Barcelona talent Riqui Puig is absent from the B team's squad to face Badalona, hinting at potential imminent involvement with the first team following Quique Setien's arrival as head coach.

Setien was presented as Ernesto Valverde's successor at Barca on Tuesday following the former's dismissal the previous day after the club's board had become frustrated.

Renowned for his entertaining brand of football, former Real Betis boss Setien was brought in due to his ideologies lining up closely with those of Barca.

Setien is also known for his faith in youth, utilising the academies of Betis and Las Palmas to good effect in his past two jobs, seemingly marking himself out as an ideal fit for Barca and their famed La Masia development school.

Some supporters had been irked by Valverde's reluctance to give the technically gifted Puig, 20, more first-team opportunities at Camp Nou, with the much-vaunted youngster yet to make a LaLiga appearance this season.

But first-team involvement appears to be on the cards under Setien, with Puig's absence from Barca B's squad prompting suggestions he will be involved with the senior side against Granada on Sunday, when Frenkie de Jong is suspended and Arthur (groin) is set to miss out. 

Puig was one of the young players to take part in the first training sessions of Setien's tenure, while the coach also made it abundantly clear in his presentation to the media that emerging talents will be given opportunities.

When asked about Puig on Tuesday, Setien said: "I don't know if you've followed my career, but this club has an extraordinary academy. While I don't know it in-depth, they [the biggest talents] will be training with us and participating.

"Those in the first team need to be clear; talent that's coming up will get the chances if they deserve them.

"I'll make a special effort to take care of the kids because you can always have a new kid coming through who adds energy to everything and that provides a boost to the squad, meaning those at the top don't relax.

"That's very important and it sends a message to the kids in the lower ranks. It's a message I always transmit. If they impress, earn their spot, they are perfectly able to play in the first team, that's clear."

Real Madrid youngster Andriy Lunin has completed a loan move to Segunda strugglers Real Oviedo after his temporary stay at Real Valladolid was cut short.

The Ukraine international, 20, moves to Oviedo until the end of the season and will compete with 34-year-old Nereo Champagne and former Real Madrid Castilla goalkeeper Alfonso Herrero for a starting role between the posts.

It had been hoped Lunin would be exposed to regular first-team football with La Pucela this term, but he has been unable to dislodge Jordi Masip in goal – the Barcelona product playing all 19 of Valladolid's LaLiga matches this term.

Lunin's time at the Nuevo Jose Zorrilla looked set to come to an end when Jose Antonio Caro's loan at Ponferradina was concluded on Sunday.

Valladolid is the second successive club with whom Lunin has struggled to make an impact, having played only five league matches with Leganes last season.

A reported €8.5million signing from Zorya Luhansk in July 2018, Lunin will finally hope to prove his talents in Spain during the second half of the season, with Oviedo languishing just a point above the relegation zone having conceded the second-highest number of goals in the division.

Lionel Messi believes the "special duel" between him and Cristiano Ronaldo when the pair were on opposite sides of the Clasico rivalry will leave a lasting impression.

The Barcelona superstar went head-to-head with Ronaldo for almost a decade in LaLiga, where the two scored at an astonishing rate and practically assumed shared custody of the Ballon d'Or.

Debate rages over who the world's best player is, but a shortlist of two is almost universally accepted – it is either Messi or Ronaldo.

The Portugal forward has since departed for Juventus, but Messi ​– who won a record sixth Ballon d'Or in December – has fond memories of their long-running Spanish saga.

"The matches against Real always mean a lot, but when Cristiano was there they became much more special," said Messi.

"But it's a time that has passed now, that we have experienced. Now, we have to look ahead to the future.

"It was a special duel and it will remain [in people's minds] forever, because it lasted for many years and it is not easy to maintain such levels for a long time. 

"Plus, the teams we played in were also very demanding, both Real Madrid and Barca, the two best teams in the world.

"The sporting duel between us was very nice on a personal level and I think people had fun too, whether they were fans of Madrid or Barca, or even only football fans in general."

Barca this week appointed a new head coach, with Quique Setien replacing Ernesto Valverde, despite the club sitting joint-top of the table with Madrid.

The last Clasico clash ended 0-0 at Camp Nou in December, with Barca set to head to the Santiago Bernabeu in March.

