Ernesto Valverde has to prioritize the UEFA Champions League this season.
It’s what the fans want, and seemingly, what the players want. Lionel Messi is not just the team’s best player, he’s the team captain, and he seems determined to win it.
”Although last year we won La Liga and the Copa del Rey, we all got stung in the Champions League,” Messi said to the fans at the Joan Gamper Match. “We promise that we will do everything possible so that this beautiful cup returns to the Camp Nou again.”
Luis Suárez said recently that he regrets playing in the league match against Leganés three days prior to Barcelona’s fateful loss to AS Roma in the UEFA Champions League, because it left him not quite 100% fresh.
Barcelona prioritized depth in their signings, rather than one outstanding player to improve the starting XI. Players such as Arthur, Arturo Vidal, Clément Lenglet, and Malcom are there to offer alternatives to the coach, but also to rest the regulars. The same can be said for Munir and Rafinha, both of whom returned from good loan spells. The latter, in particular, could have left, but Barça retained him, for depth purposes.
Valverde, when asked, if they had lost motivation to win the league and will only look towards winning the Champions League, said that “It’s one thing to want to win the Champions League; it’s another to not be happy to win the league.” Gerard Piqué went a bit further, saying that focusing only on the Champions League would be “suicide.”
There’s no reason to write off La Liga, especially if you’re first, having won your first three matches. But it’s also true that Barcelona have not prioritized correctly in some cases, opting to win a league game at all costs when strength should be reserved for the Champions League. Valverde, I suppose, wanted his team to gain momentum from the previous league match and carry into the UCL. But it clearly didn’t work, and lack of rest can hurt the team.
Last season there was even a wobble when Barcelona went full tilt to win the Copa del Rey semifinals. Of course you want to get into the final, but sometimes you have to trust your rotation options to get the job done. Even in a semifinal.
It’d be too much to say that Valverde is a failure if he does not win the Champions League, but an elimination similar to the one suffered against Roma is simply out of the question. This is a team with the quality and the backing to challenge every foe, and an early exit, blowing a big lead, and/or losing to a less-fancied opponent would be massive strikes against the manager.
The biggest problem for Barcelona in Europe predates Valverde - it’s away matches. All teams are less strong away from home, but Barça have taken it to the extreme. Every other away match is a potential disaster. It’s not just 0-3 to Roma, it’s 0-3 to Juventus, and 0-4 to PSG, and the list goes on.
Valverde has to fix that issue, or at least lessen its effects, if he hopes to do well this season.