Barcelona Set To Sack Valverde, Reports Suggest

 

 

Barcelona are set to sack their coach, Ernesto Valverde, according to reports in the Spanish press.

Valverde took training on Monday morning but his future looks bleak, with the club expected to announce his departure following a board meeting in the afternoon at Camp Nou.

Valverde arrived more than two hours early at the Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper and took training as usual, despite Barca’s public pursuit of their iconic former midfielder Xavi Hernandez at the weekend.

Xavi, currently the coach of Qatari team Al-Sadd, indicated he is not prepared to take charge immediately but the negotiations left Valverde in limbo.

After training on Monday, Valverde met 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.

According to Catalunya Radio, Valverde was told the club would negotiate the terms of his exit with his agent. ESPN added that Valverde had collected his belongings from the training ground.

Barca could install a temporary replacement like B team coach Francisco Javier Garcia Pimienta, perhaps with a view to appointing Xavi at the end of the season.

Otherwise, they could opt for a more permanent solution immediately. Former Tottenham Hotspur coach Mauricio Pochettino is a viable option, despite his previous claims he would never coach Barcelona due to connections with rivals Espanyol.

Ex-Real Betis coach Quique Setien, renowned for an attractive, attacking style of play, is out of work and has also been mentioned as a possible candidate.

Barcelona’s open hankering after Xavi has left a bitter taste, particularly with those who believe Valverde, who always speaks with sense and integrity, deserves better.

“I feel bad for Valverde, he doesn’t deserve this treatment,” former Barcelona coach, and current Manchester City boss, Pep Guardiola said on Sunday. “I hope the situation can be resolved soon.”

European concerns

Barcelona sit top of La Liga, level on points with Real Madrid, and they face Napoli in the last 16 of the Champions League next month, after sailing through top of their group.

Yet skepticism around Valverde’s suitability has long been building, with every loss prompting renewed speculation about his future.

Underpinning the doubts are Barca’s last two exits from the Champions League, after the team followed an incredible collapse against Roma in 2018 with a remarkably similar capitulation against Liverpool last year.

Given the obsession with bolstering their record in Europe, many were surprised the club did not opt for a fresh start last summer, even if Valverde’s domestic record has been excellent.

In his two completed seasons, Barca have won two La Liga titles, as well as the Copa del Rey in 2018, and another league title remains very much in sight this term, despite second-placed Madrid’s impressive form in recent weeks.

But Barcelona’s performances have been unconvincing — they have drawn three of their last four league games — and the flaws in the Spanish Super Cup semi-final loss to Atletico Madrid on Thursday, in which they conceded two late goals, felt all too familiar.

There have also been lingering concerns about a more pragmatic style of play, which for some has veered too far from the club’s possession-football DNA.

Nostalgia remains for the brilliance of Guardiola’s side, even if most of the players he was blessed with have gone.

When Valverde arrived to succeed Luis Enrique 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, Valverde steadied the ship and galvanised the team.

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

Increasingly, though, Valverde’s achievements have faded from view and his failures then began to overshadow them, leaving Barcelona to consider that his time might be up.

Umtiti Close To Barca Return, Says Valverde

Umtiti To Return To Barcelona For Treatment
Barcelona’s French defender Samuel Umtiti heads the ball past Roma’s Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko (back) during the UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg football match between Barcelona and AS Roma at the Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona on April 4, 2018.
Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

 

Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti could resume training this month, coach Ernesto Valverde said on Saturday. 

World cup winner Umtiti has struggled with a knee injury since the start of the season and, in December, began a programme in Qatar to help his recovery.

He has played only eight games this campaign, the last against Atletico Madrid on November 24.

Valverde, however, is hopeful the Frenchman could soon make a return. “We think that in a couple of weeks he can start training again with the team, we’ll see how things are going,” Valverde said at a press conference.

“I always try to be optimistic and I would like that to happen. I think he has positive feelings, let’s see.”

Umtiti’s absence has left Barca short in central defence, with Thomas Vermaelen also injured for much of the season so far.

The club have signed Jeison Murillo on loan from Valencia to provide cover for Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet, currently the only two fit center-backs.

“Our idea was that Jeison would be available as soon as possible and he knows the league,” Valverde said.

“He’s going to have to play and we hope to see the best of him,” he added.

