Barcelona’s Coach Setien Begins Training After Valverde Sack

FILES) In this file photo taken on February 21, 2019 Real Betis’ Spanish head coach Quique Setien smiles before the UEFA Europa League round of 32 second leg football match between Real Betis and Rennes at the Benito Villamarin stadium in Sevilla on February 21, 2019.  AFP

 

Quique Setien began his first session as Barcelona coach on Tuesday morning just as the sacked Ernesto Valverde drove out of the training ground for the last time.

Valverde had said goodbye to the players, collected his things and left, closing the page on a brutal few days that had finally seen him sacked on Monday night.

After Barca’s public pursuit of Xavi Hernandez ended in failure, they have turned to Setien, the 61-year-old who has dedicated his coaching career to a belief in exciting, possession-based football.

Barcelona confirmed Setien’s appointment following a board meeting that lasted more than four hours at the Camp Nou on Monday afternoon. His contract, which runs until June 2022, appears also to be a show of faith.

Valverde is the first coach to be sacked by Barca mid-season since Louis van Gaal in 2003 and if that points to chaos, Setien inherits a team in a healthy position too.

Barcelona sit top of La Liga, albeit level on points with Real Madrid, and face a winnable tie against Napoli next month in the last 16 of the Champions League.

Off the pitch, the club came top of Deloitte’s annual Football Money League table on Monday, after posting record earnings of 840.8 million euros ($937 million) for 2018/19.

Some of that income might have to be channelled into signing a new striker this month, with Setien taking over a squad that will be without Luis Suarez for four months due to a knee injury.

More generally, he will have to find a way to marry his purist principles with results at one of the most demanding clubs in the world. His critics have suggested style can take precedence over substance.

“Having the ball makes you a football player, not running after it,” Setien said last year. He once commented he would have cut off his little finger to play under Johan Cruyff.

After Valverde’s more functional approach, Barca will believe Setien’s philosophy chimes better with the principles they see as part of their DNA.

“Setien is one of the most experienced coaches in Spanish football,” a club statement read on Monday night. “Throughout his career he has been a proponent of possession based, attacking football that has been attractive to the fans.”

His first game in charge will be at home to Granada on Sunday and a tricky first six weeks will include away games at Valencia, Real Betis and then Real Madrid at the start of March.

European failures haunt Valverde 

A former player at Atletico Madrid and Racing Santander who won three caps for Spain, Setien led Betis to a sixth-place finish in 2018 and qualification for the Europa League but, despite overseeing a thrilling 4-3 victory at the Camp Nou early the following season, results tailed off.

Betis finished 10th and the club and coach parted ways, even if there was recognition for what had been achieved.

Setien had presided over the team winning twice in a row at the Santiago Bernabeu and beating Atletico. After seeing off Barcelona — Valverde’s only home defeat — Sergio Busquets presented Setien with a signed shirt.

“For Quique,” read the message. “With appreciation and admiration for the way you see football.”

Previously, Setien had helped Lugo secure promotion to the second tier in 2012 and, in 2016, steered Las Palmas clear of relegation from La Liga. He has also coached Racing, Poli Ejido, Logrones and, for one game, Equatorial Guinea.

His primary task will be to hold off a resurgent Real Madrid in a neck-and-neck title race after Valverde managed to sustain the domestic dominance enjoyed by Barcelona over the last decade.

He won two La Liga titles, as well as the Copa del Rey in 2018, but doubts were underpinned by two disastrous exits from the Champions League due to collapses against Roma and Liverpool.

Familiar frailties were exposed this season in a series of underwhelming performances and a 3-2 defeat by Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup last Thursday, in which Barca conceded two late goals, finally persuaded the board to act.

Barcelona Sack Valverde, Appoint New Coach

In this file photo taken on May 07, 2019 Barcelona's Spanish coach Ernesto Valverde reacts during the UEFA Champions league semi-final second leg football match between Liverpool and Barcelona at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on May 7, 2019. Oli SCARFF / AFP
In this file photo taken on May 07, 2019 Barcelona’s Spanish coach Ernesto Valverde reacts during the UEFA Champions league semi-final second leg football match between Liverpool and Barcelona at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on May 7, 2019. Oli SCARFF / AFP

 

Spanish champions Barcelona have sacked their coach Ernesto Valverde and appointed Quique Setien as his replacement, the club announced on Monday. 

