets and Rakitic. This resulted in Barca holding the ball closer to their own goal than is normal, which subsequently incentivised PSV to press high on the Catalans.

Last season, Valverde was criticised for not rotating his squad sufficiently. This resulted in Barcelona running out of steam when they reached the latter rounds of the Champions League, demonstrated by their infamous collapse to Roma in the quarter finals.

While Valverde is rotating his squad better this season, his changes on Wednesday night were peculiar. Busquets and Rakitic were quite clearly struggling from the 60-minute mark onwards, yet the Barca boss chose to withdraw Ousmane Dembele rather than resting one of his fatigued central midfielders.

This only accentuated the positional issues that Barcelona were experiencing in the middle of the pitch, giving PSV a way back into the match when the points should have been secured with the scoring of the second goal through Gerard Pique. Against better teams, Barca could come unstuck if they continue to play in this way. They might be through to the Champions League last 16, top of their group, but Valverde has plenty to think about.

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Has Dembele blown it at Barcelona?

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After a disappointing opening campaign at Barcelona, which was mainly as a result of an untimely injury not long after joining, Ousmane Dembele was expected to hit the ground running at the start of 2018/19.

Though there were some suggestions that the Catalans should cash in, with Liverpool allegedly interested in his services, Ernesto Valverde was clear that the young Frenchman was absolutely part of his plans. Continue reading

Crisis at Barcelona is headed by Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez

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Yes not winning for 3 games in a row is indeed a crisis at Barcelona and Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez could be to blame.

The problems for the club started at home against Girona were the Catalan giants were heading for a home defeat, their first in over 2 years which is an incredible record in itself. It was Gerard Pique of all players that saved the team on that occasion, and that amended for some of his defending in the game.

The next game was the shock loss away to Leganes more of a shock given that they had taken the lead through a Philippe Coutinho 12th minute goal, but Barca could not add to that and lost 2-1. This was their first defeat of the season. But it was in the clubs next game where the concerns grew the most where they could only draw at home 1-1 to Athletic Bilbao, again after going a goal down.

Pique has been a brilliant servant to Barcelona and that cannot be in question but he has started the season in lethargic fashion. He has made some telling mistakes, and not made the right decisions. With the other defenders looking at him for guidance this has meant that the club are constantly making late decisions and this has been costing them.

As for Luis Suarez the forward is the shadow of the player that he was at Liverpool and in his 2nd season with Barcelona. Yes he has continued to score the goals and has a fantastic record at Barca netting 155 times in 207 appearances but he doesn’t seem like the same joyful player that joined the club. His reading of the game isn’t the same since Neymar left and he doesn’t seem to be able to fit into a system that can include both Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele.

Barca coach Ernesto Valverde did come under stick after dropping Messi to the bench for the teams latest game. Trying to explain to the press that sometimes his best players need to rest mostly fell on deaf ears. But it is true that the club have some very important games coming up.

Next week they head to London to face Tottenham in the Champions League and they will be expected to give a performance to the Premier League team. A tricky tie away to Valencia is next week and then they will play Sevilla after the international break a team who have just beaten Real Madrid 3-0.

So tough fixtures await the club though it should be remembered that they are still 1st in the league standings and for most clubs picking up 1 point from a possible 9 would not classify as a problem. But then again Barcelona are not most clubs, the coming months are set to be very interesting.

Frenkie de Jong or Paul Pogba – which one would suit Barcelona?

The summer transfer window isn’t long closed, but already conjecture is starting to build over who Barcelona could move for in January. Two names have been mentioned more than most – Frenkie de Jong and Paul Pogba. On this basis, it’s safe to assume that the Catalans are searching for a midfielder.

This is somewhat surprising given that they signed Brazilian midfielder Arthur over the summer, with Chilean Arturo Vidal also joining from Bayern Munich. Barcelona are well stocked in the centre of the pitch, with Sergio Busquets, Philippe Coutinho, Rafinha, Ivan Rakitic, Sergi Roberto and Denis Suarez all current options there. Ernesto Valverde has a number of options already at his disposal.

