In Summary
  • Even though they were comfortable winners of La Liga, finishing 11 points clear of second-placed Atletico Madrid and a record 19 points in front of arch-rivals Real Madrid, the two cup losses have hit hard and left manager Ernesto Valverde fighting to save his job.
  • Valverde has never been popular among the more idealist factions of Barca supporters

Barcelona concluded the season by suffering a second humbling defeat in the space of a couple of weeks, following up their Champions League capitulation at Liverpool by losing the Copa del Rey final 2-1 against Valencia on Saturday night.

Even though they were comfortable winners of La Liga, finishing 11 points clear of second-placed Atletico Madrid and a record 19 points in front of arch-rivals Real Madrid, the two cup losses have hit hard and left manager Ernesto Valverde fighting to save his job.

Valverde has never been popular among the more idealist factions of Barca supporters, who believe he is too conservative and cautious to live up to the club's high-minded expectations of flowing attacking play.

And he did himself no favours with his team selection on Saturday, reacting to the absence of injured forwards Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele by selecting Sergi Roberto - usually a full-back - on the right-hand side of attack.

Barca's lack of attacking punch and slow midfield allowed Valencia to pick them off at will on the counter-attack, and the half-time changes made by Valverde, introducing Malcom on the wing and Arturo Vidal as an attacking midfielder, were a case of too little, too late.

The team's problems are by no means limited to the identity of the coach, with many members of an ageing starting XI looking past their best, and the ponderous performances against Liverpool and Valencia bore the look of a team in need of a serious shake-up from top to bottom.

Before Saturday's cup final defeat, the club had been making strenuous efforts to display a show of unity, to the extent of media-shy skipper Lionel Messi granting his first press conference in more than four years to express his solidarity with Valverde.

But those rather forced attempts to portray a happy camp were smashed to pieces by the loss to Valencia, and a summer of upheaval could lie around the corner - even if Valverde avoids the axe.

Reshaping the forward line

One high-profile arrival is expected to be confirmed soon in the form of French World Cup-winner Antoine Griezmann, who has already announced his decision to leave Atletico Madrid and is poised to join Barca despite rejecting them 12 months ago.

Over his five seasons with Atletico, Griezmann has occupied every forward position in both a 4-4-2 and 4-3-3, and his flexibility is one of the main reasons the Camp Nou club are prepared to meet the 28 year-old's 120m euro buy-out clause.

The big question is whether Griezmann is intended to partner Messi and Luis Suarez in attack or replace the latter, and in all probability it will be a bit of both.

Suarez enjoyed a decent enough season, scoring 25 goals in all competitions despite playing for lengthy spells with a knee injury which forced him to undergo surgery after the Anfield tie, sidelining him for Saturday's cup final and jeopardising his place in Uruguay's squad for the upcoming Copa America.

Not least due to his telepathic understanding and close friendship with Messi, Suarez remains an integral part of Barca's attack. But he will turn 33 in January and the physical limitations which hampered him this season will surely only become more pronounced, so it's unrealistic to expect Suarez to be more than an occasional starter and high-class impact sub.

Even if Griezmann signs, therefore, Barca will still seek to sign another centre-forward in the more physical mould of Suarez - somebody capable of unsettling opposition defenders and creating space for Messi.

Two more Uruguayans have been linked: Maxi Gomez from Celta Vigo and Cristhian Stuani of freshly-relegated Girona, along with Spanish international Rodrigo from Saturday's cup winners Valencia.

All these moves will require financing, and it is therefore hard to envisage Brazilian misfit Philippe Coutinho staying at the club. The former Liverpool man has rarely looked value for the £105m Barca paid for his services in January 2018, and sporting director Eric Abidal will spend much of the coming weeks attempting to recoup as much of that colossal fee as possible.

De Jong leading midfield (r)evolution
The changes in midfield could be even more dramatic than the forward line, and it's by no means unreasonable to suggest that none of the starters from the Anfield disintegration will continue to be first-choice selections next season.

Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Vidal are all in their thirties, and like Suarez they could be eased into supplementary roles next season. Rakitic might not even be there at all, with repeated rumours linking the Croatia international with a summer departure to Paris St-Germain, Manchester United or Inter Milan.

Page 1 of 2