 

Christian Eriksen appears set to get his move away from Tottenham.

Out of contract at the end of the season, Eriksen has been keen to test himself elsewhere after moving to Spurs in 2013.

Inter look poised to bring the Denmark playmaker to Milan…

 

TOP STORY – INTER IN NEGOTIATIONS WITH SPURS OVER ERIKSEN

Inter have offered €10million (£8.5m) plus bonuses to Tottenham after agreeing personal terms with Spurs star Eriksen, claims Sky Sport Italia.

With Inter head coach Antonio Conte keen for midfield reinforcements and soon-to-be free agent Eriksen eyeing a new club, a transfer is reportedly on the horizon.

However, The Mirror reports that Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain are ready to rival Inter for Eriksen.

 

ROUND-UP

- According to Sky Sports Germany, Paul Pogba is likely to leave Manchester United at the end of the season. Recovering from ankle surgery, Pogba continues to be linked with LaLiga giants Real Madrid and former club Juventus.

Manchester City will reject any bids for centre-back John Stones as Premier League rivals Arsenal circle, says the Daily Mail.

- Corriere dello Sport reports Matteo Politano and Leonardo Spinazzola are set to swap clubs. Inter winger Politano will join Roma, while full-back Spinazzola will move to the Nerazzurri.

- According to Gianluca Di Marzio and Tuttomercatoweb, PSV are prepared to pay €6m for Milan full-back Ricardo Rodriguez.

- Globoesporte says LaLiga champions Barcelona are close to signing Palmeiras midfielder Matheus Fernandes.

Lionel Messi has wished Ernesto Valverde luck for the future after the coach left Barcelona, calling his former boss a "top professional and top person."

Barca, following a defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana, decided to part ways with Valverde on Monday, with Quique Setien swiftly named as his replacement.

Former Athletic Bilbao boss Valverde took over Barca in 2017 and guided the club to successive LaLiga titles plus a Copa del Rey success.

However, a dramatic capitulation to Liverpool in last season's Champions League semi-finals, followed by a defeat to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final, put Valverde under scrutiny and, despite being top of LaLiga, Barca fired the coach after missing out on another title in the form of the Supercopa.

Messi, who scored 112 goals in all competitions under Valverde, has now given his thanks to the Spaniard, who the forward is confident will thrive in his next job.

"Thanks for everything, gaffer," Messi posted to his official Instagram account on Tuesday.

"I'm sure everything will go well for you wherever you go because, as well as being a top professional, you're also a top person. Good luck and a big hug."

Setien oversaw training on Tuesday before being presented to the media, with the former Real Betis coach taking charge of his first LaLiga match as Barca coach against Granada on Sunday.

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu does not believe axed head coach Ernesto Valverde was treated unfairly despite admitting holding discussions with several prospective replacements while he was still in his post.

Barca unveiled ex-Real Betis boss Quique Setien as Valverde's successor on Tuesday, concluding a tumultuous few days at Camp Nou.

Valverde parted ways with the club amid mounting pressure on the back of last week's Supercopa de Espana defeat to Atletico Madrid, even though he won LaLiga in both his completed seasons at the helm and sat joint top alongside Real Madrid this time around.

"Last year there were a lot of requests for him to not continue and I personally always believed in him," Bartomeu said of Valverde, speaking alongside Setien at a news conference.

"I liked how he was as a person, as a coach, he had the confidence of the club. We decided to continue with him in this project.

"The only thing is, as I said before, in recent weeks there was a dynamic [that was] not very good, it wasn't new to him. It's a collective job – we spoke to find solutions and after speaking we decided a few days ago the best thing for a boost to the team was a change in coach, that allows us to handle the second half of the season on a high.

"We're doing well in the league and champions league, I like what Ernesto Valverde did a lot, but it was the moment to make the change for a boost.

"I want to thank Ernesto. He is a great person with great values. We're friends with him, we had a great relationship with him and a lot of respect for him."

News broke over the weekend that Barcelona sporting director Eric Abidal held talks with his old team-mate Xavi over replacing Valverde.

Xavi remains with Qatari club Al Sadd, although Bartomeu suggested Barca's search for a new coach went beyond the club great and Setien.

"Abidal has been in touch with everyone talking about future and plans and he will explain what's gone on, without names," he said.

