Ernesto Valverde: The man behind FC Barcelona's renaissance
At the beginning of this season, some Barcelona players said that they were feeling “inferior” to Real Madrid for the first time in their career. Real Madrid had just thrashed Barcelona 5-1 in the Spanish Super Cup, Neymar had left for Paris Saint-German, and the Catalans were not closing in on their transfer targets. Luis Suarez was also in the worst form of his professional career.
Everything was going downhill for the Blaugrana outfit. Enter Ernesto Valverde, and within a few months, Barcelona are hitting all the highs once again. Valverde replaced Luis Enrique as the manager of the club in May 2017. He felt the heat at the start of his tenure. Valverde has since then managed to help Barcelona hit top gear.
After six months, Barcelona are unbeaten in the league and enjoy a 9-point lead at the top of the table after having beaten Levante comfortably. They also topped their Champions League group.
Many doubted the signing of Paulinho but he has silenced his critics with solid performances. Messi has continued to be the wrecking force that he is, Suarez is slowly returning to form, while Umtiti and Pique have combined to make a solid partnership at the back. The Catalans have received a major boost by completing the signing of star midfielder Philippe Coutinho. Simply put, FC Barcelona is flying high.
The man who is not getting enough credit for all of this is Ernesto Valverde. Valverde has converted Barcelona into a more cohesive unit and the players love performing for their manager. He has found more suitable roles for the likes of Andres Iniesta, Ivan Rakitic, and Lionel Messi, thereby helping them rejuvenate their careers. Neymar's departure, which was seen by many a major threat, has been converted into an opportunity to revamp the team by Valverde.
Barcelona under Luis Enrique relied heavily on their front three, but now they look like a more balanced side. Messi was tried and tested at several positions on the field by Luis Enrique. Under Valverde though, Lionel Messi has made the central role his own, and deservedly forms the core of Barcelona’s midfield. The Argentinian looks to be back at his best this season, playing in the position where he can have the utmost impact.
After Pep Guardiola, Valverde is the only Barcelona manager in recent years to have focused more on the midfield than their attack. Paulinho, Iniesta, Rakitic and Busquets have all found their rhythm and look more lethal than ever. One also has to give credit to Valverde for using Paulinho in the right manner.
Even though he has altered the tiki-taka style a bit, Barcelona are back to pressing high up the field. Luis Enrique did not concentrate on pressing as much as Valverde does. Valverde has brought the intensity back and the players can be seen putting in the effort.
Last season, Real Madrid rotated the squad really well, which gave them more options and the opportunity to give enough rest to their key players. This year Barcelona can be seen doing the same. Ernesto Valverde has tried many players in the ‘Neymar role’ from Gerard Deulofeu to Andre Gomes. Ernesto Valverde has made sure that every player gets a chance to contribute.
Valverde may face some problems in adjusting the system to inculcate new signing Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele, who spent four months out because of injury. One cannot judge until the business end of the season arrives, but for now, Ernesto Valverde has ticked all the required boxes. He weathered the early season storm and now looks like a man on a mission.