The decision to remove Valverde was confirmed following a board meeting that lasted more than four hours at Camp Nou on Monday afternoon.

Barca are top of La Liga but have won only one of their last five matches. Valverde is the first coach the club has sacked mid-season since Louis van Gaal in 2003.

“FC Barcelona and Ernesto Valverde have reached an agreement to terminate the contract that united both parties,” read a club statement released on Monday night.

Setien will be presented in a press conference at Camp Nou at 2.30pm local time (1330 GMT) on Tuesday.

“Barcelona and Quique Setien have reached an agreement for the latter to become first team coach until 30 June 2022,” the club said.

“Setien is one of the most experienced coaches in Spanish football,” it added. “Throughout his career he has been a proponent of possession based, attacking football that has been attractive to the fans.”

His first game in charge will be at home to Granada on Sunday. Barcelona play Napoli in the last 16 of the Champions League next month and Real Madrid in the league at the start of March.

Setien has made no secret of his admiration for the stylistic traditions of Barcelona, with the 61-year-old also renowned for favouring an exciting, offensive mode of football.

A former player of Atletico Madrid and Racing Santander, he was circled as a potential Barca coach during a particularly successful period in charge of Real Betis.

Setien led Betis to a sixth-place finish in 2018 and qualification for the Europa League but, despite overseeing a thrilling 4-3 victory at Camp Nou early the following season, results tailed off.

Betis finished 10th and the club and coach parted ways in the summer. Previously, he also helped Las Palmas avoid relegation from La Liga in 2016.

A footballing purist, Setien and Barcelona would seem a good fit, particularly if the players feel released from some of Valverde’s more pragmatic tendencies.

But critics of Setien would argue style often takes precedence over substance and it remains to be seen how he handles the pressure of matching aesthetics with results at one of the world’s most demanding clubs.

He will also have to do without Luis Suarez, who will be missing for the next four months after having surgery on his right knee.

European failures haunt Valverde

Doubts had surrounded Valverde for several months and were underpinned by two disastrous exits from the Champions League.

Barcelona’s shocking collapse against Roma in 2018 was followed by a similar capitulation against Liverpool last year.

Familiar fragility had been evident this season and a 3-2 defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup on Thursday, in which Barcelona conceded two late goals, prompted the board to act.

Valverde arrived two hours early for his last training session with the squad at Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper on Monday morning before meeting with club president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

Bartomeu then drove to Camp Nou, where he held a board meeting with several club officials including chief executive Oscar Grau, technical secretary Javier Bordas, vice president Jordi Cardoner and sporting director Eric Abidal.

Grau and Abidal had returned to Barcelona on Sunday after spending the weekend in Qatar, where they had offered the job to Xavi, only for the club’s iconic former midfielder to indicate he was not ready to come immediately.

In Valverde’s two seasons, his team won two La Liga titles, as well as the Copa del Rey in 2018, and another league success remained very much in sight this term, despite Madrid’s impressive form in recent weeks.

But Barca’s performances have been unconvincing and there were lingering concerns about Valverde’s more functional tactics, which appear to have informed the switch to Setien.

When Valverde arrived in 2017, Barcelona were wounded, hurting after the shock departure of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain and humiliated, as consecutive defeats by Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup hinted at trouble for the season ahead.

Instead, he steadied the ship and galvanised the team.

They lost one league game en route to winning the title and the year after, they were champions again, finishing 11 points ahead of Atletico and 19 clear of Real.

Increasingly, though, Valverde’s achievements faded from view and his failures began to overshadow them. On Monday, Barcelona decided his time was up.

 

AFP

Barca Can Hurt Inter Without Messi, Valverde Warns

Barcelona’s Spanish coach Ernesto Valverde looks on during the UEFA Champions League group F football match between FC Barcelona and SK Slavia Prague at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on November 5, 2019.
LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

Lionel Messi’s absence for already-qualified Barcelona will not make them less able to stop Inter Milan gaining their spot in the Champions League last 16, coach Ernesto Valverde insisted Monday.

Barcelona are already through to the knockout stages as Group F winners after Messi scored and set up two more in a convincing 3-1 win over Borussia Dortmund last time out, a victory which means Inter will ensure themselves a spot in the next round with a win over the La Liga leaders at the San Siro on Tuesday.

Six-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi broke yet another record by hitting his 35th La Liga hat-trick on Saturday as Barca maintained top spot in Spain with a 5-2 win over Mallorca.

