Barcelona have finally had enough of head coach, Ernesto Valverde, as he was let go of his duties following Barcelona’s 3-2 defeat at the hands of Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Supercup semifinals. The firing didn’t happen right after the game, or in the following days though. Instead, Valverde was given the ax the following Monday. Four days after their defeat to Atletico Madrid and the club started almost openly trying to find his replacement. It was reported that former Barcelona midfielder, Xavi Hernandez, was offered the job during the weekend. Essentially imagine your current girlfriend or boyfriend openly flirting and looking for your replacement before they’ve dumped you. Talk about a rough week.
Good, But Not Good Enough
Depending on who you are, you can see Valverde’s time at Barcelona as a success or a failure. The man did lead the team to back to back La Liga titles and two other trophies as well. The current La Liga table has Barcelona in first place. They also won their Champions League group and will face a Napoli team in the Champions League in current limbo.
To those in Barca, those accomplishments didn’t have as much weight as the team blowing huge leads to both Roma and Liverpool in back to back Champions League finals. Just last April, Barcelona were in line to win the treble and within a month, left only lifting one trophy.
It’s one thing to lose, but it’s another to lose and not play the way the fans and board expect the team to play. Barcelona, just like all big clubs, or even more so than others, have an identity to them, as well as an idea of a style that goes beyond the pitch. It’s a representation of the club and its people. Remember, this was a team in the late 00’s and early 10’s that were regarded as the best club team to ever grace the grass under Pep Guardiola. A concept of style to play soccer that Guardiola studied while playing under Johan Cruyff when he was coaching… Barcelona.
Valverde didn’t have such a style. When the team isn’t delivering results that everyone in Barcelona expects, and they aren’t playing the style that a club and set of fans have become accustomed to on top of that, unfortunately for Ernesto Valverde, it leads to his firing from Barcelona just two games into the new decade.
Quique Setien Gets His Chance
After firing Valverde, Barca went with Quique Setien, who last coached Real Betis last year and led the Seville club to sixth place in 2018. In the 2017-18 season, his Betis team was an all-out offensive tank, which almost never lead to a boring game and lead to plenty of goals, whether it was their’s or from the other team. He prides himself on the same principles and style of play that Cruyff tried to implement, with a dependency on ball possession and the player understanding what to do and where to go with the ball to break down a defense.
In theory, this seems like a good hire. His style, when applied correctly, will please Barca fans. The question is whether he will have enough time to implement those ideas with the team when you consider trying to hold off Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, and Sevilla in La Liga. There’s also the Champions League and El Copa Del Rey.
Real Madrid Lifts Spanish Supercup Thanks to Valverde
As Barcelona’s Valverde fell from grace, Real Madrid’s Federico Valverde became a cult hero. The 21-year-old Uruguayan made the play of the game in the Spanish Supercup against city rivals Atletico Madrid. With the game tied 0-0 and only five minutes left in the second extra-time, Atletico forward Alvaro Morata found himself closing in on goal, Valverde chased Morata down and got close enough to come from behind and tackle Morata outside the box. He in turn found himself seeing red and Real Madrid had to play out the final 5 minutes a man down.
Instead of Morata having a breakaway attempt at goal, Atletico had to settle for a free kick that was missed, and Real Madrid went on to win the title in PKs as Thilbaut Courtois blocked two PKs. Captain Sergio Ramos scored the final shot from the spot for Real Madrid, later lifting the trophy, and Valverde was rewarded as the player of the game.
Professional Foul or Dirty Play?
Valverde was not given the Player of the Game award because of that game-saving tackle and red card. In a tight 0-0 match, Valverde showed the poise and class in the midfield that has earned the 21-year-old a spot in Zinadine Zidane’s starting XI this season. His performance in the finals was another example of that. Most though, will talk about the foul. Some will argue that there’s no place for a tackle of that nature and something has to be done about professional fouls of that nature. This writer isn’t one of those people.
While there’s no room for going out and trying to hurt a fellow player on the pitch, this isn’t a play where Valverde is trying to hurt Morata. Instead, he’s trying to prevent him from scoring, knowing very well that his actions would result in a red card, which he rightfully deserved. It says a lot that Atletico Madrid coach, Diego Simeone, approved of the tackle by acknowledging Valverde and patting him on the head as Valverde made his way to the locker room.
It will be interesting if there’s any real aftermath from this match, as both Madrid clubs have been wildly inconsistent this season. Both will be seen as underdogs against Man City and Liverpool in their Champions League knockout rounds, but both showed that they will not be easy outs. Real Madrid, though, showed what made them win three Champions League titles in a row, and four in five years and the greatest club in the last decade. Even when they are not playing at their best, they know what it takes to win. Zidane has now won 10 titles for Madrid and is 9 out of 9 in championship matches.
If Real Madrid find consistency and go on to lift the La Liga title and make a deep run in the Champions League, they could go back to this title match and that Valverde tackle as the turning point of their season.
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