How Ernesto Valverde cost Barcelona two trophies

By guest contributor Soham Banerjee (@IamSohamB). 

Once again, the club has managed to botch up months of hard work in just 180 minutes. It has become a common occurrence, all credit to the manager, Ernesto Valverde. His blatant ignoring of and apathy towards the "Barcelona way", and in line with his conservative approach has left a serious dent on the Barcelona bandwagon. He was given an abundance of time to work with the team and in addition to substantial financial resources following Neymar's departure, it is unimaginable as to how he has still managed to not deliver. After two years, "Valverdeball" deserves the incredible amount of scrutiny that comes with two upsetting collapses.

Valverde initially started off by playing a double pivot, highly reliant on the likes of workhorses like Paulinho and Ivan Rakitic. This reliance has at times limited the creative element offered by Lionel Messi or Andres Iniesta last season. A conservative approach to the game was soon evident as there was a critical lack of rotation which took a huge toll on the players' fitness, often prohibiting them from playing at their best in the spring when games mattered most. This eventually proved to be the fatal move as a drained and tired Barcelona side bottled a 4-1 lead on a dark night in Rome.

As Paulinho left the club, there grew a feeling that Barcelona would not be missing a physical midfielder. This ultimately resulted in the purchase of a player with similar physical attributes, albeit a player with greater technical skill but a little more chaos in his blood in Arturo Vidal. Not to take anything from the Chilean midfielder who shook off a tough start to his time with the club to become one of the most essential players for Valverde in the spring, buying a 32-year-old injury-prone player and adding him to a slower, veteran core didn't show much vision or forward-thinking.

Prior to this hindsight, the 2018-19 season felt like a new beginning with Messi absolutely determined to win the Champions League in line with the thrashing of Real Madrid after winning three games and drawing one in quick succession. Performances in the Champions League were positive as the players did a great job pushing past their opposition with some panache and style, highlighted by a dominant showing at Wembly. As the season progressed, there were some cracks which should have been seen as warning signs, but every club deals with injuries and pitfalls throughout a season. The club massively under-performed away from home as players played through injuries and Barcelona collected narrow wins and avoided negative publicity while Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid limped through poor results.

There was a dire need of a second striker as Luis Suarez was increasingly looking rusty and hobbled as most of his goals were either provided or created by Messi. Ousmane Dembele suffered multiple setbacks due to injury and Philippe Coutinho never lived up to his price tag and it seems that his capabilities at Liverpool were more of a product of Jurgen Klopp's system than his own ability to create magic with the bright lights of the Camp Nou upon him. Paco Alcacer was sold before the season started and Munir met the same fate when his ambition exceeded his role. Eventually, it became evident that it was Messi who needed to carry the team forward and him not performing in any singular match would ultimately yield poor results to the club.

Another problem with Valverde was his selection of the midfield. The club, famous for playing possession and attractive football, succumbed to the phenomena of conservative and unattractive football to get results. This led to midfield trios with three defensive-minded players with an extreme lack of creativity. Arthur's lack of fitness in the spring after coming over straight from Brazil and transitioning rather well in the fall exposed the workload on Sergio Busquets and Rakitic. The sheer lack of creativity called for Messi to drop deep with players like Suarez and Coutinho to play on the wings and make runs that didn't always fit their lack of pace. Malcom remained a bench-warmer again due to his relationship with the coach, despite having the flair, pace and attacking ability that might have helped the club in pivotal moments when Coutinho wasn't carrying his weight.

After losing at Anfield, blowing a 3-0 lead, and the Copa del Rey final, where the team held 78% possession, Barcelona issues and Valverde's shortcomings are finally on full display. The shambolic idea of playing defensively with the lack of any attacking motivation cost the team two trophies in a span of just 180 minutes of play. It's fairly imperative for the club to take major steps towards the future as whatever is on display is highly unsatisfactory.