“Messi needs to rest,” Valverde told reporters. “We’re coming off many consecutive games and we have other important ones to play, so I left him at home.

“He’s a decisive player, but our goal tomorrow does not change, we want to win against Inter.

“We know what he represents for the opponents, but last year he didn’t play in both games against Inter, and we still had a high level.

“We are already qualified but it remains a game of great value.”

Messi and midfielder Sergi Roberto have been left out of Barca’s 20-man squad along with the injured Ousmane Dembele, Jordi Alba, Nelson Semedo and Gerard Pique.

The Argentine’s absence means that they will be relying on Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez to supply the goals, while teenage prodigy Ansu Fati could be fit to play.

Inter are four points behind Barca in second, level on seven points with Borussia Dortmund. The Italians need to match or better Dortmund’s result at home to Slavia Prague to qualify as their superior head-to-head record will see them through should the two clubs finish on the same number of points.

‘Heads Held High’

“They have great players like (Romelu) Lukaku and Lautaro (Martinez) who score a lot,” Valverde said of Inter’s strike duo, who have scored 24 of the team’s 40 goals this season.

“Lautaro is a great player, fast and powerful, he’s having a great season.”

Inter coach Antonio Conte also has injury worries with Stefano Sensi, Nicolo Barella, Alexis Sanchez and Roberto Gagliardini all out.

“Barcelona are calm in first place and will play without pressure and can create problems,” said 50-year-old Conte.

“We have to give everything knowing that it might not be enough.”

Barcelona beat Inter 2-1 at Camp Nou last time out, but Conte believes his Serie A leaders have grown since then.

“We played very well at Barcelona, with great courage and personality, but the defeat came thanks to their great players,” he said.

“It’s been a while, we’ve grown in some respects. But we would be fools to think we won’t suffer when Barca are in possession.”

The former Chelsea and Juventus coach hopes the home crowd of 72,000 can pull the three-time European champions through with their “heads held high”.

“Our stadium can give us a lot of positive energy and I’m sure it will,” added the Italian.

“We all want to get to the last 16, it would be a prestigious achievement.”

Valverde Accepts Barca Under Pressure After Slavia Stalemate

Barcelona’s Spanish coach Ernesto Valverde looks on during the UEFA Champions League group F football match between FC Barcelona and SK Slavia Prague at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on November 5, 2019.
LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

Ernesto Valverde admitted Barcelona are in a rut after they followed up their La Liga defeat by Levante with a goalless draw at home to Slavia Prague on Tuesday in the Champions League.

Lionel Messi hit the crossbar in the first half but that was as close as Barca came during a disjointed display that risks dragging Valverde’s team back into the fight for qualification from Group F.

“The other day we lost against Levante and we know this was not one of our best games either,” Valverde said. “We haven’t been convincing either on Saturday or today and we know there is a lot of pressure now on the team. We have to respond.”

Barcelona play Dortmund at home next and will hope progress is secured before their final game against Inter Milan at the San Siro.

The likelihood is they have already done enough to make the last 16 but Valverde will face scrutiny, this blunt performance coming only three days after his side were beaten 3-1 by Levante in La Liga.

If that loss was defined by three goals conceded in seven mad minutes, this one was far less dramatic, a story of stodgy possession in front of their own fans, whose displeasure made for an increasingly sour atmosphere at Camp Nou.

As a dejected Messi stood with his hands on his hips in the centre circle at the final whistle, not even the blast of the stadium music could drown out the whistles.

“In football today and with teams like ours, it is all about winning and winning emphatically,” Valverde said. “It is never enough. The season begins and there isn’t talk of winning a title, there is talk of winning three or four. So the frustration when you don’t win a game is high.”

Slavia’s players saluted their own supporters like they had pulled off a remarkable upset.

Pique Pleads for ‘Patience’

After all, this was only the third time in 29 Champions League matches that Barcelona have failed to win at home, the other two against Juventus and Tottenham last season, when the Catalans had already qualified.

Their night was made worse by Jordi Alba being forced off at half-time with a hamstring injury while Gerard Pique’s yellow card means he will be suspended for the game against Dortmund.

“I would ask for a little patience,” added Pique. “We are not playing at the level we expect. We have to improve.”

Slavia’s pace in attack caused Barcelona problems in the first 45 minutes, which for the home side was illuminated only by the occasional moment from Messi.

