Ernesto Valverde: The New Barça Man

Manager Analysis
David Garcia

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David Garcia

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There are certain things we can come to expect on a regular basis; every day the sun will rise, every 28 days we’ll have a full moon, every four years we’ll experience another World Cup, and about every three years Barça will have a new manager at the helm. This time always comes with a sense of uncertainty that is expected for a team like F.C. Barcelona. They are required to win everything every year, and they have almost set the treble standard for themselves. Evidently, when a new manager comes along they bring new ideas, which usually spark a new Cule side, nevertheless, there have been years when this change in leadership has left them lackluster.

When news broke of Luis Enrique’s departure, no one was surprised, although, who was to fill one of the hottest seats in European football was a mystery to everyone. Many believed that Unzue, Luis Enrique’s right hand man was surely to be next in line as we all know the heads at Barcelona favor continuity. There were extravagant rumors of Jorge Sampaoli being brought in to give the Catalan side a boost in morale. It was even suspect that Arsene Wenger could be a good fit for the job. In the end, the Barça directors decided to go with Ernesto Valverde, who has experience playing for the club, and has adjacent ideas to what is in place at Camp Nou now.

If there was genealogical tree for football managers, Valverde, the ex Atletic Bilbao manager, would be on the same branch as most former Barcelona managers. His ideas stem from Cruyff’s Total Football approach and at first glance fit nicely with the Catalan side. The purpose of this article is to delve into some of those ideas, and analyze why he is a good fit for the Cules.

Long Possessions:

Txingurri, as Valverde is commonly referred to, is from the attacking school of thought. He believes in offensive minded football, where maintaining possession is used to create the right conditions to switch to a defensive formation should the possession change hands. His teams utilize the space well by evenly distributing players along all corridors and levels throughout the pitch. He makes use of fullbacks as an attacking weapon to not only discomfort the other team’s defensive positioning but to provide the team with width, consequently creating more space in the middle of the pitch.

In addition, Valverde likes to employ positional play concepts, like the third man, the free man, and create numerical superiorities by incorporating as many players into the attack as possible. As the video will show, his Atletic Bilbao tended to overload spaces on the wings to create space on the opposite wing, and with the use of a high back line, change the point of attack to progress up the field. This is an aspect that Luis Enrique’s Barça had drifted away from in recent years, and hopefully Valverde will be able to implement upon his arrival.

La Salida Lavolpiana:

Although many of you may be familiar with this concept from watching many matches over the course of many years, you might not know that this tactic has a name. It’s named after the Argentine manager Ricardo LaVolpe, who in my opinion is a brilliant tactician, but who never really found international success. His biggest claim to fame might be his short tenure at the helm of the Mexican National team in the 2006 World Cup. During his time in the Mexican league he started to employ a tactic to play out of the back by bringing back one of his center defensive midfielders in between the two center backs in order to push up the fullbacks, while maintaining numerical superiority against a two striker system. The following image is courtesy of Lee Scott, a fellow writer from ESDF Analysis.

As you can see the full backs push forward, the center backs move wide, and the center defensive midfielder occupies the space in between the center backs. Valverde’s Bilbao applies this tactic constantly when playing out of the back. This is a strategy that could be employed perfectly at Barça with Busquets checking back into that space.

High Press:

It’s not a secret that Barça love to press high, more so during the Guardiola years, but nevertheless, we still see them cornering their prey in their opposing defensive third from time to time. Valverde’s high press is one of the best in Spain, and has been highly successful in Bilbao. As the following analytical video will show, Atletic will wait for their opponent to have possession in the furthest corner from their goal and will use two or three players to press the ball carrier directly, while three or four other players will close off passing lanes to supporting players.

Personally, I can’t wait to see how Valverde will modify his high press to Barça’s game. Hopefully, he will be just as successful as he has been in the past, possibly even more so. One of the most beautiful sights in football is watching a team move in unison in order to corner the opposition, and consequently win back possession. Not only is this a wonderful defensive tactic, but it would provide Barça with more chances on goal after having won the ball so close to the opposing goal.

Man Marking: 

Finally, I’ll finish on an aspect of Valverde’s game which I believe could clash with how Barcelona typically plays. Normally, Barça play a very traditional zonal defense, however, Valverde likes to employ a man marking – zonal scheme. That is to say, Bilbao’s backline is set in a zonal pattern but when certain players enter or leave these zones, the full backs follow in a man marking movement. As the video depicts, the right and left back tend to follow the striker or winger if they were to check back for the ball. When this happens, the center backs shift and the line goes from a back line of four to a line of three. Defensively, if the team is unorganized it could cause issues but typically Valverde is a man of organization so there’s nothing to worry about if you’re a Cule.

Conclusion:

It’s difficult to say whether Ernesto Valverde is the right man for this job, and only time will tell. As we all know, football is an ever changing system which makes predictions simply impossible. Nonetheless, Valverde is certainly qualified enough for such a sought after position in world football. We can only hope that he is able to deliver the beauty Camp Nou expects year in and year out. Luckily for him, football is played by the players. Like Juan Manuel Lillo once said, “Players win matches”, and when you have players like Messi, Suarez, Neymar, Iniesta, etc, you can’t go wrong.

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