Ivan Rakitic has urged Ernesto Valverde to extend his stay at the Camp Nou after 18 months of domestic domination.
The Barcelona boss had recently revealed talks over a contract extension at the club will be conducted later in the season amid speculation he could leave the club at the end of this campaign.
The Croatian midfielder – who has been a key part of Valverde’s system – wants the former Athletic Club coach to stay at the Catalan club beyond 2020.
“The coach’s future is a question for him and the club, but as players we are all very happy with him,” Rakitic told reporters, as cited by Marca.
“The job he and his coaching staff are doing is really good and I believe he is most likely to stay here and continue (beyond the summer).
“As players we will all work hard and what they decide to do will be their decision, but they will come to the conclusion which is best.
“We had to work hard for this win at Getafe because this is a very complicated league, every team is difficult and there are many challenges to come.
“This is one of the most difficult games of the season, they are very compact and it was a real battle.”
Barcelona opened up a five-point lead at the top of La Liga after a perfect weekend saw them take a 2-1 victory from a tough trip to Getafe, following on the heels of other favourable results including another loss for Real Madrid.
It wasn’t a classic performance from Ernesto Valverde’s men in the suburbs of Madrid but first half goals from – who else? – Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez were enough to seal three valuable points which put the Blaugrana in a formidable position.
Let’s review the main talking points from the conclusion of a fabulous weekend for the reigning title holders.
BARCA GET LUCKY
Barca really should have fallen behind early on, when an angled left-wing cross from Vitorino Antunes was volleyed home at the far post by unmarked Getafe striker Jaime Mata. But referee Guillermo Cuadra controversially disallowed it, ruling that another home team forward, Angel Rodriguez, had pushed Clement Lenglet as the ball came into the middle.
The ‘push’ looked close to non-existent even on close-up television replays, and there certainly looked to be much less contact than another early incident when visiting midfielder Arturo Vidal appeared to nudge Nemanja Maksimovic as another cross was delivered. But Cuadra strangely refused to use VAR for either incident, so Barca survived with the scoresheet intact and took full advantage when Messi opened the scoring just a few minutes later.
And coming on the same day that nearest rivals Sevilla and Atletico Madrid both dropped points in a 1-1 draw while Real suffered a shocking 2-0 home loss to Real Sociedad – during which they were denied a seemingly clear penalty by another confusing non-use of VAR – the dice are certainly falling Barca’s way in the opening stages of the new year.
MESSI AND SUAREZ MAKE THE DIFFERENCE
Despite that let-off Barca still had to go on and win the game, and once again their superstar strike duo of Messi and Suarez did just that with a pair of superbly taken first half strikes which ultimately proved to be enough for the points.
The goals were very different in nature but both required exquisite technique, firstly as Messi ran onto a half-saved shot to convert from a very narrow angle, making it look easy as he ran at full pace to squeeze his shot inside the posts. Then Suarez watched a dropping ball just outside the area and waited patiently before swiveling to thunder a magnificent right-footed volley which flew past Getafe keeper David Soria, completing a one-two punch with his captain.
The gulf in finishing quality was laid bare in the second half, when home team striker Mata embarked upon a mazy dribble which took him past Marc-Andre ter Stegen to create a glorious chance, but he ruined it by awkwardly slicing his shot high and wide.
Messi and Suarez would have almost certainly scored from the same position, and the presence of those two formidable goalscorers is by far the biggest reason for Barca’s comfortable position at the top of the table.
VALVERDE HAS BREATHING ROOM TO ROTATE
The favourable results encountered this weekend have given Barca boss Valverde the perfect opportunity to practise full-scale squad rotation over the course of the next few weeks, which will be packed full of non-stop fixtures assuming his team continues to progress in the Copa del Rey.
Ter Stegen can be relieved at times by Jasper Cillessen in goal; new signing Jeison Murillo (and, when he’s fit, Thomas Vermaelen) can deputise for Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet at the back; Sergi Roberto and Nelson Semedo can share playing time at right-back; Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic can do likewise in the midfield pivot; Rakitic, Roberto, Arturo Vidal, Carles Alena and Arthur can take turns in midfield; Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele and Malcom can swap in and out on the wings.
