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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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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Real Betis set to dismiss boss Quique Setien

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The future of boss Quique Setien at Real Betis looks increasingly uncertain and it appears likely he will be removed from his post this summer. Last week, the club confirmed via a statement that they had decided to stick with the under-fire coach until the end of the season. But for how much longer beyond that?

Los Verdiblancos have taken just four points from their last seven La Liga games and are now out of contention for a European spot. Their form since Christmas has been one of a team in the relegation mix and results, combined with the team’s sluggish style of play, has pushed fans over the edge in Seville. Continue reading

Real Betis chasing Copa glory as Champions League bid falters

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Real Betis have a golden opportunity to end their 2018-19 La Liga season on a high, with a Copa del Rey semi final win against Valencia.

Quique Setien’s side had looked like an outside bet to qualify for the Champions League via fourth place in La Liga at the end of 2019, however their form has slipped and Getafe Sevilla and Alaves have move ahead.

They may still qualify for the Europa League, for the second successive season, but they do also have a realistic chance of silverware for the first time in over a decade.

Continue reading

Pound for Pound are Real Betis the best team in La Liga this season?

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It’s been very routine for clubs such as Real Betis to have a few good games and then fade away, but this season the team from the south seem to have more staying power and have made a real impact on La Liga this season.

La Liga has been very exciting this season, mostly because Barcelona and Real Madrid have not had it all their own way. While Barcelona do lead the league they only do so by 3 points over Atletico Madrid. Real Madrid have had their own problems with the sacking of Julen Lopetegui after a nightmare start to the season. Santiago Solari was drafted in but the team don’t feel like classic, solid and reliable Madrid the team we have come to know over the past five years. That is because Zinedine Zidane left the club last summer and so did Cristiano Ronaldo. Real are in 4th place and there is a chance that they could miss out on automatic qualification for next seasons Champions League, that is unless they win the competition for an historic 4th time in a row.

But back to Betis who are in 6th place and just three points behind Madrid and while a title challenge is beyond them the club will be trying to reach a European place finish. Currently they are already there and set for Europa League football next season but if they could finish in the top 4 that would be good enough for Champions League football and they are just one win from achieving that. Of course there is a long time to go and we are not even at the halfway stage yet in Spain but this season Betis seem like a different beast from last.

Before the Christmas break Betis stunned Barcelona by becoming the first team to beat them in the league at the Nou Camp for 2 years and they are currently on a 4 game unbeaten streak with 3 of those matches being wins. To understand why Betis have changed for the better this season we must look at their coach Quique Setien.

Setien joined the club last season and has won 31 of his 65 games in charge so far to give him a 47.6% win rate. Whilst it is true that Setien has never won any managerial honours in his 17 years as a boss he has also never had the opportunities mostly coaching teams in La Liga 2.

One wonders how far he can take Betis, a European finish which is currently on and a deep run in the Copa del Rey would be a successful season for the club who usually fade away in the second half of the season, this is something that Setien will be determined to change in 2019.