For the past two seasons, Ernesto Valverde has been at the helm of Barcelona FC. Under his leadership, the Blaugrana have won the La Liga title both years and can win the upcoming Copa del Rey tournament both years as well. But after his second straight Champions League debacle, will winning the domestic treble be enough for the Spaniard to retain his job once this season ends?
After four successful campaigns at La Liga rivals Athletic Bilbao, Valverde replaced Luis Enrique at the start of the 2017-2018 season. Having played as a forward for Barcelona for a few years in the late 1980’s, he must’ve known the impetus placed upon winning silverware by Barcelona. While expectations are always high for domestic victories, European glory is really what the Barcelona faithful crave more than anything else.
Last season saw Barca crash and burn in the Champions League against A.S. Roma via the away goal score of 3-0. A single away goal scored would’ve allowed Barcelona to advance to the next leg, but they failed to deliver.
Fast forward to the semi-final match against Liverpool on Tuesday. After winning the first game at the Camp Nou 3-0, Barcelona had vivid memories of the prior year loss. And with Lionel Messi promising a CL trophy in 2019, the oddsmakers flocked to the Blaugranas,
While Liverpool played without goal-scorers Mohamed Salah and Roberto Fermino, the entire team seemed to compete with a lot more heart and conviction than their opponents and will be rewarded with a trip to Madrid on June 1st with a chance to lift the CL trophy. Barcelona, however, are left with having to deal with a shocking 4-0 loss while still having three more games remaining in their domestic season.
Which leads us to ponder the future of Ernesto Valverde, the man La Marca in Spain likened to a funeral director in the grey suit he wore at Anfield on Tuesday. While Barcelona extended his contract by another year this past February, that may not prove enough to salvage his job. There is already a list of potential applications for the not-yet vacant post, including the highly successful current manager of Dutch champion Ajax and Champions League wonderkid Eric ten Hag. His tactics involving ball possession and passing would fit in nicely at the Camp Nou.
This is not to say that the players themselves do not share responsibility for the CL debacle, and there will undoubtedly be changes made to the roster at the end of the season. Financial bust Philippe Coutinho cost a transfer fee of some $170 million and is expected to be sold for a fraction of that staggering figure. Luis Suarez has had a lackluster season and may be on the chopping block as well. Interestingly, both are former Liverpool players. And with seven players out of the starting eleven for Barca over the age of 30, it would seem appropriate to inject a bit more youth into the lineup. The speed and agility of Liverpool was evident on Tuesday as well. Adding youth to the team would also seem to favor Dutchman ten Hag, given his success at current club Ajax.
Regardless of whether a coaching change is made in Barcelona, expect Valverde to remain in charge at the Camp Nou until the Copa del Rey is played against Valencia on May 25th. But one would think that Barcelona President Josep Maria Bartomeu is already considering candidates for Valverde’s replacement, with a statement just after the Copa del Rey match forthcoming.