Clement Lenglet almost conceded an early penalty when Marc-Andre ter Stegen pushed a pull-back into the defender’s chest while Pique accepted his booking after being robbed of the ball by Peter Olayinka.

Olayinka, Slavia’s gangly forward, was particularly lively as he teed up Lukas Masopust for a shot inside the area before skipping away from Nelson Semedo, who also had to take a yellow card.

Barcelona were sloppy in possession and lacklustre out of it. Ousmane Dembele was erratic and Antoine Griezmann, still playing on the left despite Luis Suarez’s injury, was quiet.

It was up to Messi to lift the mood and he almost scored with a brilliant run from the halfway line that began with a drop of the shoulder and ended with a bending shot against the crossbar.

Both sides had goals ruled out for offside either of half-time, which was greeted by whistles from the home fans, who grew increasingly restless as Barca failed to improve.

They whistled again at Dembele when he was replaced by Ansu Fati and there were groans at mistakes too, like when Semedo headed out for a corner or Lenglet miscontrolled for a throw.

Messi went close but his finish at the near post hit the goalkeeper before Ivan Rakitic, on for Sergio Busquets, curled over late on. When Arturo Vidal stretched but fell short at the far post, the game was up.

Barcelona Stumble To Home Draw Against Slavia

File Photo: Barcelona’s Spanish coach Ernesto Valverde 
Oli SCARFF / AFP

 

Ernesto Valverde is under mounting pressure at Barcelona after his team followed up their La Liga defeat by Levante with a goalless draw at home to Slavia Prague on Tuesday in the Champions League.

Lionel Messi hit the crossbar in the first half but that was as close as Barca came during a disjointed display that risks dragging Valverde’s team back into the fight for qualification from Group F.

Barcelona sit four points ahead of both Borussia Dortmund and Inter Milan, whose game in hand comes against each other later on Tuesday. Barca play Dortmund at home next but will hope progress is secured before their final game at the San Siro.

The likelihood is they have already done enough to make the last 16 but Valverde will again face scrutiny, this blunt performance coming only three days after his side were beaten 3-1 by Levante in La Liga on Saturday.

If that loss was defined by three goals conceded in seven mad minutes, this one was far less dramatic, a story of stodgy possession in front of their own fans, whose displeasure made for an increasingly sour atmosphere at Camp Nou.

As a dejected Messi stood with his hands on his hips in the centre circle at the final whistle, not even the blast of the stadium music could drown out the whistles.

Slavia’s players saluted their own supporters like they had pulled off a remarkable upset.

After all, this was only the third time in 29 Champions League matches that Barcelona have failed to win at home, the other two against Juventus and Tottenham last season, when the Catalans had already qualified.

Their night was made worse by Jordi Alba being forced off at half-time with a hamstring injury while Gerard Pique’s yellow card means he will be suspended for the game against Dortmund.

Slavia’s pace in attack caused Barcelona problems in the first 45 minutes, which for the home side was illuminated only by the occasional moment from Messi.

Clement Lenglet almost conceded an early penalty when Marc-Andre ter Stegen pushed a pull-back into the defender’s chest while Pique accepted his booking after being robbed of the ball by Peter Olayinka.

Olayinka, Slavia’s gangly forward, was particularly lively as he teed up Lukas Masopust for a shot inside the area before skipping away from Nelson Semedo, who also had to take a yellow card.

Barcelona were sloppy in possession and lacklustre out of it. Ousmane Dembele was erratic and Antoine Griezmann, still playing on the left despite Luis Suarez’s injury, was quiet.

It was up to Messi to lift the mood and he almost scored with a brilliant run from the halfway line that began with a drop of the shoulder and ended with a bending shot against the crossbar.

Both sides had goals ruled out for offside either of half-time, which was greeted by whistles from the home fans, who grew increasingly restless as Barca failed to improve.

They whistled again at Dembele when he was replaced by Ansu Fati and there were groans at mistakes too, like when Semedo headed out for a corner or Lenglet miscontrolled for a throw.

Messi went close but his finish at the near post hit the goalkeeper before Ivan Rakitic, on for Sergio Busquets, curled over late on. When Arturo Vidal stretched but fell short at the far post, the game was up.

Valverde Excited By Messi And Suarez Rekindlng Partnership

Barcelona’s Spanish coach Ernesto Valverde gestures during the UEFA Champions league semi-final second leg football match between Liverpool and Barcelona at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on May 7, 2019. Oli SCARFF / AFP

 

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde has said it is a huge boost to have Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez back together again and hopes the pair can reignite their deadly partnership as soon as possible.