Valverde’s future

Valverde’s own future remains uncertain, despite Barcelona sitting top of La Liga, three points clear of Atletico Madrid.

His two-year contract expires in the summer and while there is an option to extend by another year, a decision has not yet been taken.

“It is true the contract was for two years plus one and at the end of the season it is necessary to decide,” Valverde said.

“We will discuss it later, we are not even halfway through the season. There has always been a good relationship. If you lose one game, you are in trouble here but I have a contract with Barca.”

Barcelona begin 2019 with a tough trip to Getafe on Sunday, who sit seventh in La Liga, boasting a defensive record bettered only by Atletico Madrid.

Real Madrid, meanwhile, are now seven points adrift of the top but Valverde refused to rule them out of the title race.

“We still consider Madrid a candidate for the title,” Valverde said. “Sometimes the gaps seem great but they are not so much, just two and a half games, and we see them as one of our rivals.”

“This year La Liga is tighter, everything is more compressed. But always it is better if we are first.”

Barcelona confirmed on Saturday that Sergi Roberto and Malcom are available again after recovering from hamstring and ankle injuries respectively. Umtiti, Vermaelen and Rafinha are out.

AFP

Valverde Declares Barcelona Best Team In Spain

Barcelona’s coach Ernesto Valverde.  Photo: LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

Midfield legend Andres Iniesta is set to quit while arch rivals Real Madrid are prepping for a 13th Champions League, yet Ernesto Valverde insists his Barcelona side are still the best team in Spain.

A win at Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday would see Barcelona seal their 25th La Liga title, and first since 2016, with four games to spare.

Having wrapped up the first part of a league and Cup double with a 5-0 Copa del Rey final rout of Sevilla last week, Valverde insisted Saturday: “When the league started in August, we were all on the start line and we all know that, at the finish, it’s the best team who wins.

“The best team of the lot wins La Liga.”

He added, “We’ve been working hard from day one, and now we have a few opportunities (to win the league) but if possible we want to wrap it up tomorrow (Sunday).”

Iniesta’s imminent departure from Barcelona at the end of the campaign has given Valverde a headache about how to re-balance his team once the 33-year-old midfield maestro finally quits the Camp Nou.

And Barca’s failure to reach the last four of Europe’s premier club competition for the third consecutive season — while Real bid for another final appearance following a 2-1 semi-final, first leg win over Bayern Munich — has led to speculation about Valverde’s future.

But Valverde, who suggested Barcelona, like many other Catalonians, were affected by the “difficult” circumstances of a protracted but failed pro-independence movement, is hoping to honour his contract, which expires at the end of 2019: “When you arrive at such a big club you face big tests every week, every day in training.

“But up until now it’s been an extraordinary experience and I hope it will continue.

“There have been great times, not so great times and difficult circumstances off the pitch including the general (political) situation in Catalonia this past year.

“But we’ve all tried to overcome those difficulties and move on. That’s why I’m particularly happy about how things turned out.

“During the season we always hear talk about the coach in one way or another, but this is all speculation. I have a contract for next season and I’m happy here.”

Brilliant Barcelona Batter Sevilla To Win Copa Del Rey
Barcelona’s players pose with the trophy after winning the Spanish Copa del Rey (King’s Cup) final football match Sevilla FC against FC Barcelona at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on April 21, 2018. Barcelona won 5-0. LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

Unearthing another Iniesta would go a long way in making amends for Barca’s sorry Champions League quarter-final exit to Roma earlier this month.

But Valverde does not expect to find another player with Iniesta’s vast array of silky-smooth playmaking skills any time soon.

“Iniesta is irreplacable, it’s difficult to imagine that one day another player will do as well as Iniesta,” said Valverde.

“When such a special player leaves, you have to find a different balance in the team, different ways to play.

“The style of our game is defined and is very clear. But no one can give us what Iniesta gives us.”

AFP

Zidane, Valverde Condemn Violence After Killing Of Policeman In Bilbao

 

Real Madrid’s French Coach Zinedine Zidane OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP

 

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane and his Barcelona counterpart Ernesto Valverde on Friday strongly condemned the violence which led to a police officer dying before a Europa League game in Spain between Athletic Bilbao and Spartak Moscow.

“Our thoughts are with his family. I don’t like violence, and it is very hard to understand when these things happen. Let’s hope these things don’t happen again in a football stadium,” said Zidane of the incidents which took place prior to Thursday evening’s match.

