Three reasons how Ernesto Valverde has fixed Barcelona
Catalan giants are in mega form
When Barcelona sold Neymar to Paris-Saint Germain this summer, many confidently predicted that it signalled the beginning of the event for the Catalan club.
But so far the Spanish kingpins are proving all the naysayers wrong.
After 11 games in La Liga, Lionel Messi and co boast a four-point lead at the top of the table.
Even better for the Camp Nou outfit, they hold an eight-point buffer to rivals Real and Atletico Madrid.
They’ve won 10 of their matches, drawing the other. Barca also the joint-strongest attack, while their four goals conceded is unmatched.
It’s a similar story in Europe. Blaugrana are yet to concede in the Champions League, collecting 10 points from four group games.
All in all it’s quite impressive when you consider they lost the Super Copa 5-1 on aggregate to Zinedine Zidane’s Real.
So, how has Ernesto Valverde made Barcelona better than ever, without Neymar? The Coral News Team take a look.
The loss of Neymar, plus the injury to his replacement Ousmane Dembele, means Valverde can’t rely on a three-man attack week-in-week-out.
But that’s no problem because the Spaniard boasts a number of the game’s finest midfielders.
Ivan Rakitic, Denis Suarez, Sergio Busquets and Andreas Iniesta have been pulling the strings this season.
And the summer arrival of former Tottenham Hotspur man Paulinho has worked wonders.
The Brazilian has offered Valverde even greater strength in depth and tactical flexibility.
At the Camp Nou Barca have often gone 4-1-2-3 this season, with Busquets in the sole holding role.
In these games, Valverde has chosen two of Paulinho/Iniesta/Suarez and Rakitic to spread the play in front of Busquets.
But it’s in the away games where the Barca coach is really having an impact.
Valverde is regularly choosing two men to sit deep in the middle when his side are on their travels.
Paulinho and Rakitic performed that role in the 3-0 win at Girona, while it was Paulinho and Busquets versus Athletic Bilbao.
That two-man pairing is offering Barca protection for their defence, while simultaneously providing the perfect launch pad for counter attacks.
Two up front
For the last ten years or so, Barca have tormented defences with a front three.
And for the last couple of seasons, Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar unquestionably reached new heights.
Dembele was a £90m signing from Borussia Dortmund in the aftermath of Neymar’s departure.
But the youngster will be out for some time having injured hamstring.
So Valverde is pressing on with what is effectively a front two in Suarez and Messi, plus cameos from squad players eager to step up.
Each of Gerard Deulofeu, Alex Vidal or Paca Alcacer have missed at least three games already this season.
But between them they’ve provided five assists and scored three goals.
They’re all being restricted to bit parts, but together they’re allowing Barca – and Messi – to thrive.
Fresh legs at the back
Last year Barcelona conceded more than 35 league goals for the first time since 2013, and only the second time since 2008.
Perhaps citing a lack of sharpness for their defensive issues last season, Valverde has made sure his back-line as fully fresh week-in week-out this time around.
As with midfield, the Barca boss has been consistently rotating his defence.
That’s sometimes risky as the back-line needs to defend as a unit, but Barcelona’s rearguard is thriving.
On the flanks the Spaniard can choose either Jordi Alba or Lucas Digne at left-back, or Sergi Roberto and Nelson Semedo on the right.
With the full-back role now arguably the most demanding in the modern game, Barcelona are reaping the rewards for such strength in depth.
And at centre-half, Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano have healthy competition from Samuel Umtiti.
Mascherano is 33-years-old now, and the former West Ham United man has been rested frequently.
Crucially, of Barca’s 11 league games this term, they have used just three defensive pairings – Umtiti/Pique, Umtiti/Mascherano and Mascherano/Pique. The latter have played together just twice.
Contrast that with Real Madrid, who used four different combinations at centre-back in their opening five matches.
With expert understanding in the middle, and fresh legs on the flanks, it’s of little surprise Barca have conceded just four goals in La Liga and Champions League this season.
Of those four goals, two came from hopeful efforts outside the box. One came from a corner and one from a cross on the flanks.
So in short, nobody has yet managed to get past Barca through the middle this season.
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