Complexity and Barcelona are almost synonymous: There is always a bigger picture to things, even if it is as clear as daylight, and it maybe has an effect on the mode of thinking of some Barcelona fans, which is why they are trying to shift bulk of the blame from manager Ernesto Valverde to the board. The irony in it is that, this same set of fans, who were football idealists and “Cruyffians” to the core under previous managers, turned a blind eye to the team’s poo performances, clouded with wins, thanks to Messi and own goals. Now that the burble is burst, it’s Bartomeu’s fault and no one else because they claim to look at the bigger picture. Hypocritical, isn’t it?
Tuesday’s loss to Roma wasn’t only embarrassing in the sense of bottling a comfortable lead, but the disgusting and embarrassing manner with which it happened: the reaction on the faces of Pique and Iniesta spoke volume. Never has Barcelona approached a game with such cowardice and inferiority complex in this Messi era; Roma would have been happily shocked with the approach. The board has not properly improved the squad especially in the midfield section, but it’s absolutely ridiculous to place any of the blame of the loss, after a comfortable 4-1 lead, on anyone but Valverde. But, as I implied earlier, it is not Barca if 1+1=2 is not made to look like calculus. Even with the Spanish double looking done and dusted, barring any abnormalities, the loss was needed to show fans and the club as a whole that the Valverde way is definitely not the way.
Barca started the season in a downward spiral especially with the sale of Neymar, but Valverde did a very good job in salvaging the situation, and he deserves credit for that, but the post resuscitation stage was where he got it all wrong. Some of the errors he made include:
1. Style of play
It was expected that after he stilled the storm of the team with his conservative approach to games, he will get back to fluid football as the season progressed, especially with the return of Dembele. We were wrong, Valverde continued with his style where Paulinho became a main stay. Truth be told, his 4-4-2 formation has made Barca a very strong unit apparently until Tuesday. But the porosity of the midfield and the toothless attack without Messi became very evident.
“If we take Messi and put him in an Atletico shirt, we win this match 1-0” – Simeone, after the 1-0 loss to Barca in March.
Yes, Barcelona have always been “messipendent” and rightly so: he will carry any team effortlessly, but he at least needs a good system to work with. Comments like Simeone’s which was replicated by Conte too showed that teams no longer fear Barca; they only fear Messi. It wasn’t always so. This style also makes Pique and Umtiti get overworked in almost every game and it was only a time bomb waiting to explode.
2. Lack of Rotation
With Valverde’s style of play, which wears players out, one would expect that he does lots of rotation. Unfortunately, he does exactly the opposite. Iniesta, at 33, is made to play twice in a week, even with Coutinho, Gomes and Dennis fully fit. Pique continues to play under pain while Vermelean and Minna sit on the bench. The most evident of his poor rotation policy is on Suarez, he has played many games poorly and clearly needs rest but Valverde keeps him on while Alcacer, who has been impactful with the meagre minutes he gets, stays on the bench. The cumulative fatigue on the team has come to bear in the results, injuries and performances of the team.
No doubt, he’s had a rocky start to his career at Barca and vis-à-vis his humongous transfer fee, he needed to be eased into the team and Valverde did just that. But, typical of Valverde, he over did it and I fear that the young kid’s confidence might have been dashed. Dembele’s pace, trickery and versatility is an asset that was clearly going to change the dynamics of Barca’s attack, but for some reason best known to Valverde, he keeps him on the bench for big games and even small ones. Whatever the reason is for such absurd tactical decisions, it surely didn’t go well and probably cost the club a place in the UCL semis.
This season is arguably his worst in a Barca shirt and the reason is not farfetched: he has had to shoulder too much defensive responsibilities, due to the style of play, hence limiting his attacking impetus. Maybe Valverde needs to be reminded, if he has forgotten, that Barcelona’s midfield play and attack at large hinges on Busquets: he breaks opposition attacks and cracks their defensive structure. Busquets playing further off the pitch while Rakitic takes his place also affects attacking buildups as the latter doesn’t have the skill set to execute it perfectly. For Barcelona, Busquets ,as the first point of contact in midfield, is the basis for midfield control and until something more workable comes up, it should remain the same.
Whether Valverde remains after the end of the season is up to Bartomeu and co to decide, but these errors must not be allowed to reoccur. Embarrassment like Tuesday’s can’t happen twice in a club that is supposedly subject to its philosophy.
Written by Ewuola Oluwashina Taiwo, follow on Twitter @shinaspeaks