"No names bar one has come up and been public, because that's not our style. He's been working to find coaches and speaking with them.

"He's brought Setien, who we like very much."

Abidal himself added: "I'm not going to just talk about Xavi. When it comes to taking decisions, the board knows that answers are needed. Every manager has his DNA and decisions. They're all different.

"Setien is here because we like his way of working and his style. It's something we like, and in football we know a lot can change, but we have full confidence in the coach and the staff.

"From what I've seen in first day of training, there's a lot of changes. I think we can reach our objectives with him. I respect all the coaches I spoke to, but we had to take a decision and I think the perfect coach for us is Setien."

Those inside Camp Nou on November 11, 2018 where treated to a true spectacle. Regardless of whether or not Barcelona fans were angered by the end result, a 4-3 defeat, they were almost certainly entertained.

It was Barca's first loss at home in any competition since September 2016 and the manner of the defeat was truly impressive.

Real Betis battered Barca for much of the match and finished with a commendable 48 per cent possession, a feat few clubs can match at Camp Nou. At no point did Betis trail.

Fourteen months on, that remains the last time Barca were defeated at Camp Nou, in any competition. But now, the man who masterminded Betis' win is in charge of the champions.

Quique Setien was announced as the successor to Ernesto Valverde following his unceremonious sacking on Monday, with the 61-year-old seemingly hired due to his football ideologies being closely aligned to those of Barca.

Despite being held in high regard by many for his philosophy and championing of Barca icon Johan Cruyff, there remain massive reservations about his adaptability and whether he truly is the right man for the club in the long-term.

If he is to be the perfect fit, there are a few things he needs to address at a clun that some feel has lost its identity.

Adapt his system to Messi and determine future of aging stars

A non-negotiable condition of the job that even the most vociferous cirtics of Valverde will accept he more than met during his two-and-a-half years in charge - get the best from Messi. In theory, Setien's possession-based football should make him the ideal fit for Barca, and therefore Messi. But his teams – namely Las Palmas and Betis – had as much of a reputation for a chaotic approach that bordered on all-out attack as they did for dominating possession. Betis in particular played some rip-roaring football at a blistering pace, but playing at break-neck speed won't always been the case for Barca, who often have to be more methodical to break down deep-sitting opponents. Messi should still be expected to thrive, but where Setien opts to utilise the 32-year-old and the other stars of an aging team will be crucial. Can Gerard Pique, Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets and the others over the age of 30 still keep up?

Look to La Masia, promote Puig

During the 2016-17 LaLiga season, Setien's Las Palmas squad had 14 'cantera' products in it. While that might be more readily expected of a club with a significantly smaller budget than Barca, he continued to make the most of the academy when at Betis. Francis, Fabian Ruiz, Loren Moron and Junior Firpo – with whom he has reunited – were all prominent figures under Setien at the Benito Villamarin. Barca's famed La Masia has been less successful in recent years, but there are certainly talents coming through with the likes of Ansu Fati. An easy early win for Setien would be promoting Riqui Puig to the first-team, with the silky – albeit diminutive – midfielder ready for the step up. Don't be surprised to see teenager Pedri also link up with the senior squad when he officially joins from Las Palmas at the end of the season.

Sign a Suarez substitute

Luis Suarez is set to miss most – if not the rest – of the season after having knee surgery, leaving Barca with a significant hole to fill. It's likely Antoine Griezmann will be asked to take up a central position, but beyond him their options are more or less limited to Carles Perez. As such, Barca are reportedly considering bringing in another forward, with Girona's Cristhian Stuani seemingly among the most likely arrivals. But the burly Uruguayan is not an archetypal Setien striker – Chimy Avila of Osasuna is. The Rosario-born forward is said to be being monitored by Barca, as the Argentinian is enjoying a fine season. A feisty competitor, Avila's nickname 'Chimy' comes from his father's conclusion that he is "spicy like chimichurri", a popular South American sauce. Small, quick, agile and relentless, comparisons with Sergio Aguero are understandable, and his release clause is a fairly modest €25m.