Nine people were arrested, including three Russians and a Pole, during clashes outside San Mames in which a police officer died of a heart attack.

The incident also raised fears over hooliganism at this summer’s World Cup which will be hosted by Russia.

“Football was invented to be enjoyed, for people to experience happiness or suffer with their teams,” said Barcelona coach Valverde, formerly in charge in Bilbao.

“But others use football as an excuse for other things, because football is seen by so many. It sullies football but it is not a problem for football, it is a wider problem. And of course, we absolutely condemn that.”

FIFA said it “deeply regrets” the clashes in Bilbao but had “complete trust” in Russia’s ability to ensure a safe World Cup — despite this being just the latest incident of hooligan violence involving Russians.

A minute’s silence will be held before all games in Spain’s top two divisions this weekend in memory of the dead policeman.

“La Liga reiterates its strongest condemnation of the violence and continues to work to eradicate it from football,” La Liga said in a statement.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy earlier offered his condolences for the death of the 51-year-old Basque police officer as he also “strongly condemned” the violence in the northern Spanish city.

The officer was one of over 500 deployed to San Mames for the high-risk Europa League last-32 tie.

He “suddenly felt ill during the serious incidents… despite being taken quickly to hospital, he suffered cardiac arrest,” the Basque government’s security department said in a statement, adding his death was not “directly” linked to an injury he suffered in the clashes.

The trouble began as Spartak ‘ultras’ arrived at the stadium.

Some lit and threw smoke bombs and bins towards Athletic supporters, before police charged them.

Valverde

Police detained five Spaniards, three Russians and a Polish man over the clashes, a spokesperson for the Basque security department said. They face charges of causing public disorder, rioting and disrespect for authority.

Five other police officers were injured, none of them seriously, and treated on the scene, the spokesperson added.

There was concern ahead of the match because of the reported presence of hardcore Russian fans in Bilbao, and police seized knives, bags full of rocks and brass knuckles from supporters of the two teams, the Basque security department said.

Earlier Thursday, German police arrested a Russian suspected of the “attempted murder” of a British football fan during the European Championship in France two years ago. He was detained at Munich airport as he was trying to travel to Bilbao to attend the match, according to German police.

But a spokesman for Russia’s embassy in Germany, Denis Mikerine, “strongly protested” the arrest on Facebook, saying it was a “possible pretext” to “politicise the theme of football hooliganism before the 2018 World Cup in Russia”.

Russian authorities will be on high alert this summer for the World Cup after Russian fans were involved in pitched battles with England supporters in Marseille during Euro 2016.

Spartak won Thursday’s match 2-1, but Athletic went through 4-3 on aggregate.

They will face Marseille in the next round in March, but Spanish rivals Atletico Madrid have been drawn against another Russian club in Lokomotiv Moscow.

AFP

El Clasico: Our Intention Is To Win At Bernabeu – Valverde

Barcelona Ernesto Valverde coach said on Friday his side will play for the win when they face rivals Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium on Saturday.

Valverde said, “We want to endorse this good moment we are at, play a good match and of course our intention is to go there and win it being aware of the difficulty.

“They (Real Madrid) are a very powerful team at their stadium but we will see. The match needs to be played.”

Real outclassed Barca in the last ‘Clasico’ in the Spanish Super Cup back in August, winning 2-0 in the second leg at the Bernabeu to complete a resounding 5-1 victory on aggregate.

READ ALSO: Clasico Likely To Be The Hardest Match Of The Season – Zidane

The two teams have had contrasting results in the league since, however, with Barca going unbeaten in 24 games in all competitions and taking a six-point lead at the top of La Liga over nearest challengers Atletico Madrid.

Real are fourth in the Liga standings, 11 points adrift of leaders Barca, who have played one game more.

reuters

I’m Not ‘Going Crazy’ Over Barcelona’s Six Point Lead – Valverde

Barcelona moved six points clear at the top of La Liga by easing to a 4-0 win at home to Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday but coach Ernesto valverde is not getting carried away.

Doubles from Luis Suarez and Paulinho gave Barca the points ahead of next week’s ‘Clasico’ against champions Real Madrid, who are now fourth and 11 points behind their bitter rivals.

READ ALSO: La Liga Chases Asian Cash With Early Clasico kick-off 

But Madrid have a game in hand after missing this weekend’s action due to playing in the Club World Cup, where they beat Brazilians Gremio 1-0 in Saturday’s final.

