There were reasons to not be completely over the moon for Ernesto Valverde, despite the win. They should not have let Tottenham twice back into the game with leads of 2-0 and 3-1. It was 3-2 until late in the match, when Lionel Messi pounced after being set up beautifully by his teammates to make it 4-2.
Spurs missed a lot of their key players, too, although to be fair, Barça had to make due without Samuel Umtiti, as well. Of course, on balance, Spurs were the team who could rue their luck with injuries more.
Despite all that, it’s fair to say Barça should be quite pleased with the performance away from home in Europe, which has been an Achilles’ Heel for the team over the last few years.
We should ask whether the team in general, directed by Valverde, are saving themselves to maximize their chances for the Champions League. Valverde delivered a dominating first season on the domestic front, winning La Liga and the Copa del Rey in the process. But his exit in Europe against AS Roma was quite bad, completely souring the season as a whole.
With his captain Lionel Messi saying at the start of the season the Champions League trophy was a priority for the team, and his majestic performance today, one can also imagine the players are simply more motivated for these games.
That’s not to say the team is forfeiting the league, in fact, they are still in first place. But Luis Suárez revealed that last season, he ended up regretting playing a league match before that pivotal AS Roma defeat. The management beefed up the squad in the summer transfer window, opting not to add a new, definite starter, but a glut of capable players who could either be subs, rotation players, or starters.
Going all out in the Champions League would imitate a strategy successfully employed by Real Madrid over the past few years, although of course, it carries a big risk of putting all your eggs in one basket, as they say. Lose in the Champions League after you prioritized it, and what do you have left?
Despite that particular problem, it’s a strategy that arguably reflects the fans’ priorities as well. If Valverde can pull it off, he will reverse the criticism levied against him in the first season.