Barcelona need to re focus for next season and Messi and Xaxi could be key to that

Whilst Barcelona are top of the league standings for now and are still in the Champions League any fan who watches them will tell you that they are not having their usual dominant season. They simply don’t look like the Barcelona side that have graced their league and European football for the past decade.

They have had some injuries in Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann has taken time to fit in and doesn’t have consistently good games. Lionel Messi is getting older but he is still a fantastic player, but there is a feeling that he needs to be re motivated. New coach Quique Setien seems like a good man but one really has to question if he is the right person to take Barcelona forward.

Setien’s appointment came after a panic decision led by the board and Eric Abidal to sack Ernesto Valverde, who the players really liked. Everything felt hurried in their decision and the severance got messy so to speak. So bad that Messi himself spoke out about his feelings that Valverde should never have been sacked.

Bringing in Setien always felt like the wrong decision especially when news broke that Barca and Abidal had chased after ex player Xavi to be the new coach. Xavi was loyal to his Chinese team though and rejected the offer for now. Come August and the next season and it is thought that Xavi will be available and will be Barca’s new coach.

Appointing Xavi would make sense, his blood runs the colours of the club, he is respected by his peers and the fans love him. This could work, but of course he will judged on results only. Messi could well improve, even though he is actually having a decent season maybe it has lacked some spark from the high bar that he has set himself.

Next season has to be about focusing for the club. When the Suarez injury hit and the club looked for last minute deals, it made no sense. They wanted to pay big money to Everton to secure Richarlison, Everton quite rightly in January said no. And they simply went window shopping again, with not much care or focus. The truth is Barcelona didn’t want or need Richarlison, and they ended up going for Martin Braithwaite, a decent player but journeyman who simply will not fit into the team.

This was a basic blunder by the club and not to undermine Braithwaite’s skills, but players brought into any club must have a desired role so they can play and fit into the team like a jigsaw. Braithwaite through no fault of his own has been plucked out and expected to be the difference within the team. Instead his biggest highlight might be just sharing a dressing room with Messi. This all comes down to Barcelona panicking.

Bringing in Xavi next season there will be the hope that the team can re focus, he understands the club and was part of the team that was hailed as the best club side in history in the late 2000s and early 2010s.

Barcelona still have the magic, still have their integrity, but in football life moves fast. Wit La Liga possibly being suspended this year over the virus it gives the club time to assess the situation, the question is will they make the right choices or continue to panic?

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No silverware this season could be a blessing for Barcelona

At the start of the current campaign, just as he had a year previously, Lionel Messi addressed the Camp Nou.

The message was much the same. The team were disappointed by their Champions League exit, and subsequent Copa del Rey final defeat, but a new season represented new opportunities.

The first team would do everything they could to bring home some silverware, preferably of the European variety. Continue reading

Is Lionel Messi’s career coming to an abrupt end at Barcelona?

It all started in December when Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde was sacked, seemingly the decision had fallen to Eric Abidal an ex Barcelona player and now part of the set up at the Catalan giants. The handling was pardon the pun ‘messy’ and it has led to one of the all time great players in football and Barcelona legend Lionel Messi speaking out about the decision.

Abidal has claimed that the players were not playing their best under Valverde (even though they were 1st in the league and had only lost one game at home in 18 months). He then reportedly blamed the players saying that they wanted Valverde out. That was the final straw and Messi snapped. The same Messi who doesn’t snap, who does diplomacy and to be frank it has surprised many in the game.

He wants Abidal to name names if it is true that some players within the squad wanted Valverde out. There has been an ongoing joke that Messi has run the club for the past decade, deciding which coach the club should hire and which players should come in. But it is clear that even if he did have an influence he didn’t here and it is also clear that he very much liked Valverde.

Since Valverde was sacked and replaced by Quique Setien there has clearly been a drop in performance from Barca who have narrowly won games against Granada 1-0 and Levante 2-1 and lost to Valencia. In midweek they were knocked out of the Copa del Rey at the quarter final stage to Athletic Bilbao. This was deemed a shock although it was softened slightly as Real Madrid stole the headlines by losing at home 4-3 to Real Sociedad.

