Barcelona has sacked Ernesto Valverde after two and a half years despite winning consecutive La Liga titles at the Nou Camp. Barcelona is on top of La Liga on goal difference and have also advanced to the Champions League last 16 as group winners and would face Napoli in February. Valverde managed 97 wins, 32 draws and 16 losses out of 145 games and also won two La Liga titles, Copa del Rey and a Spanish Super Cup during his tenure at Barcelona. Valverde is the first manager to be fired by Barcelona mid-season since Louis Van Gaal was sacked back in January 2003. Valverde spent over 300 million euros on Antoine Griezman, Frankie De Jong, Ousmane Dembele, and Philipe Coutinho, who is now on loan at Bayern Munich.
Where did it go wrong for Valverde?
Valverde was taking the club away from the style they usually play, which was the tiki-taka style or the champagne football, the playing style that was introduced by legendary Johan Cruyff, which involved keeping the ball, making the opponent run, spreading the pitch and pressing hard. For a team that prides itself on fast-paced, incisive, and possession-based football, Valverde’s era was considered a step back from the club’s foundation. During Valverde’s tenure, he was always criticized by the fans for his pragmatic approach in most of the team’s matches. A midfield trio of Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, and Frankie De Jong are a dominant force on paper because of the abilities they possess on the ball. However, the trio was mostly inconsistent and failed to control the midfield in a lot of their games because of the style of play Valverde employed at the Club. In addition to the team’s failure to control games is their deficiency of not keeping clean sheets away from home.
Barcelona have failed to register a clean sheet in seven away league games this season, dropping points to bottom club Espanyol and losing to Athletic Bilbao, Granada, and Levante. These results were unconvincing for a club of Barcelona’s stature. The defeat they had against Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals of the Spanish super cup in Saudi Arabia was unlike Barcelona. Despite leading 2-1 in the second half with nine minutes to go, the Barcelona team were suffocated by their opponents, resulting in them losing 3-2.The performance of them also infuriated the supporters in Saudi Arabia who were quick to point fingers at Valverde after the game. Rotation of players was another problem for Valverde. He constantly changed his starting lineups match after match and failed to get a consistent first eleven.
Champions League failure
Valverde won 18 out of his 28 Champions League matches, drawing eight and losing on just two occasions, which represented a decent win rate in Europe. However, a loss on away goals to Roma in the quarter finals in 2018 despite winning the first leg 4-1 at the Camp Nou, along with the failure of eliminating Liverpool last season despite holding a 3-0 first-leg advantage did little to improve his damaging relationship with the fans. The loss to Liverpool was a clear indication of his failure to learn from the mistakes from the previous season. In Europe, Valverde was unable to build a side with the mental fortitude similar to what Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique did at the club. The last time Barcelona lifted the Champions League was 2015 under manager Luis Enrique. The board at Barcelona is badly in need of the club’s sixth Champions League trophy as a result of the success of their arch-rivals Real Madrid, who recently won it three times in a row. A section of the fans were calling for his sack after Barcelona succumbed to the shock defeat in the Champions League at Anfield. The harrowing manner they lost to Liverpool is still in the minds of the supporters.
What next for Barcelona?
Barcelona has appointed Quique Setien, the former Real Betis manager, to replace Ernesto Valverde. His appointment is surprising to many people, but according to the hierarchy of Barcelona, Quique Setien is an attractive coach with the Johan Cruyff mentality, and a coaching philosophy based on the iconic tiki-taka playing style. They will be hoping Setien will bring back the quick passing and high pressing style of play the club enjoyed under Guardiola. Barcelona’s next game is against Granada, which is a must-win for them because they are on the same points with their bitter rivals Real Madrid, and they cannot afford to lose or drop a point at this stage.