Ernesto Valverde under growing pressure at Barcelona


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


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


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




Lionel Messi

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


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

Lionel Messi

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”.

Valverde is still the best choice for Barcelona

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Although it came out of the blue, Ernesto Valverde’s renewal for another year at FC Barcelona is the correct decision.

The club needs continuity and stability and Valverde provides just that.

Well respected by the players, particularly the more senior ones in the side, he’s done precisely the job asked of him by the board since his appointment.

A poor night in Rome notwithstanding, there’s little that Valverde can be reproached for. Continue reading

Are Barcelona hitting poor form at the wrong time?


Even before the new Spanish league started Barcelona were installed as favourites. The bookmakers were not silly and realised that too much had changed at Real Madrid for them to compete this season, no Zidane and no Ronaldo meant transition and then Julen Lopetegui was sacked and the best Madrid could muster was Santiago Solari to steer the ship until the end of the season. Madrid looked doomed and Barcelona looked set on to win yet another league title.

And so the title played out that way, at one point just a few months back, Barcelona had gone 10 points clear of Real Madrid, and then February happened.

With 23 games played and 15 more still to go Barcelona are in 1st place but the gap is not just 6 points. Real Madrid have swallowed 40% of that gap up after going their last 5 games in a row unbeaten and winning all of those matches. Of course it’s not as if Barcelona have started to lose games because they haven’t. They have lost just 2 all season. But they have drawn their last two, which in the league can really affect your standing.

First there was the 2-2 draw at home to Valencia and that was followed up by a disappointing 0-0 result away to Athletic Bilbao, where the team including Lionel Messi gave a listless display. That same weekend Real Madrid had just beaten rivals Atletico Madrid in their classic derby by 3-1 which has made all the difference to the league standings. And of course it has been 3 games in total without a win for Barca who also drew 1-1 in their Copa del Rey match with Real Madrid.

The league then is all to play for, even Atletico have a chance as they are just a point behind Real. After that there is no chance for the others. But can Barcelona hold their nerve in what was supposed to be a write off season for Real, who now has a second wind?

Well let’s be honest and say that Barcelona are still in the driving seat. They have the most points, have scored the most goals and have conceded just 23 all season. They are still the team to beat but not many people thought that it would end up being this hard, and they have made heavy weather of it somewhat.

Next weekend they will play 15th place Valladolid at Nou Camp and will be massive favourites to beat a team who have won just 3 games on the road all season and won none of their last four matches away from home. Meanwhile Real Madrid will be trying to keep up the chase when they take on Girona at home, both will be expected to win and one could well think that this league could go down to the last couple of matches. Watch this space.

Ernesto Valverde successes are underappreciated at Barcelona


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