Ernesto Valverde has now replaced Luis Enrique at the helm of Barcelona, after a successful second stint at Athletic Bilbao. The 53 year old is a former Barca forward helping win the UEFA Cup Winners Cup in 1989 and Copa Del Rey in 1990 in his two year spell under Cruyff. However, he would spend most of his playing career (170 appearances) and managerial career at Athletic Bilbao. The most success Valverde would see would be in Greece, where he managed Olympiakos to three league titles and two cups. Valverde is one of the more experienced managers that Barcelona has hired in recent history.
Sides under Valverde look to play a bold, attacking brand of football. Valverde over his time at Bilbao and in Spain has shown a clear preference to a 4-2-3-1 formation. However, Valverde is tactically flexible. His 4-2-3-1 shape transitions into a 4-2-2-2 when the opposition has possession in their half. This allows for Valverde’s sides to press highly up the pitch and disrupt any play from the back. Passes along the back leads to his sides displaying ball orientated pressing. This ties into the Cruyff football he had learnt at Barcelona and a quote by Cruyff does sum up Valverde’s mentality ““The hardest thing about an easy match is making a weak opponent play poor. A poor player isn’t poor because he tends to kick the ball in his own goal. It’s because when you put intense pressure on him, he loses control. So you have to increase the tempo of the game and he’ll automatically give the ball away.” In their own half Bilbao often shape up in a 4-4-1-1, which covers a large percentage of the pitch limiting the space to play into. Early switches to either side of the pitch would see his right midfielder and central midfielder aid the full back creating an overload. When set his sides are able to execute a high block vertically and horizontally. Reducing the space to play into in the centre of the pitch. One con of this is a more direct team could look to play early balls in behind the striker. These two shapes are able to smoothly transition into each other from defence to attack and attack to defence. Therefore, the aim for Bilbao’s attack in the ‘bigger games’ under Valverde was to look to get behind the fullbacks before looking to cross toward the far post. This had proven to be a successful formula during his second run at Bilbao taking them from 12th to 4th, 7th, 5th and 7th during his tenure. Valverde would use the physical Aduriz as the main focal point for attacks. With great control play and finishing, he was perfect for moving the ball early and moving to the far post. Aduriz would often be supported by fast paced wide men like Williams to move the transitions leading to a high rate of chances. Aduriz would finish the clubs top goalscorer every season during this tenure with 18, 26, 36 and 24 goals.
His record during his second stint: Played – 212 Won – 102 Drew – 45 Lost – 65
One of the best examples of Valverde’s tactics coming to fruition was the Spanish Super Cup game against Barcelona. They would win 4-0 and draw 1-1 away from home to bring back their first trophy in 31 years.
How he fits in at Barcelona.
Although he is now without the Basque transfer ruling at Bilbao, Valverde has already declared interest into the promotion of players from Barcelona B. This was successful under Guardiola and has often been lacking ever since. A 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3 aren’t so dissimilar. Given Valverde’s preference in the past to playing a 4-2-3-1 a high pressing highly defensively structured 4-3-3 might be produced. Although the attacking phase of his team will be suited with the talent in the wide areas Barcelona has to offer. So early transitions behind the fullbacks might still be applied. The Valverde midfield requires a lot of energy, so the more senior players could see less game time, however Busquets would be suited to anchoring the midfield in the defensive portion of the game.
A criticism has been his lack of experience at a giant club, but Guardiola, Enrique etc had equally less experience managing a giant club’s senior team. One area he can be criticised for is the lack of caution in European football. Sticking to a 4-2-3-1 left them quite open on the European stage failing to make it out the group in 2014. Given his stability at Bilbao with the consistent promotion of youth into the squad like Arrizabalaga, Williams and Álvarez has been impressive, which could give a boost to Barcelona to bleed in more young talent successfully.
How do you think he’ll work out at Barcelona? What players do you think he’ll bring in and what system do you think he’ll adapt at Barcelona.
Bonus fact Valverde is a keen photographer. in 2012 he released a book of his work – exclusively black-and-white portraits – called Medio Tiempo (Half-time). Here’s the place of the book with some example pictures
This post first appeared on r/soccer by Thesolly180