Win LaLiga

To be fair, achieving league success in isolation may not be good enough to keep Setien in a job for long – just ask back-to-back LaLiga winner Valverde. No, Setien will have to do more. He'll essentially have to win LaLiga while playing exciting football and win the Champions League to earn an extension to his contract, which ties him to the club until 2022. But, as was made abundantly clear by Josep Maria Bartomeu in Setien's presentation, the length of a contract can be irrelevant if certain expectations aren't met. "Setien has signed until 2022, but there's also a caveat that there can be a change," the president said on Tuesday. "Valverde had a contract until 2021 [until 2020 with the option for another year] and we saw there's a change."

Avoid a Champions League collapse

Perhaps the biggest issue the fans had with Valverde was humiliating collapses in successive Champions League campaigns. In Valverde's first season, Barca took a 4-1 lead into their quarter-final clash with Roma, only to be eliminated by virtue of a 3-0 loss in the return leg. The next year they did go a step further, but the result was much the same – a 3-0 defeat of Liverpool at Camp Nou was following by a 4-0 Anfield annihilation by the eventual champions. The concerns some might have of Setien relate to his teams' defensive capabilities, as such an emphasis on attacking left Las Palmas and Betis vulnerable at the back. While he will have a greater calibre of player at Barca, if this side of his team is to be exploited, it'll likely be in the latter stages of the Champions League.

Quique Setien insists he will not be afraid to be direct with Lionel Messi and Barcelona's other superstars, though he is confident his relationship with the squad will be excellent.

Setien was appointed as Barca's new coach on Monday after the club elected to part ways with Ernesto Valverde despite being top of LaLiga.

It is by far the biggest role of the 61-year-old's coaching career, with his most recent job being at Real Betis, who he left at the end of last season.

However, Setien has no doubt his attacking, possession-based style of play will suit Barca, though he is adamant hard work must always come first.

"I've spoken to the players and the willingness is extraordinary," Setien said at a media presentation on Tuesday.

"I said not just to Messi but to others, that I've enjoyed watching this team and players on TV. They allowed me to really enjoy football, it's been every day, every game.

"There's always something that's enjoyable to watch. Obviously today, being able to coach the best player in the world and his team-mates, I'm still not sure what that means.

"One thing is your admiration for someone, then there's the reality – Messi is Messi, [Gerard] Pique is Pique, [Sergio] Busquets is Busquets, I'm sure my relationship will be extraordinary with everyone.

"They'll see what I'm like, sincere and direct, I don't beat around the bush, I say if I see something I don't like, I try to fix it. 

"We are sure we are going to understand each other very quickly because a lot of the things we will propose to them, they already know.

"Hard work is the most important. Conviction also, but real hard work. I will listen to everybody, but it is difficult to take out of my mind the ideas that I have and am convinced about."

One player Setien will be without for the immediate future is striker Luis Suarez, who is set to miss four months after undergoing knee surgery.

The coach is yet to decide how he will set his team up without such a crucial figure leading the line.

"We've a lot of things to talk about, so we've not had time to talk about this," Setien, who oversaw training on Tuesday, added. 

"We've not seen enough to analyse this perfectly, but I'm clear we're always going to have a consensus in decision; they listen, I listen. 

"We all make mistakes, we all get things right. We have an important player out, but we must think about the players we have got. 

"We'll possibly go 4-3-3 or 4-4-2, because that has been played a lot recently, but I'll leave that to one side because we need to speak to the players."

Quique Setien described being appointed Barcelona coach as being beyond his "wildest dreams", calling the role the highest accolade in world football.

Setien – who left Real Betis in May 2019 – was named Barca coach in something of a surprise appointment on Monday following Ernesto Valverde's departure.

Barca great Xavi had been strongly linked with the job, though reportedly turned down the offer to succeed Valverde at this stage in the season.

And having been handed the opportunity to manage one of the world's biggest clubs, ex-Las Palmas coach Setien – who acknowledged his shock at the speed of the move – is convinced his eagerness for the job will be easy to transmit to Barca's star-studded squad, even if it will be impossible to improve on the team's past achievements.

"Without a doubt I want to thank this institution for the opportunity they've given me to come here," he said. 

"Not even in my wildest dreams could I have imagined this. I'm someone who is very emotional and today is very special for me.

"I am excited to start with this project and that is the biggest thing I have to transmit to the players, we know we depend on the players.

"I need to transmit this desire, this enthusiasm, this will to win, this confidence that I have now and normally this is not very complicated for me to transmit it.