Barca lead the standings on 42 points, six ahead of Atletico Madrid and eight in front of third-placed Valencia.

Reuters

Clasico Too Soon For Dembele – Valverde

 LLUIS GENE / AFP

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde insisted throwing the club’s record signing Ousmane Dembele back into action for next weekend’s Clasico at Real Madrid would be “premature”.

Dembele hasn’t played since tearing his hamstring at Getafe on September 16, just three games into his Barca career following a 105-million-euro ($124 million) move that could rise to as much as 145 million from Borussia Dortmund.

“We are staying with the same plan. We think he will be ready in January,” said Valverde on Saturday after Dembele returned to training this week.

“Any other plan would be premature and run a risk.”

Victory over Deportivo la Coruna on Sunday will open up an 11-point advantage for the Catalans over Madrid ahead of their trip to the capital next weekend, albeit Real would have a game in hand.

However, Valverde refused to admit that Barca can deliver a knockout blow to Madrid’s chances of retaining the title with victory at the Bernabeu.

“We don’t know what will happen, but our job is obviously to try and win both games,” added Valverde.

“It doesn’t concern me that people speak so much about the Clasico before tomorrow’s game, but we won’t make that mistake.”

AFP

Valverde Revisits Defeat To Prepare Barca For Juve Clash

ERNESTO VALVERD

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde admitted on Tuesday that he watched last season’s 3-0 defeat by Juventus “over and over” to prepare for their Champions League return to Turin on Wednesday.

Juventus beat Barcelona in the last eight thanks to a three-goal hammering at the Allianz Stadium and a goalless draw at the Camp Nou on their way to the final in Cardiff, where the Italians were beaten by Real Madrid.

“I watched that first leg over and over to prepare. That was a knockout round and the circumstances are different now, but we do know Juve start very strong and we must be ready for that initial assault,” said Valverde, who replaced Luis Enrique last May.

This season Juventus fell 3-0 in Barcelona and Valverde expects the Italian side to come out firing on all cylinders after their Serie A title defence took a knock with a 3-2 defeat at Sampdoria.

“When such a big team loses a game, they want to immediately make up for it, so I expect a strong reaction from Juventus,” said the Barcelona coach.

“Juve were in great shape last season and won, but it’ll be a very different game tomorrow and they are certainly motivated to make up for their defeat at Camp Nou.”

 Photo: OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP

Valverde refused to be drawn on comparisons between Italy and Spain, with Juventus having lost two Champions League finals to Spanish clubs and Italy falling to Spain as they failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 60 years.

“They are not linked. They lost the two finals but they reached them and that was a success,” he said.

“We respect Juventus, Roma and all of Italian football. I don’t think you can say anyone is the favourite tomorrow, as these are two strong teams playing on level terms.

“The (failure to qualify for the) World Cup is more surprising because it has been many years since that happened.

“In these cases you always think of changing everything. Sometimes it’s useful to change things but other times it just needs a little patience.”

AFP

Derby Stalemate Leaves Real Madrid 10 Points Behind Barca

 

Real Madrid’s goalless draw against Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitan stadium in Madrid on November 18, 2017, has dented their chances of defending their league title. PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP

 

Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid slipped 10 points behind Barcelona at the top of La Liga as a Madrid derby short on chances finished 0-0 at Atletico’s Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday.

Earlier, Barca also weren’t at their best but Luis Suarez’s double ended a five-game goal drought for the Uruguayan and Paulinho’s late strike helped see off a determined Leganes 3-0.

Both Madrid sides suffered a familiar lack of cutting edge in front of goal this season, but it was Atletico who passed up the best chance when Angel Correa fired wide after just three minutes.

“We lacked a goal, but apart from that I feel for the players because they deserved more,” said Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane.

“10 points is a lot but that will change for sure because Barca will not always win and we will be in the running.”

After a bright start from Atletico, Real’s first chance came on the counter-attack but Juanfran outpaced Cristiano Ronaldo when the Portuguese was put clean through by Luka Modric much to the home crowd’s delight.

“In the first 25 minutes you saw the team we are against the best team in the world, who had the need to win after Barca’s win,” said Atletico boss Diego Simeone.

“We are finding it hard to score goals. If we score with Correa it would have changed the game completely.”

