On Tuesday night, Barcelona were on the wrong side of a historic Champions League comeback as Liverpool ran riot at Anfield to overcome a 3-0 first-leg deficit.
While manager Ernesto Valverde deserves a huge chunk of the blame for his timid approach, the debacle also exposed some names which need to be eliminated from Barcelona’s roster at the end of the season.
The Catalan club are known for overspending, reactionary spending and a terribly balanced wage structure. It should not come as a surprise if Barcelona go for some big names in the summer transfer window and break their bank yet again.
However, it’s fair to assume that in such a case there will also be a massive off-loading of some high-profile players who have not been as consistent this season. We take a look at some of the players who could – or rather should – be sold by the club.
The 31-year-old Rakitic is most likely to be one of the first names on Barca’s ‘Sell’ list, given how his passive performances and relatively high market value go together.
The Croatian is currently nowhere near the peak he attained during the Blaugrana’s treble-winning season of 2014/15 and his performance against Liverpool exposed some of his shortcomings.
Rakitic’s tendency to always play the safer pass has ruined plenty of counter-attacking opportunities for his team and often puts his team-mates in a tough spot.
At Anfield, the midfielder passed the ball to a heavily-marked Jordi Alba and thus helped the hosts get their second goal on the night. One simple turn could have allowed him to find Lionel Messi in space and possibly help his team add one on the board through a counter. In a way, this was the turning point of the tie.
The fact that this is not a one-off example spells danger for the Croatian’s future at the club. There is plenty of footage of Messi shrugging in disbelief as Rakitic attempts a meaningless pass rather than playing vertically.
With Frenkie de Jong joining the midfield next season, Barcelona can dream of more progressive play from midfield and it comes at the cost of Rakitic.
Before facing Liverpool at Anfield, Suarez pledged that he wouldn’t celebrate if he scored against his former club. The irony in this statement stems from the fact that the Uruguayan has not scored an away goal in the knockout stages of the Champions League for over four years.
The statistics have overestimated his performance for the last season-and-a-half and hence acted as smoke-screen to the harsh reality that his best days are well behind him.
Suarez has scored 21 goals and provided six assists in the league this season but with Messi as provider, these numbers are not as impressive.
Messi has created 31 big chances in La Liga according to Sofascore and no other player has created more than 17. Suarez has missed 31 big chances and no player has missed more than 17. This stat puts the Uruguayan’s season into perspective and shows how much he has been living off Messi’s creativity.
Most importantly, the striker has failed to provide when it matters. It’s unhealthy for the club when the first-choice No9 has scored just one goal in the Champions League in one season.
The 32-year-old has declined physically, mentally and technically. With the knee injury and subsequent surgery keeping him out for the rest of the season, it’s likely that he has already played the last game of his Barcelona career.
The golden key was tried at the wrong lock and it never worked. It’s unlikely that the key can be melted down and formed to best fit the lock and, hence, must be thrown away.
In other words, there is absolutely no doubt about Coutinho’s quality, given how exceptional he was for Liverpool and his country at last summer’s World Cup. But the Brazilian never fit in well in Catalonia and the immense pressure born out of his heavy transfer fee clearly did not help. Also, he’s not at the developmental stage of his career where he can be re-modelled to best suit the team.
Coutinho has failed to impress both as a winger and as an interior midfielder, and both in the presence and absence of Messi.
The 26-year-old has been presented with enough opportunities by Valverde, often at the expense of countryman Malcom. If Coutinho has failed to fit in after one-and-a-half seasons at the club, it’s unlikely that he ever will.
Barcelona are clearly providing him game-time due to the pressure caused by the need to justify his enormous price tag and it will hurt the club if they continue to do so.
Henceforth, the Brazilian’s transfer value will only reduce, based on how things are going for him at the club. The Catalans are therefore better off admitting that the signing was a big mistake and discarding him in the summer.
Rafinha has played just 174 minutes this season and should be shipped off for a different reason than the above mentioned players.
Despite the quality, Rafinha has had injuries to blame for preventing him from reaching his true potential.
After a promising tenure at Inter Milan, it was assumed that the Italian club would convert the Brazilian’s loan deal into a permanent one. But the two clubs failed to reach an agreement over the transfer fee and Rafinha returned to Barca.
The expectations that the 26-year-old would replicate his Inter form at Barcelona were high, but injuries prevented him from spreading his wings. The midfielder last featured in a game in November and it’s unlikely that he will take the field again this season.
Rafinha will run out of contract next year and will hence be allowed to move on a free-transfer. It’s best that the Catalan club cut the chord in the summer and cash in whatever little amount they can.
Barcelona will not miss the injury-prone midfielder, especially with Carles Alena impressing this season.
Apart from these high-profile players, the Spanish giants might also consider getting rid of players like Jeison Murillo, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Thomas Vermaelan who will run out of contract at the end of the season.
