If last season Ernesto Valverde’s team was blamed for playing a pragmatic style of football, so far the accusations have largely been regarding the lack of identity or idea behind Barça’s current brand of football. And rightfully so. Because, despite the scorelines having been generally positive (Girona and Leganes aside), the same cannot be said for the manner in which this team is executing Valverde’s ideas or the manager’s own decision-making for that matter.
Wednesday saw match day six come to an end in La Primera División and with that FC Barcelona’s first loss. In the post match press conference Ernesto claimed the defeat was an accident. But was it really?
Despite starting the match against Leganes with what seemed like some urgency; once Coutinho fired in the spectacular 1-0 after an even more impressive Messi run where he took on half of the humble Madrid squad, hereafter quickly the all too familiar sight of relaxation set in amongst the players. The team stopped looking for goals and instead were aimlessly passing the ball around the pitch.
Without getting into the tactical specifics as to why the team played like this and which players stood out for their passive and lackluster performance, what is clear is that at this point this is starting to become a reoccurring pattern. Judged on what we’ve seen this season, it is fair to state that the only reason why Barça have managed to reach the top of the LaLiga table is 1) because of moments of individual brilliance and 2) for having played weak teams.
Let’s be 100% clear and truthful. So far the calendar has been our friend. But as of October it is going to be absolutely infernal. Teams like Tottenham, Real Madrid, Valencia, Inter, Betis, Sevilla and Villarreal will be far less forgiving than Valladolid, Huesca, PSV and Real Sociedad. They’ll demand an entirely different attitude than the one we’ve seen up until this point. If not, the month of October could be a disastrous one and by the end of it find this squad in a hell of a lot of trouble for the remainder of the season.
This is not a call for sacking FC Barcelona’s coach, nor is it a dig into his managerial capabilities. But rather a wakeup call for alarm bells to start ringing. As I’ve previously mentioned in this article, Valverde’s player management system has shown to follow a hierarchical doctrine. In other words, regardless of how the locker room heavyweights play they’ll be shown preferential treatment over the newcomers. But more and more it would seem obvious that players and manager alike ought to understand that, despite still trying to implement a new 4-3-3 system, there are certain influential (and untouchable) figures within dressing room that are not playing to the standard usually associated with them.
At the same time there is an overbooking of players on the bench who are anxiously waiting their turn to prove their worth. From front to back any Cule could name a list of players who’d they love to see get a genuine shot at starting for this team and might even be better suited to play in the 4-3-3 formation Ernesto is trying to apply.
After having had a successful first period by winning Liga and Copa and having restored calm after a turbulent time, it is now time to see whether or not Valverde is truly capable of being that type of Barça manager who can also successfully offer an enthusiastic, offensive-minded, cohesive brand of football Barça fans are desperate to see. Unfortunately for el Txingurri that time to prove it is NOW.