Barca play at home to Sevilla on Sunday in La Liga, when they could register a fourth consecutive victory after league wins over Villarreal and Getafe before their Champions League success against Inter Milan on Wednesday.

Suarez scored twice against Inter, including a late winner set up by Messi, who was making only his second start of the season at the Camp Nou following calf and thigh injuries. Suarez also suffered a calf injury in August.

Together, the pair scored 76 goals for Barcelona last season.

“It is clear they have both now recovered,” Valverde said in a press conference on Saturday.

“They are crucial for us, they have some catching up to do because of their injuries but they have to find their connection again. This is an important match.”

Antoine Griezmann started alongside Messi and Suarez in a front three against Inter but the Frenchman was quiet and his place could come under threat.

Ousmane Dembele is fit again after shaking off a hamstring strain while Ansu Fati is close to recovering from a knee problem and could be an option against Sevilla. The 21-year-old Carles Perez has also impressed.

“Every game is different, it can be one player for one game, another for another,” Valverde said.

“We will see who plays. We have Griezmann and Dembele and we also have another possibility, which is Carles Perez.”

On Fati’s fitness, Valverde said: “I am feeling optimistic, we will assess today whether he is ready or not. He is young, he still needs to mature physically and get used to the demands at this level.

“When a youngster like this comes through, everyone wants them to be thrown in the deep end all the time, but we forget he is only 16 years old.”

Jordi Alba has been out for almost three weeks with a thigh injury but trained too on Saturday and could return.

Sevilla have made a decent start to the season under their new coach Julen Lopetegui. Like Barcelona, they have 13 points after seven games played, five points behind frontrunners Real Madrid.

“Games against Sevilla are always intense,” Valverde said.

AFP

Champions League: Messi To Make Barca Return At Dortmund

Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi eyes the ball during the Spanish League football match between FC Barcelona and SD Eibar at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on January 13, 2019. LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said Monday that Lionel Messi could make his comeback against Borussia Dortmund as the Catalan giants launch a fresh assault on the Champions League title in Germany on Tuesday evening.

Messi, who has missed the beginning of the season with a calf injury, was named in Barcelona’s squad for Tuesday’s Champions League opener, though it remains unclear whether the Argentinian will play.

“We will decide tomorrow. For the last week we have been unsure whether he will be able to play, but he has trained two or three times and made a good impression. We will see,” said Valverde at a press conference on Monday.

The Barcelona coach refused to say whether 16-year-old Ansu Fati, who became the club’s youngest ever goalscorer earlier this month, would break another record by becoming the youngest ever Champions League debutant on Tuesday.

“If he plays, then it will not be because of the record,” said the coach.

Valverde said that his team were looking to put the past behind them after their dramatic semi-final defeat to eventual winners Liverpool in last season’s Champions League.

“If you have one bad day, you can be knocked out of this competition. We lost just one match last season, but it was a decisive match,” he said, adding that Barcelona wanted to go further this year than they had in the past two seasons.

Yet Marc Ter Stegen, Barcelona’s German keeper, who played under current Dortmund coach Lucien Favre at Borussia Moenchengladbach earlier in his career, warned that Dortmund would provide a tough first test.

“Lucien Favre is one of the best coaches I have ever worked under, and he will have thought of a way to hurt us,” said the German.

“It is always difficult to come here, and we always struggled here with ‘Gladbach, but we will try to win and get a good start to the competition.”

“It is a spectacular stadium and the supporters are always crazy, but we will try not to be influenced by that.”

Barcelona have conceded six goals in four games this season and are yet to win away from home.

“We are conceding a lot of goals at the moment, we have to accept that and try to improve,” Ter Stegen

“Some of the mistakes we are making are easy to correct.”

AFP

Valverde Feels Barcelona Support Despite Champions League Exit

Barcelona Coach, Ernesto Valverde

 

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde has said he feels supported by club President Josep Bartomeu and compared the reaction to their Champions League exit to a child having a tantrum.

Barca crashed out in the semi-finals on Tuesday after one of the greatest comebacks in the tournament’s history saw them lose 4-0 to Liverpool and throw away a 3-0 advantage from the first leg.

The defeat has left Valverde’s future in doubt but, ahead of their penultimate La Liga game of the season at home to Getafe on Sunday, he insists he wants to continue.

