Barcelona’s goalless draw showed a team lacking the flavour that made them famous… but why are the star-studded attack failing and will fans get their wish to see Ernesto Valverde sacked this month?
It’s no secret that Ernesto Valverde is in his final season as Barcelona coach – waiting to be replaced at the end of the campaign by Ronald Koeman or even by current Ajax coach Erik ten Hag or River Plate manager Marcelo Gallardo.
But on Tuesday night – and not for the first time this season – he looked like a manager in his last month of service, not his last year. Frustrated on the touchline he crouched and grimaced as Barcelona made such hard work of finding a way through Slavia Prague.
He is not in his last month. Barcelona remain top of La Liga and top of their Champions League group and Valverde will almost certainly see out the season but last season’s are rarely great and this one is shaping up to be one of under-achievement.
On Tuesday, Ernesto Valverde looked like a manager in his last month of service at Barcelona
In the draw against Slavia Prague, it seemed Barcelona pinned all their hopes on Lionel Messi
Will Barcelona supporters get their wish to see their manager sacked this month?
LAST FIVE RESULTS
Nov 5: Barcelona 0-0 Slavia Prague
Nov 2: Levante 3-1 Barcelona
Oct 29: Barcelona 5-1 Real Valladolid
Oct 23: Slavia Prague 1-2 Barcelona
Oct 19: Eibar 0-3 Barcelona
In his post-match interview after Barcelona drew 0-0 on Tuesday, Gerard Pique said that Slavia Pragues’s high defensive line had caught Barcelona out. Did Valverde and his coaching staff not study the Czech champs away from home? Was that not a startling admission of a lack of preparation.
During his damning deconstruction of Barcelona’s performance as a television pundit, Arsene Wenger used one phrase that will have rang true with most of the club’s supporters.
After pointing out that they play ‘like a team in crisis’ and that there is ‘no dynamic’ and that they are ‘too slow’, he said that in the last 30 metres they are ‘too individual’.
Ouch. Barcelona are supposed to be more than just results. It’s meant to be about the way results are achieved. And they have never – despite being home to the most talented player on the planet for the last decade – been just an individualistic side.
Gerard Pique claimed Prague’s high defensive line had caught the Spanish giants out
Even with Antoine Griezmann and Co up top, Barcelona’s attacks were so pedestrian
The finger is being turned increasingly towards Barcelona manager Valverde at the moment
For every moment of Lionel Messi genius there has been an intricate pattern of passing. He has always needed the support of, back in their most dominant era, Xavi, Andres Iniesta or Dani Alves. And more recently Neymar, Jordi Alba or Luis Suarez.
On Tuesday night, they really did seem to be reduced to giving him the ball and hoping that he could win them the game. They were stretched out and ragged. One Marc Andre ter Stegen kick went from one end of the pitch to the other without anyone touching it before it went out of play.
Up front Barcelona’s three-man attack boasted the 220m euros (£189m) of talent that Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele ought to bring operating either side of Messi. In midfield serial trophy-winner Arturo Vidal was alongside Sergio Busquets and one of Europe’s best young midfielders in Frenkie de Jong. So why were the attacks so pedestrian against such modest opposition?
The finger is being turned increasingly towards the coach. Pique also said on Tuesday night that the team were poor in Luis Enrique’s first season but turned things around and won the treble.
Holland boss Ronald Koeman is one of the candidates to replace Valverde at the Nou Camp
Ajax manager Erik ten Hag could also replace 55-year-old Valverde at the end of the season
Valverde hasn’t been helped by a disjointed transfer policy during his time at the club. Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann currently look like around 350m euros (£300m) of poorly spent money. The defence has been underfunded while the midfield is overbooked.
Valverde saved Barcelona in their last home Champions League game – his half-time tweaks to formation against Inter last month turned the game around. But those sort of interventions from him are rare.
Barcelona were magnificent under Pep Guardiola and then under Luis Enrique because they had great players and there was a well-thought out, adjustable, masterplan that was executed with intensity and precision. Now they just have great players.
That will be enough to get them to the end of the season in the running for trophies but increasing Barcelona commentators believe it will not be enough for them to win anything – not against the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Guardiola.
River Plate manager Marcelo Gallardo (second left) is also in contention for the Barcelona post