Barcelona 2018-19: How Valverde serenely steered Catalans to another LaLiga title

Ernesto Valverde has led Barcelona to the title in LaLiga for the second season in a row, but their coach remains something of an enigma.

While former Barca bosses such as Pep Guardiola had huge personalities that came to dominate Camp Nou, Valverde is completely the opposite.

Saying little of interest to the media indicates Valverde likes to keep his cards close to his chest, but there is no doubt he has done a fine job since joining from Athletic Bilbao.

Barca may take winning trophies for granted nowadays but, with Valverde's men through to a Copa del Rey final against Valencia, back-to-back doubles is a serious possibility.

And with Barca in the Champions League semi-finals, Valverde may yet write his name into the history books by leading the club to the treble this year.

But how has Valverde, whose future appeared to be in question earlier this year before he agreed a contract extension in February, serenely steered Barcelona to the title again?


HAPPY MESSI, WINNING BARCA

Lionel Messi does not have a reputation as a diva, far from it, but keeping Barcelona's main man happy has not always been easy for coaches. Luis Enrique accepted his relationship with Messi was not always the best, not that it seemed to adversely affect Barcelona's form on the pitch.

Valverde and Messi, though, look to have forged a strong partnership. Messi was named captain after Andres Iniesta left to join Japanese side Vissel Kobe - an obvious choice, perhaps, but a move that sent a clear sign Valverde was satisfied to lean heavily on the superstar.

And Messi has repaid that faith in spades. Any fears the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid might somehow see Messi's levels drop have proven unfounded. Messi is arguably better than ever, with his 10th LaLiga title built on the foundations of his individual genius.

One of the charges occasionally levelled at Valverde is he does not seem to have embarked on any succession planning for a post-Messi future. But how can you? Barcelona's greatest ever player, perhaps the finest of all time, simply cannot be replaced.

It is true the production line from La Masia to the Barcelona first team has slowed, but Valverde has given opportunities to Carles Alena, whose future looks bright, and a coach who has been in charge only two years cannot fairly be held responsible for prior failings at academy level.

Aymeric Laporte and Inaki Williams came through the ranks at Athletic under Valverde so his CV shows a willingness and ability to develop young talent, but the gap between a player like Messi and Munir El Haddadi, for example, is vast.

However, Barca's signings under Valverde have not reached the standards required, with only Arthur and Clement Lenglet establishing themselves in the team. Kevin-Prince Boateng seems forgotten since joining on loan in January, while opportunities for Jean-Clair Todibo have been limited.


MADRID CLUBS FAILING TO PUSH BARCA

Barca have not hit the heights they reached under Guardiola and Luis Enrique, but they have not faced the same strength of opposition either. Real Madrid have been a shambles this season, sacking two coaches, with Atletico Madrid unable to pose the strong challenge expected either.

It is not Valverde's fault Barca have not been pushed hard and their consistency has remained admirable despite the lack of pressure. Only three LaLiga losses in his two seasons in charge is a fine achievement, although European success is still craved after last year's collapse against Roma.

Fans may also desire to see more of the stunning football played by Guardiola's Barcelona or produced by the Messi-Luis Suarez-Neymar 'MSN' front line under Luis Enrique, but Valverde arguably does not have the same quality of player.

Iniesta has gone, as has Xavi, with only Messi, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets remaining of that all-conquering homegrown era. Huge fees were splashed to bring in Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele, Barca spending the Neymar loot and more, but neither has yet justified the large investments made in them.

In some ways, Valverde is bringing more to Barca than either Luis Enrique or Guardiola. His tactical variations have made Barca a less predictable outfit and they are more direct at times, which can suit Messi as he ages. Barca can be functional under Valverde, even dull, but they usually win.

Valverde has quietly rebuilt Barca after Neymar's shock sale, handling problems such as Dembele's disciplinary issues, Coutinho's loss of form and Samuel Umtiti's injuries with a steady hand.

His calm leadership could yet seal a treble for Barca, following in the footsteps of both Guardiola and Luis Enrique, names in future he may be judged alongside.

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