The only players who really cannot be replaced, and will have to play more games than most, are Suarez, Messi and Alba. Barring any moves in the January transfer market – which certainly should be considered in the left-back position, there are no decent back-ups within the squad for any of those players, although Coutinho and Dembele could occasionally both start to relieve one of the front two.
A full-blown rotation policy would be risky and could result in some points being dropped, but Barca have those points to play with and it’s unlikely that either Sevilla or Atletico – and certainly not Real – will string together a long winning run.
Even with 19 games still remaining, the league is now half-won. So Valverde should look further ahead and start planning for the resumption of the Champions League, when he will need his players to be refreshed and focused, rather than tired and jaded. It’s time to be bold and show full faith in the whole squad.
Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez were the predictable goalscoring heroes as Barcelona squeezed past hard-fighting Getafe with a 2-1 victory at the Alfonso Perez Coliseum on Sunday night.
It was far from easy for the reigning champions and not everybody covered themselves in glory, but the job got done…just about. Here is how all the players rated.
Soria 8. Made a series of good stops, denying Messi, Suarez and Pique to keep his team in it. Unlucky with the opener.
D Suarez 6. Had his hands full with Dembele and Alba but stuck to the task. Unlucky to inadvertently ‘assist’ Messi’s opener.
Djene 7. Held his team together with a strong performance full of tenacity and anticipation. So hard to shrug off.
Cabrera 5. Blocked a Suarez shot well and came close with a header, but was weak defensively and booked for an awful lunge.
Antunes 8. Came forward to good effect, playing some good crosses from the left, and was solid at the back. Excellent showing.
Foulquier 6. Gave Alba trouble down the right but he had problems defensively and was replaced in the second half.
Maksimovic 5. Remarkably only had 18 touches in the whole game as Barca controlled the middle and Getafe focused on wide areas.
Arambarri 5. Tried to link midfield with attack but spent a lot of time chasing Arthur, and had little impact going forward.
Portillo 5. Started on the left wing before moving to the right but exerted little influence in either position, failing to impress.
Mata 6. Pulled a goal back after earlier having one controversially disallowed but missed a sitter to level the score.
Angel 6. Blasted two reasonable chances over the top and dragged another effort wide, but set up Mata’s goal.
Molina 6. Introduced around the hour mark and was a handful with his physical presence but had no real chances.
Saiz 5. Entered the action for the final 20 minutes and threatened to cut inside from the left but was well contained.
Ibanez 5. Came on for the latter stages but with almost no effect, barely touching the ball.
Ter Stegen 7. Made a flying second half save to preserve his team’s lead and gathered a few dangerous crosses well.
Roberto 5. Back in action after injury and looked below the pace, with much of Getafe’s threat originating down his flank.
Pique 7. The lynchpin of his team’s defence, reading the game well to snuff out danger. Nearly scored with a first half snapshot.
Lenglet 5. Not his finest game. Looked vulnerable in the air and was sometimes too uncertain and tentative in the challenge.
Alba 6. A game of two halves in positional terms. Struggled defensively, especially against crosses, but a threat going forward
Vidal 6. An aggressive and energetic performance in the centre of midfield, but lacked precision and was replaced.
Rakitic 6. Operated deeper than usual and was initially very smooth but lost control after the break and changed position.
Arthur 7. Controlled the first half tempo with an excellent range of passing. Struggled early in the second half but finished strong.
Messi 7. Pounced on a half chance to open the scoring and produced several superb moments, but missed a decent chance at 2-1.
Suarez 7. Made it 2-0 with a stunning volley from outside the area. Worked hard without gaining any more reward.
Dembele 6. An electric early burst preluded a bright display, regularly threatening to breaking through but never quite doing it.
1⃣ One very good reason to go to sleep happy tonight 😘 pic.twitter.com/S7yJlfDd0f— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) 6 January 2019
Busquets 6. Introduced for the final 20 minutes to regain control. Slow to find the pace of the game but then settled.
Coutinho 5. A late replacement for Dembele, but made little impact and didn’t offer the same penetration.
Alena 6. Came on for Arthur with just three minutes to play and helped shore things up in the centre of the field.