"We have had the first training session and everything has gone very quickly. [On Monday] I was walking around by the cows in my town and now I'm at the training ground at Barcelona coaching the best players in the world for a huge team which I'll never be able to improve upon.

"This is the highest accolade."

Thursday's defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana proved to be the final straw for Valverde, who took over at Camp Nou in 2017 and guided Barca to two LaLiga titles plus a Copa del Rey triumph.

Setien, though, lauded his predecessor's work. 

"I want to thank Ernesto. He's always seemed to be a very good person, he's always been very nice to me," the 61-year-old said. 

"I value the work he has done, how he is, his principles and many other things about him. I'm also trying to get some contact with him because there are many things from his work which are going to be very good for us.

"I want to thank him for leaving me with a side which are top of the league. You can imagine I was waiting for an opportunity. You always assume a team down at the bottom in a negative run of form.

"The work Ernesto has done and how he has left the team is something to be thankful for. It is not normal to be left with a side which are top of the league."

Josep Maria Bartomeu wasted little time in outlining his ambition for Barcelona under Quique Setien, and hopes his decision to part with Ernesto Valverde will result in a treble this season.

Valverde was sacked late Monday after a prolonged period of uncertainty following the Supercopa de Espana defeat to Atletico Madrid last week.

Barca board members sounded out former midfielder Xavi while there were widespread reports that Mauricio Pochettino, Ronald Koeman and Massimiliano Allegri were also high on Barca's wish-list.

They instead settled on Setien, handing the former Real Betis boss a contract until 2022 - although there is a break clause in 2021 due to club elections - and Bartomeu made clear he is hoping for instant results.

Speaking at Setien's presentation on Tuesday, the Barca president said: "The dynamic of the team could be improved. We are in the next round of the Champions League and the Copa is getting started but we felt the dynamic could be improved.

"We spoke about this many times with Valverde, very openly with him and we have always been very close to Ernesto Valverde with a good relationship and have always spoken about what could be improved.

"With this momentum and with this new dynamic we aspire to win LaLiga, the Champions League and the cup." 

Bartomeu admitted Barca had spoken to other coaches but insisted the repeated links had not come from the club themselves, adding: "Over the last weeks and months we have talked with other coaches to discuss the future. It is our obligation.

"We spoke to other coaches but we did not publish this information."

Setien is a renowned disciple of former Barca player and coach - and the man credited with the club's philosophy - Johan Cruyff and took charge of training for the first time on Tuesday.

His first game at the helm will be on Sunday when Granada visit Camp Nou.

Bartomeu said: "We all know Setien is a huge fan of Johan Cruyff's style and we share the same objectives."

Barca sporting director Eric Abidal was also thrilled to have Setien on board.

The former France defender said: "To have him here is a great joy for us. He's a coach who has shown through the teams that he has had that he has great skills.

"What I like most is the communication he has with his players, his way of working, his way of coaching.

"He is always focused on details. To compete at the highest level, the details are very important, whether it's in the league, the cup or the Champions League."

Luis Suarez has thanked Ernesto Valverde and all of the former Barcelona boss' coaching staff after the Blaugrana decided to relieve him of his duties.

After days of speculation, Barca confirmed Valverde's departure on Monday, with former Real Betis coach Quique Setien coming in amid reports Xavi – in charge of Qatari side Al Sadd – had turned down the opportunity to take over at this stage in the season.

Valverde's sacking comes on the back of Barca's 3-2 defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-finals on Thursday.

Suarez has now offered his thanks to Valverde for the work the ex-Athletic Bilbao coach did with him during his time at Camp Nou, with Barca winning consecutive LaLiga titles under his tutelage. 

"Thank you very much mister for all the moments we live as professionals," Suarez – who recently underwent surgery on a knee injury, meaning he will miss up to four months – tweeted.

"Keep the positive things you taught me and the great human being you are. Thanks to you and all your staff for the professionalism. I wish you good luck in everything that comes for the future!"

Suarez has scored 14 goals this season for Barca, who sit top of LaLiga. Setien's first match in charge will be at home against Granada on Sunday.

Ernesto Valverde said his goodbyes at Barcelona on Tuesday and admitted his spell at Camp Nou had occasionally been "tough and difficult".

Valverde was sacked late on Monday after two-and-a-half years in charge, during which time he led the club to back-to-back LaLiga crowns. 

