FC Barcelona were knocked out of the Champions League quarterfinals for the third season running. But surely the ouster against Roma this time around would be the most hurtful of the lot. FC Barcelona meekly surrendered their 4-1 lead to AS Roma as Barcelona failed to turn up in one of their biggest games of the season.
Ernesto Valverde has to take the blame for this disappointing loss because his tactics were far too conservative for the occasion. The manager also could not inspire his troops for some sort of reaction late in the game. The Champions League is the biggest test for any top club in the world and in this regard, Valverde’s Barcelona has failed miserably.
There have been calls from the Barcelona faithful on social media and from some sections of the media to sack Ernesto Valverde at the end of the season. When looking at his contribution in stabilizing the club in the wake of Neymar’s exit and a subsequent brilliant unbeaten league run, the thought of sacking Valverde seems preposterous at first.
But when delving deeper into the matter, there are some valid points which make all these calls demanding the sacking of the Barcelona manager seem justified. In this segment, we will take a look at the five key reasons why FC Barcelona should sack Ernesto Valverde this summer:
#5 Lack of squad rotation
Just as their manager on Tuesday, FC Barcelona players looked jaded and devoid of ideas against a well drilled Roma side. The players did not look in sync with the manager’s ideas (if there were any in the second leg) and that might be due to the high workload shared by handful members of the squad.
Valverde has used a selected bunch of players for his starting lineup in all competitions. That might have happened due to the lack of trust that the manager has in his fringe players but that has ultimately led to the core spine of players being overused and under-rested.
In the last 24 matches, in the last three and a half months, Valverde has deployed a near similar lineup in each game. He has not managed the minutes of the likes of Messi, Suarez, and Pique to perfection which unfortunately for Barcelona, has been managed to perfection by Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid.
This has ultimately resulted in players not being at their physical best to perform at the biggest of stages.
#4 Failure to promote the youth
La Masia graduates have ruled the rooster in club football for the past decade or so. But the inflow of youngsters making the cut from the academy to the Barcelona first team squad has gone down considerably in the last year or so. The situation that should have improved under Valverde has failed to do so.
For the first time in 11 years, zero players for Barcelona B made an appearance in the Champions League for the senior side this season. That is rather worrying when looked at through the lens of the club ethos!
During Valverde’s unveiling, club president Josep Bartomeu had said, “Valverde has the ability, the judgment, the knowledge and the experience. He promotes the youth players and he has a Barça way.” Valverde’s promotion of youth players was unfortunately not evident this time around.
Sadly for the club, Valverde has not walked the talk which has irked a lot of the Barcelona faithful. A lot of the club supporters believe that the likes of Carles Alena and Marc Cucurella should have been given a chance of at least making the Champions League matchday squad.
#3 Reactive management
Despite having a 4-1 lead, Valverde decided to set up his team defensively instead of looking for a killer away goal. The strategy backfired. But instead of looking to fix the problem when Roma were 1-0 or 2-0 up, Valverde decided to hold on to the first leg advantage instead of making any changes, tactically or in terms of personnel.
Roma were on the offensive and opted a high line. The early arrival of Ousmane Dembele would have helped Barcelona in quick transitions. But Valverde’s reactive management led him to continue with the side that was visibly struggling as he failed to provide any solution to a faltering unit.
His conservative approach has helped Barcelona in La Liga to churn out results but it has failed him in Europe. Barcelona did not look at their free-flowing best in the R-o-16 as well and were ultimately lucky against a Chelsea side that had forgotten their scoring boots.
#2 Rigid style of play
A traditional 4-4-2 system has brought results for Barcelona in the league and in the Copa Del Rey but after their ouster from Europe, questions are bound to be raised on their style of play.
A conservative approach has helped the club to get stabilized but is it helpful in the longer scheme of things? Valverde’s primary emphasis is on maintaining the defensive shape of his side which he managed perfectly until the Roma game.
But after that result, Valverde’s tactics are now looking a bit too flawed. Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta have been working overtime in creating chances with Messi, in particular, having to come too deep to get involved at times. The dependence on Messi is high as ever before which was proved in the game against Sevilla recently.
Also, when things are not going according to plan, Valverde has failed to shown tactical flexibility to deploy his team in various systems.
#1 Too big a job to handle in the long run
Many people would call these reasons being too short-sighted, coming on the back of one bad result. Yes, it was one bad night in Roma. Results sometimes do not go in one’s favour, agreed. But the manner in which Valverde’s Barcelona lost the plot against AS Roma looked extremely worrying.
He looked clueless and passive standing on the touchline at the Stadio Olimpico. As discussed earlier, Valverde was never a manager who ever went gung-ho about tactics. He has a rigid plan which he adheres to.
This plan has yielded them success in La Liga and at other times, the brilliance of Lionel Messi has come to the rescue. But when the going got tough against AS Roma, Valverde failed to try and even change the narrative of the match. He failed to take any risks, take any big step that could have stopped the gigantic upset in Rome.
Also, the approach with which he deployed his team from the start reeked of a defeatist attitude, the one which does not fit with the club’s history and philosophy. His playing style, his late substitutions, his choice of incoming players at the club have all been questioned in recent times.
Valverde failed the biggest test in his Barcelona stint in a competition which is considered as the holy grail in club football. Yes, he has done a splendid job in stabilizing the club but his tactical naivety, his risk-free approach and his failures in the Champions League does not warrant him to stay at the club beyond this season.