After overseeing an encouraging La Liga opener, new Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde admitted his team’s tactics are a still work in progress as he delivered an unusually in-depth analysis of his plans.
Barca defeated Real Betis 2-0 at Camp Nou on Sunday night thanks to an own goal and an effort from Sergi Roberto, and the scoreline could have easily been much more emphatic as Lionel Messi thumped no less than three shots against the woodwork.
Messi was playing as a central striker but regularly dropping back into midfield in the false nine position he occupied under Pep Guardiola, with attacking width provided by Paco Alcacer and Gerard Deulofeu.
Behind them, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic filled defensive midfield roles while goalscorer Roberto pushed forward to create something close to the 4-2-3-1 formation generally preferred by Valverde during his four years in charge of Athletic Bilbao.
With Andres Iniesta and Luis Suarez currently out injured and Barca seeking to strengthen their squad with new signings before the end of the transfer window, it’s by no means certain that Valverde will maintain the same shape throughout the season.
But he agreed that quickly providing his team with a solid tactical platform – something they often lacked last season under Luis Enrique – is a key priority.
“We have to find a formula which gives us solidity,” he said. “And despite having some important absences I thought the team looked good.
“We were together on the pitch, the pressured and attacked together. That allowed us to dominate and create chances to score.”
Valverde also explained Messi’s reversion to his old central role, which he described as “just one option”, although he attempted to downplay the significance of the new team shape.
“Independent of the system, our style is the same,” he claimed.
“We need to have players inside because that permits us to dominate the game, but at the same time we also need players who can give us penetration.
“When Messi drops back into midfield has the ability to organise our attacks, and take advantage of the pace of Paco and Deulofeu. He knows the position well and was able to exploit the space.
“We also wanted someone to lead our pressing and I thought Sergi Roberto would be able to help, which he did.”
One notable aspect of Barca’s overall display was their defensive solidity, which prevented visiting Betis from registering a single shot on target over the course of the 90 minutes.
And Valverde emphasised that ensuring his team plays as a collective unit is imperative, explaining: “We have to be together in attack and in defence, because if we get separated the team suffers.
“We have to play with attitude, depth and order at the back.”
On the individual level, Valverde was particularly happy with the contributions of summer signings Deulofeu and Nelson Semedo, who contributed fully to the victory with bright displays down the right flank.
Deulofeu created both goals with low crosses while Semedo was a regular and energetic attacking threat while also carrying out his defensive duties with diligence, sparking hope that he could fill the void left by Dani Alves’s departure over a year ago.
And Valverde was pleased with what he saw, saying: “We needed them to take a step forward and they did it.”
Nice star Jean Michael Seri has insisted he is not in contact with anyone from Barcelona over a big move to the Nou Camp, although he has not ruled out making the switch.
It was thought the 26-year-old was edging closer to a €40m transfer to the Catalan club, but Seri says that’s not the case just yet – as far as he’s aware.
The Ivory Coast man has started the season well in Ligue 1 and was quizzed on his future after Nice’s win over Guingamp.
“I’m not in contact with anyone,” Seri was as reported as saying by ESPN.
“If it happens, it happens. I’m still a Nice player, and we’ll see what happens later.
“I focus on what I have to do. If my agents and Barcelona see each other and talk, I don’t know anything about that.”
Rumours have also been circulating that the former Porto man’s release clause is €36m – given Barca could sign him for less than originally suggested.
Barcelona face losing out on the signing of Philippe Coutinho because the star’s personal team have grown impatient with the Spanish club’s approach in the transfer market.
According to Catalan radio station RAC 1, the Brazilian’s entourage are assessing other options for wantaway Coutinho given Barca have not yet tabled a fourth bid to sign the 25-year-old.
While there are indeed rumours Blaugrana will launch one more offer, in the region of €150m, time is running out to get such a big transfer over the line.
Apart from the Spaniards, other concrete interest in Coutinho has not been forthcoming, and as such, the La Liga giants face no direct competition to sign him.
That may well be part of Barca’s thinking moving forward as sporting director Robert Fernandez looks to resolve what he has labelled as a “very difficult situation” in their pursuit of the Kop side’s main man.
Indeed, their third offer, believed to be a fee of €133m, was rebuffed last week.
News of the Coutinho camp’s current mood will be most welcome at Liverpool, though. The Merseysiders’ stance that he will not leave Anfield during this transfer window has not changed.