Barca lead the way again this year - level on points with Real Madrid - but the club's board decided to act, with their Supercopa de Espana semi-final loss to Atletico Madrid last week swiftly followed by a meeting with former midfielder Xavi, now at the helm of Qatari club Al Sadd.

Xavi is reported to have held reservations over taking charge midway through the season and, after a seemingly frantic search, Barca settled on Quique Setien as Valverde's replacement, the former Real Betis boss agreeing a deal until June 2022.

Valverde returned to the Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper on Tuesday to speak to his former colleagues, after which the club released a letter from the 55-year-old to supporters.

It read: "Dear Barca fans.

"My time as Barcelona coach has come to an end. It has been an intense two and a half years right from the start.

"In that time I have enjoyed some joyful moments celebrating victories and trophies but also others that have been tough and difficult. However, above all I would like to highlight my experience with the fans and the affection showed towards me during my time as coach.

"I would like to thank the president Josep Maria Bartomeu and the board of directors for giving me the opportunity to coach the first team and their confidence during all this time.

"I would also like to thank all the people I have worked with at the club for their support and how they treated me during the two-and-a-half seasons, especially those who work in and around the first team and with whom I have shared so many moments at the Ciutat Esportiva and during away trips.

"Of course, I would like to thank the players for all their efforts that have allowed us to claim four trophies together. From this day, I wish them all the luck in the world and to the new coach Quique Setien also.

"All the best to everyone.

"Visca Barca and Visca Catalonia."

Setien is due to formally sign his contract at 12:30 local time before a news conference an hour later.

Barcelona top the Deloitte Money League for the first time after also becoming the only club to break the €800million mark for revenue. 

The Camp Nou club generated €840.8m during the 2018-19 season, seeing them topple bitter rivals Real Madrid at the top of Deloitte's table.

Barca finished ahead of Madrid by some distance, with Los Blancos bringing in €757.3m across the course of the campaign, though that was enough to keep them second and in front of Manchester United.

The Red Devils may have underwhelmed on the pitch in recent seasons, but they remain a major financial power, with revenues reaching €711.5m.

United are one of eight Premier League clubs in the top 20, with Manchester City (fifth), Liverpool (seventh), Tottenham (eighth), Chelsea (ninth), Arsenal (11th), West Ham (18th) and Everton (19th) joining them.

However, United could potentially slip next year due to a lack of Champions League action this term, with Bayern Munich (€660.1m) and Paris Saint-Germain (€635.9m) the biggest threats to knocking them out of the top three.

Deloitte also understand United are at risk of losing their status as the Premier League's highest revenue-generating club for the first time next year, with City and Liverpool very much on the rise.

Napoli and Lyon are the only new entrants to the top 20.

Given he delivered back-to-back LaLiga titles and left Barcelona still at the summit, Ernesto Valverde's departure appears perplexing on the surface.

There has been no great decline to speak of, no obvious player revolt and no boardroom bickering.

Why then have the Blaugrana opted to part ways with their head coach and replace him with Quique Setien, a man who could only lead Real Betis to a 10th-place finish last term?

We have taken a look at the five games which might have ultimately resulted in Valverde's exit.

Roma 3-0 Barcelona. Champions League quarter-final second leg. April 10, 2018.

After being beaten in both legs of the Supercopa de Espana by Real Madrid to begin his reign, things picked up for Valverde, who enjoyed a 36-match unbeaten run at the beginning of the 2017-18 LaLiga campaign.

However, two and a half weeks before that title triumph was sealed, Barcelona were stunned in Europe.

Valverde's side were in control of the tie having beaten the Serie A side 4-1 at home, but Roma became only the third side in Champions League history to overturn a first-leg deficit of three goals or more.

Greek defender Kostas Manolas scored the crucial third goal eight minutes from time as Roma went through on away goals and Valverde suffered his first, but not last, European humiliation.

Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona. Champions League semi-final second leg. May 7, 2019.

Fast forward a year and a case of deja vu, with Barca sitting pretty on a 3-0 first-leg lead in their last-four tie against Liverpool.

The Reds were without Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino for the return fixture at Anfield, where Divock Origi's early goal only gave them a sliver of hope.