Now Messi has spoken out the media believe that this could be the beginning of the end for his one time career at Barcelona. Could he really move in the summer? Or will this all blow over? Could Eric Abidal be replaced to ease tensions? Most think that this could be the likely outcome.

Of course Messi has been linked to Manchester City on the one basis that his former coach Pep Guardiola is there. But the fact is Guardiola may not be at the club for more than a few seasons, what would Messi do then? It would be a bold and exciting move though, but Guardiola himself quashed that idea and insisted that Messi belongs in Barcelona and should end his career there.

Surely this can die down and Barcelona can get on with winning trophies? Though there is a chance that they could end the season empty handed. The fall out of the Abidal-Messi argument comes on the eve of the knock out stages of the Champions League starting up again. Also since Valverde was sacked Barcelona have lost top spot to Real Madrid with Zinedine Zidane’s team going three points clear, and of course Barca are out of the Spanish cup.

Can Setien get back control and steer the ship or will he be made to jump? The circus sadly for Barcelona and their fans seems like it is just beginning.

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Barcelona sack Ernesto Valverde but the situation turns into a farce

Barcelona have sacked coach Ernesto Valverde but the handling of the affair ended up turning into a farce. Instead of the club making a professional decision the story ran out of control when former player Xavi rejected taking the job.

The Catalan giants ended up exposing themselves early, Valverde knew he was out of a job as the Barca board scrambled to appoint someone after the club were beaten 3-2 by Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup semi-finals out in Saudi Arabia. The timing though seems off. It is ended with Barcelona fans having a Valverde for a domestic league game, only to see him and the team go halfway around the world to play in the Super Cup and the team coming back with Valverde gone and a new manager in place.

But why now? Why did Barcelona make this decision? Valverde after all becomes the first Barcelona coach in 17 years sacked mid way through the season. The last was Louis van Gaal. It has been reported that Barcelona panicked when they witnessed the Atletico game. The club were 2-1 up with 10 minutes to go and lost 3-2. It reminded them of the Champions League collapses against Roma and Liverpool when the club spurned a 3 goal lead, each time with Valverde in charge.

It’s odd in a way that the club have finally said goodbye to him given that they are top of the league in Spain and qualified for the knock out stages of the Champions League. If they were going to sack him surely it would have come days after going out of the Champions League in embarrassing fashion to Liverpool, or at the end of last season, but he was liked by the board, well until now.

So who will be replacing him? It should have been Xavi and that would have been the natural decision. But the former Barca great actually did the most decent thing and declined to leave his current managerial position at Al Sadd during their season. It was reported he could take over in the summer but Barca wanted someone now. That someone is Quique Setien.

Setien’s last job was coach of Real Betis where he recorded some great results including beating Barcelona. He has long been an admirer of the clubs playing philosophy and could be the perfect replacement, only time will tell on that, but he has never had a win rate above 50%, at the same time he has never coached one of the elite teams and at 61 his dream has finally come true.

As for Valverde, well once you have managed Barcelona it is like winning an Oscar and he will be high demand, with no problems to find another job, although he will more than likely take the next 6 months off. The one shame is the way Barcelona handled it all for a man who probably should have gone this summer. Having said that one could question if he has been a failure for Barcelona? Sure their performances collapsed in the Champions League but Barcelona won 2 league titles under him and two cups. Week in week out they did a job on Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid to win La Liga.

Former Barcelona great Andres Iniesta called the handling of Valverde’s sacking ‘a bit ugly’, and he was right to say that. It’s interesting how loyal figures at the club are usually shown the back door or the handling for their exits is not done let’s say with the best of etiquette in mind. But what is done is done and Setien will be thrown in at the deep end, his dream has finally arrived and he will be hoping that it isn’t a nightmare.

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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.

Continue reading

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.