“I’m not thinking about it, not at all,” Valverde said in a press conference on Saturday.

“I have the strength to continue, I’m fine, I’m like everyone else, what we want to do is take a step forward and face the situation, not hide under a stone.

“I’ve talked to the president and I’ve always felt supported by the club.

“I know that when there’s a blow of this kind, everything becomes disjointed. It’s as if you have to burn everything, like when our children have a tantrum, but you have to rebuild.”

Barcelona have already been crowned La Liga champions and could make it a domestic double by beating Valencia in the final of the Copa del Rey later this month.

But even two trophies would not make amends for the collapse against Liverpool, given the Champions League was the one the club really craved this season.

“We are hurt, I’m not going to deny it,” Valverde said. “But we have time to recover for ourselves and also with our fans. We’re have to be honest with ourselves. We can lose against Liverpool, they have proved to be a great team.

“The problem it’s how we lost, especially in the second half when we did not play well. It was painful because we lost from a very favourable situation. But there is no other way than to look forward.”

Barcelona will be without Luis Suarez against Getafe after the Uruguayan had surgery on a knee injury on Thursday night. Suarez is expected to be out for four to six weeks.

Ousmane Dembele, Arthur Melo and Rafinha are also injured.

Valverde’s side are nine points clear at the top of La Liga with two games left while Getafe are chasing Champions League qualification. They sit fourth, three points ahead of Valencia and Sevilla.

Valverde’s Job On The Line After Another Champions League ‘Disaster’

Barcelona’s Spanish coach Ernesto Valverde gestures during the UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg football match between Liverpool and Barcelona at Anfield in Liverpool, northwest England on May 7, 2019. Oli SCARFF / AFP

 

Barcelona and Lionel Messi walked out at Anfield as probable for a Champions League, Cup, and Liga treble but walked off with coach Ernesto Valverde possibly facing the sack. 

Shortly after their 4-0 capitulation on Tuesday which sent Liverpool through to the Champions League final on the back one of the competition’s greatest ever comebacks, Barca president Josep Bartomeu dodged guaranteeing the future of his coach Ernesto Valverde.

“We are all very emotional now because of the elimination,” said Bartomeu. “We have to raise our spirits because there is a Copa del Rey final to come. There will be difficult days for everyone but we have to lift our heads.”

Another Cup final to erase the disappointment of another failure in the Champions League except, just like last year, even a domestic double will not come close.

READ ALSO: Never-Say-Die Spirit Propels Liverpool To The Brink Of Glory

It was supposed to be the season Barcelona laid to rest the ghost of the Stadio Olimpico, where they inexplicably conceded three in Rome, one year after they let in three in Turin, two years after they were stunned in Madrid.

Three consecutive quarter-final defeats, all away from home.

This was one stage further and Liverpool were more capable than Roma, Juventus or Atletico but Barca’s latest loss was the worst of them all.

“We ask for forgiveness because even after Rome, it happened again,” said Sergio Busquets.

They had won La Liga on April 27, with three games to spare, when Bartomeu said: “Our target is the treble”.

If it felt like the president was denying his team the chance to celebrate, it was because La Liga, which Barcelona have now won eight times in 11 years, is no longer enough.

“Making the extraordinary normal,” it said on the players’ victory t-shirts.

 ‘That beautiful cup’ 

To be extraordinary, Barca had to deliver in Europe where, unlike in Spain, their record diminishes their impact on this era which, for many, at least in terms of style and talent, is tinted in red and blue.

This has been Messi’s era too, but not in the Champions League, where he owns four titles, one fewer than Cristiano Ronaldo and equal to most of the squad of Real Madrid.

Some of Barcelona’s players joked their captain had cranked up the pressure when he pledged in August to bring “that beautiful cup” back to Camp Nou.

But the expectation and the armband seemed to bring the best out of Messi, 12 goals his second best ever return in the tournament and only a couple short of his highest tally in 2012.

His last two left Liverpool three down and surely out, even if the score flattered Barca and overlooked what had been their fiercest opponent all season.

It should have been enough. Valverde had rested all 11 of his first-leg starters against Celta Vigo on Saturday just as Liverpool, with seven of the same 11, were churning out a win over Newcastle.

Liverpool should have been exhausted, without two of their first-choice forwards, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, both injured.