Yet Barca looked shell-shocked as Georginio Wijnaldum's double was followed up by another Origi strike, Liverpool incredibly progressing to a final they would win.

Described in the Spanish press as a "debacle", "tragedy" and "historic failure", the writing seemed to be on the wall for Valverde from that point.

Barcelona 1-2 Valencia. Copa del Rey final. May 25, 2019. 

Not even a second LaLiga title could silence Valverde's doubters, who had more ammo when his team lost to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final.

Valverde had hoped a victory would ease the pain of the Liverpool loss but Barca were stunned again, Kevin Gameiro and Rodrigo putting Valencia 2-0 ahead before Lionel Messi pulled one back.

Rather than wield the axe, though, club president Josep Maria Bartomeu absolved Valverde of blame for the result.

 

Espanyol 2-2 Barcelona. LaLiga. January 4, 2020.

Away defeats to Athletic Bilbao, Granada and Levante would have looked costlier had the champions' nearest rivals Real Madrid not stumbled along themselves in the first half of this season.

Both teams' struggles were evident in a 0-0 Clasico draw at Camp Nou in December, but it was Barcelona's first result back after the mid-season break that would have set more alarm bells ringing.

Derby rivals Espanyol were bottom of the table and had not beaten Barca in LaLiga since 2009 but Frenkie de Jong was sent off as the strugglers claimed a 2-2 draw.

Barcelona 2-3 Atletico Madrid. Supercopa de Espana semi-final. January 9, 2020.

Five days later and it got even worse for Valverde and Barcelona.

Leading 2-1 in Saudi Arabia with nine minutes to go, the Blaugrana collapsed again late on, with Alvaro Morata and Angel Correa sending Atletico through to a final against their cross-city rivals Madrid.

It meant Barcelona had won just one of their previous five games, a sour note to end on for Valverde.

Barcelona are looking for a new head coach after sacking Ernesto Valverde - the man who led them to back-to-back LaLiga titles.

Valverde departs Camp Nou with the Blaugrana top of the table after 19 games in 2019-20, too.

Given his success with Barca, it seems a harsh decision, but do the numbers back that up?

With the help of Opta, we take a look at Valverde's two-and-a-half-year Barca reign.

 

69.5 per cent - Valverde took charge of 95 LaLiga games as Barca boss, winning 66 of those, drawing 22 and losing just seven. That 69.5 per cent win ratio is the fifth best return in the club's history, with Tito Vilanova way out in front with 92.10 per cent.

97 - Valverde, 55, will be disappointed he did not reach a landmark at Barcelona, with whom he was only three wins shy of 100 in all competitions.

36 - It started so well for Valverde too as the team were unbeaten in his first 36 LaLiga games, which remains the longest sequence for a new boss in the league's history. They won 27 of those fixtures.

43 - That long streak added to the final seven games of Luis Enrique's time in charge, when Barcelona were also unbeaten, giving them a LaLiga record 43-match unbeaten run.

4 - Valverde delivered four titles to the Camp Nou trophy cabinet - two LaLiga titles (2017-18 and 2018-19), the 2018 Copa del Rey and the Supercopa de Espana.

213 - Former Athletic Bilbao, Valencia and Villarreal boss Valverde has won 213 LaLiga games in his career, the fifth most of all time. Luis Aragones (344) is the leader in that particular category.

9 - Beating Real Madrid is a sure-fire way to win over the sceptics and Valverde has toasted nine victories over Los Blancos this century. No manager has managed more in the 21st century (level with Pep Guardiola and Diego Simeone).

0-3 and 0-4 - Valverde's inability to deliver Champions League success is believed to be behind the decision to sack him, though. Barcelona beat Roma 4-1 and Liverpool 3-0 in the home first legs of knockout ties during the previous two seasons, but they went out on both occasions as the Giallorossi beat them 3-0 and the Reds 4-0.

112 - Unsurprisingly, Lionel Messi has been the most productive attacking player under Valverde, scoring 112 times and providing 46 assists for 158 goal involvements. Messi was involved in 47.9 per cent of Barcelona's 238 LaLiga goals under Valverde.

123 - However, it was not Messi who was handed the most starts by Valverde. With 109 appearances from the off, he is only fifth on the list, behind Sergio Busquets, Luis Suarez, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Gerard Pique, who accumulated 123 starts.

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