A clean-up is due at Camp Nou and no big name should be immune.
Barcelona striker Luis Suarez‘s season appears to be over after undergoing surgery on a medial meniscus injury in his right knee.
Suarez, who played the full 90 minutes of Barcelona’s astonishing 4-0 Champions League defeat at former side Liverpool on Tuesday, looks set to miss the remainder of the La Liga season – where the Catalan club have already wrapped up the title with two games left – after having surgery on Thursday.
A statement on the club’s website read: “Luis Suarez has a medial meniscus injury in his right knee and surgeon Dr. Cugat will perform arthroscopic surgery on the Uruguayan under the supervision of the Club’s medical staff.
“The outcome of the process and an estimate of how long the striker will be out will be announced following the surgery.”
No timescale has been placed on his return but Suarez’s participation in the Copa del Rey final against Valencia on May 25 and for Uruguay in the 2019 Copa America, which begins on June 14, are believed to be in major doubt.
Should Barcelona fire Ernesto Valverde?
From one perspective, this is a ludicrous question. This is a man, after all, who inherited a team which had won only the Copa del Rey and immediately claimed back to back La Liga titles, both of which were taken in highly impressive fashion.
Managers will readily tell you – Pep Guardiola and Zinedine Zidane have done so in recent weeks – that winning a domestic league is the greatest achievement for a coach, even more so than the Champions League.
To win La Liga, Barça had to overcome 19 teams over the course of 38 games and nine months, with all sorts of weather conditions, timings, suspensions and injuries.
Valverde has not only succeeded in doing that, but he has done so twice consecutively, losing only four games along the way – two of which came in the latter stages of the campaign (against Levante last season and at Celta Vigo on Saturday night) when the title had already been secured.
Last season’s league trophy was won by a margin of 14 points over second placed Atlético Madrid, and the gap at the moment is nine points with two games to go.
That, without any doubt, is utter dominance, and Valverde deserves a lot of credit as the man who oversaw his team on their long slog to back-to-back titles.
There is of course, a but. In fact, there are two buts, and they are colossal. But Roma. But Liverpool.
Valverde, no matter how long he stays at Barça and no matter what he goes on to achieve for the remainder of his managerial career, will forever be damned his association with those two shocking results. He will always be remembered as the manager who was knocked out of the Champions League by squandering three goal leads two years in a row.
Whether or not it is fair to judge Valverde by a couple of games rather than his overall body of work, that’s just the way things work. It’s the same for all managers, as Jurgen Klopp will discover if Liverpool now don’t win the Champions League Final and he is lambasted as the man who always finishes second, with the wider transformation he has effected at Anfield overlooked.
Ernesto Valverde on Liverpool's win: "They were better and we have to accept it. The scoreline was 4-0 and when that's the case there are no excuses. They played well, and we have to congratulate them for reaching the final." pic.twitter.com/1vVT1NYzfh— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) May 8, 2019
Managers are judged by one-off results, and they are especially judged by one-off results in the most important games. Just look at Real Madrid, where Zidane escaped with a golden glow thanks to a (fortuitously gained) Champions League triumph despite a shambolic league campaign, and then his successor Julen Lopetegui was ditched mainly because he lost 5-1 at Barcelona.
And in that respect, it cannot be denied that Valverde has failed horribly by presiding over calamitous collapses in his team’s most important games of two consecutive seasons.
Two years in a row, the Champions League was there for Barça’s taking. Liverpool were not as strong last year as they are now and Madrid were easily beatable too; while this year holding off Liverpool would have meant a final against Tottenham or Ajax, by no means European superpowers.
And make no mistake, more than any other the Champions League is the trophy Barça want to win and think they should be winning, especially this year after a season which had been haunted by the ghosts of Rome.
For the last 12 months, Barça have been furiously focused on banishing those demons by going all the way in the continental stage. It was, without any doubt, their number one priority. And they had such a great chance, but then they blew it.
A golden rule of coaching is that players must not commit the same mistake twice, and any player who breaks that command will soon lose their place in the team.
Valverde's last three seasons in Europe:— Andreas Vou (@AndreasVou89) May 7, 2019
2016-17: UEL Round of 32
Athletic 3-2 APOEL
APOEL 2-0 Athletic
2017-18: CL QF
Barça 4-1 Roma
Roma 3-0 Barça
2018-19: CL SF
Barça 3-0 Liverpool
Liverpool 4-0 Barça
By overseeing a repeat of the meltdown in Rome, Valverde has done exactly that. The same mistake twice. A second leg collapse with the Champions League crown almost within reach. A tie that Barca had under complete control but then imploded, unable to withstand the spirited efforts of their opponents. They faced pressure, and they wilted.
That kind of mental lapse, ultimately, can only be attributed to the manager. Especially when, breaking the golden rule, it happens twice.
Valverde must go, and he can’t really have any complaints. It might not be fair, but it’s the way things work.