Barca should have been prepared too, their memories of the past three seasons painful enough to prevent complacency and recent enough to harden their resolve against the inevitable onslaught of Anfield.

Instead, they crumbled, unable to find that stubbornness that has carried Madrid, a less coherent team, to success again and again in the Champions League.

“I do not know how it’s going to affect me,” Valverde said. “But here we are, the coach has to take responsibility.”

There will be calls for change, particularly from those fans who have never been convinced by Valverde, suspicious of his more pragmatic tendencies and, perhaps, underwhelmed by his placid approach.

Valverde signed a new contract in February, albeit only until 2020, and, out of Europe, he boasts a record that is almost faultless.

If he was to leave in the summer, he could depart having won consecutive doubles, lost two games in the Champions League and only four in La Liga, with half of those coming after the title was already secured.

This season, Barcelona have been brilliant, sitting nine points ahead of Atletico Madrid and 15 clear of Real, who they were 17 better than last year too.

“No way,” said Luis Suarez, when asked if the coach was to blame. “The players are the ones who were on the field. If his approach was good in the first leg, it was good again now.”

But the Champions League was the one they wanted, and the objective was the treble.

“There will be time to reflect,” said Bartomeu. “For the second year in a row, it’s a disastrous night.”

AFP

Messi, Suarez Fit To Play Against Espanyol, Says Barcelona Coach

Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi/AFP

 

Lionel Messi has overcome a groin injury while strike partner Luis Suarez has sufficiently recovered from a sprained ankle to play in this weekend’s derby against Espanyol, Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said on Friday.

Messi and Suarez were included in the squad of 18 ahead of Saturday’s La Liga game at the Camp Nou.

Ousmane Dembele is still absent, suffering from a thigh problem.

In his press conference, Valverde was cautious about Messi, who was forced to leave the Argentina squad last Sunday because of chronic groin pain.

Asked if his captain was 100 per cent, Valverde said: “We think he is, but, hey, Leo has been carrying this problem for some time and we have been working to allow him to recover.”

“It flared up with his national team. He’s had a rest and he is better. We’ll be careful with Messi because of the fundamental importance of the matches.”

READ ALSO: Ronaldo’s Absence Gives Kean Chance To Shine At Juventus

Suarez missed Uruguay’s recent games after twisting his ankle but Valverde said “the rest did him good.”

Valverde said he could not give a date for Dembele’s return. The Catalans visit Manchester United on April 10 for the first leg of a Champions League quarterfinal.

Before then, Barca have three Spanish league games in eight days.

They go into Saturday’s fixture 10 points ahead of second-place Atletico Madrid. On Tuesday, Valverde’s men travel down the Mediterranean coast to face Villarreal and then entertain Atletico next weekend.

“We have in mind that it is a derby, which is motivating for us and for them,” Valverde said.

“This week we have three League games and three difficult games. When you play for nine points in a week, at this stage of the season, it can be decisive.

“We know what we are playing this week.”

AFP

Suarez Suffers Badly Sprained Ankle – Valverde

Barcelona’s Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez gestures during the Spanish league football match between Real Betis and FC Barcelona at the Benito Villamarin stadium in Seville on March 17, 2019. JORGE GUERRERO / AFP

 

Luis Suarez suffered a “bad sprain” to his right ankle during Barcelona’s win over Real Betis on Sunday, coach Ernesto Valverde confirmed.

Suarez was taken off for Philippe Coutinho in the 89th minute of the 4-1 victory, in which he scored one goal and set up the second of a Lionel Messi hat-trick.

“He has a bad sprain,” Valverde said afterward. “We’ll see what the doctors say but this is the feeling we have.”

Suarez looks unlikely now to feature over the international break, with Uruguay playing Uzbekistan in the China Cup on Friday.

He will hope to recover in time for Barca’s La Liga clash against Atletico Madrid on April 6 and has just under four weeks to be ready for the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Manchester United.

AFP

Valverde Extends Stay At Barcelona

 

Spanish champions Barcelona announced Friday they have extended the contract of coach Ernesto Valverde for another season with the option of one more.

Valverde, who took over at the Camp Nou in 2017 after joining from Athletic Bilbao, won the league and cup double last season.

“FC Barcelona and Ernesto Valverde, the first team coach, have reached an agreement to extend the contract between the two parties for another season (2019/20) with the option for one more (2020/21),” the club said in a statement.

Valverde’s previous contract would have expired at the end of this season.