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And yet the de Jong and Pogba rumours persist, suggesting that Barca are looking for a more direct midfielder, someone who can turn defence into attack in a matter of seconds. That goes against the grain of what a Barcelona midfielder usually does, but diversity would probably be a good thing for the Catalans.

So which of the two would suit Barcelona better? De Jong, for starters, is probably the more technical of the two, although there isn’t much in it. Pogba is still an exceptional passer of the ball, particularly from a diagonal angle, but de Jong would perhaps be a better fit for Barca’s tightly-packed passing style.

And yet if Valverde wants someone to take his team up the pitch quickly then there are few better in the European game at doing that than Pogba. His long strides cover a lot of ground, effortlessly leaving opponents in his wake. The Frenchman is unlike anyone currently at the Camp Nou and in that there must be an appeal, particularly if the aim for Barca is diversification.

In terms of potential transfer fee, both players would command a hefty amount. Spurs reportedly had an offer of around £45 million for de Jong rejected over the summer transfer window, with Ajax supposedly putting a £75 million price tag on the head of their young midfielder. If Barca don’t pay that then Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid or one of the other super clubs linked with de Jong will.

Man Utd would want to at least recoup the £89 million they paid for Pogba two-and-a-half years ago, and given the way the market has inflated in the time since they might even look for a fee over £100 million. Pogba may have fallen out with Mourinho, but he is a World Cup winner and remains one of the Old Trafford club’s most valuable assets.

The fact Barcelona are targeting these two players says a lot about where they are heading as a team. Long gone are the days of ‘Tiki-Taka’ and death by a thousand passes. Instead, they want to be a more varied side. De Jong and Pogba would give them that sort of variety. Now, to decide on one or the other.

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Are Spanish giants Barcelona losing their identity?

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It’s easy to say that nothing is fundamentally wrong when you are the champions of your country and this past weekend you just scored 8 goals against an opponent, but Barcelona one of the greatest teams in the history of football are losing their identity as a club.

That identity is wrapped around their academy known as La Masia and the cold harsh facts that the Catalan club have not produced a player from within that has gone on to the first team in 10 years.

Currently there are just five players that make up the entire Barcelona A squad that came from the academy, they are; Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Sergio Roberto, Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique. At the beginning of the year that figure was six but Andres Iniesta has since moved on to pastures new playing in the Chinese league.

So why are Barcelona not producing more players from the academy level? One theory is written within the clubs recent successes. So good has it been that top European clubs have no longer wanted to raid the A team but go after the youth before they make the step up to play at the hallowed turf that is Nou Camp. So teams are coming in for the young players, tempting them with more wages and better contracts. To counter this Barcelona at the start of this year increased youth team wages by a whopping 160%. It remains to be seen if this will have a lasting effect.

But that is just one opinion, the other could be that the club are failing in their academy system because they have indeed lost their identity and have just become another big spending European heavyweight. And of course there is evidence to back this up. In the last 4 seasons despite selling players such as Neymar for almost £200m they still spent almost £700m. Now if you are spending that type of money why would you even look at players that are in the academy?

Sergio Busquets remains the last home grown player that Barcelona have developed at the academy and he made his debut 10 years ago, and youth players continue to be lured by other clubs because they see a lack of opportunity.

A worrying trend has seen quality players leave the club, no matter how big Barcelona are they are wising up to the fact that they are not wanted. Take Sergio Gomez who was voted the 2nd best player at the U17 World Cup last year, he now plays for Borussia Dortmund. And then there is Pablo Moreno who scored 200 goals in five years at the academy, where is he now? Playing for Juventus.

Whilst splashing out millions of euros on todays superstars is a problem, the root seems to stem from the managerial side of things. The last two coaches of Barcelona Luis Enrique and Ernesto Valverde did not come from the academy and so do not have a connection to it. Plus La Masia is in effect no more, the players now train elsewhere so a special relationship has stopped, and in today’s football world it wouldn’t be a surprise if it never came back.