The visitors slowly started to take control of possession as the first period wore on, but lacked a creative spark.

Jan Oblak turned Toni Kroos’s effort behind at the near post after a neat one-two with Ronaldo, before Sergio Ramos was left bloodied and eventually replaced at half-time with a broken nose as he was caught by Lucas Hernandez as he stooped to head into the side-netting.

Ronaldo’s profligacy has been blamed for Real’s slump in form this season and the Portuguese was once again wayward with his side’s best chance as his tame effort from Modric’s pass dribbled wide.

Antoine Griezmann was jeered off after another underwhelming display 15 minutes from time.

“As long as someone is in my family, I am with them to the death,” added an irritated Simeone at the Frenchman’s treatment.

However, his replacement Kevin Gameiro nearly grabbed the winner when his lobbed effort was cleared off the line by Raphael Varane.

And at the other end, Ronaldo took just too long to wind up his effort as Hernandez galloped back into position to make a brave block in a frantic finale and ensure Atletico a share of the spoils.

Barca flattered

Barca boss Ernesto Valverde admitted a 3-0 win flattered his side across Madrid at Butarque as goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen again shone.

“The important thing was to win,” Suarez told BeIN Sports Spain.

“We always try to play our best in every game but sometimes it is not possible.”

Leganes’ good work in the opening half hour was undone by a goalkeeping error when Ivan Cuellar limply palmed Paco Alcacer’s driven cross into the path of the grateful Suarez to smash home his first goal for a month.

“I wasn’t anxious. The important thing was to feel good again and help the team,” added Suarez.

Barca’s joy was tempered moments later when Gerard Pique was booked for bringing down Nordin Amrabat meaning he will be suspended for next weekend’s top of the table clash at Valencia.

The busy Ambrabat was the creator for Leganes’ best chance before the break when he released Alexander Szymanowski inside the area, but the Argentine’s curling effort was turned to safety by the in-form Ter Stegen.

The German goalkeeper was called into action again early in the second period when Leganes substitute Claudio Beauvue was too quick for the Barca defence only to fire straight at Ter Stegen.

In contrast, just as in the first half, Barca were ruthlessly efficient in front of goal to double their lead on the hour mark.

Lionel Messi’s dinked pass released Alcacer and after Cuellar parried his first effort, Suarez drilled home the rebound for his second of the afternoon.

“Perhaps 0-3 is a bit excessive. They played well enough for the gap between the teams to not be so great,” said Barca boss Valverde.

However, Barca rubbed salt into Leganes’ wounds when Paulinho rolled into an empty net when a loose ball broke off Messi in stoppage time.

AFP

I’m Lucky To Be Messi’s Coach, Says Valverde

Barcelona presented their new manager Ernesto Valverde on Thursday at a two-hour event at the Nou Camp in which the former Athletic Bilbao coach said he will have to work hard to keep the winning tradition of the club’s latest managers.

Valverde believes more is to come from Lionel Messi as he spoke of his excitement at working closely with the Argentine, whom he called the best player he has ever seen.

“I am very lucky and it is a unique experience to be able to train a player like him. He is the best player I have ever seen on a pitch. It seems that every time you think Leo Messi has reached his very top level, he will always surprise you with more the next day,” Valverde said.

“I hope to enjoy his game and help him as much as possible to improve if there’s something he can still improve, or to help him so he can continue to surprise us every day.”

Valverde, who is nicknamed “the ant” and is a respected photographer in his spare time, joins Barca after six seasons in charge of Athletic Bilbao, where he was the longest serving manager. He has also coached Barca’s city rivals Espanyol in addition to Olympiakos Piraeus, Valencia and Villarreal.

Asked about midfielder Andres Iniesta and the imminent decision on whether to continue at the club, Valverde said he will talk in depth with the Spain captain to get a better idea of his views.

He said, “I consider Iniesta a very important player for the team and for the club from all points of view, obviously also from what he can contribute to us on the pitch, of course. I will talk in depth with him and get his opinion.”

Valverde’s task will start in August when Barcelona is due to face arch-rivals Real Madrid for the Spanish Super Cup.

“The Supercup is an important incentive for this pre-season. It’s true that we have a previous game against Real Madrid in the United States, but the rival for this Supercopa makes that pre-season match a more special one. It makes it more than a preparation match. It makes it a trophy we want to win,” he said.