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.

Barcelona have confirmed the departure of head coach Ernesto Valverde and placed Quique Setien in charge.

Valverde was pictured overseeing training on Monday ahead of meeting with Barca's board.

Following the conclusion of those discussions, Barca announced the end of Valverde's two-and-a-half-year stint in charge at Camp Nou, with former Real Betis boss Setien replacing him on a contract until June 2022.

"FC Barcelona and Ernesto Valverde have reached an agreement to terminate the contract that united both parties," the statement announcing Valverde's departure read.

"The club publicly expresses its gratitude to Ernesto Valverde for his professionalism, his commitment, his dedication and his always positive treatment towards all that make up the Barca family. We wish him luck and success in the future."

Setien replaces Valverde despite the fact Barca are top of LaLiga and still in the Champions League. They have been crowned league champions in each of the past two seasons.

However, the former Athletic Bilbao boss has often found his position under scrutiny, particularly after Barca surrendered a 3-0 first-leg lead in the Champions League semi-finals against Liverpool last season.

The 3-2 defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-final in Saudi Arabia on Thursday further cranked up the pressure, with Barca losing to Diego Simeone's men despite having largely controlled the contest.

Barca legend Xavi was said to be among the frontrunners to take the reins, the 2010 World Cup winner having met director of football Eric Abidal in Qatar on Friday.

However, Xavi is reported to have told the club he was not interested in taking over until the end of the season.

Setien will be presented at 14:30 local time (13:30 GMT) on Tuesday before his first game against Granada at Camp Nou on Sunday.

Arguably the most surprising factor around Ernesto Valverde's exit at Barcelona is the distinct lack of surprise.

Since replacing Luis Enrique at Camp Nou in May 2017, the former Athletic Bilbao boss has won four major honours and claimed victory in 66 of his 95 LaLiga games.

And yet there has been an ever-present grumble in the background. Whether it be grievances over his style of play or somewhat more legitimate concerns over big collapses to Roma and Liverpool in the Champions League in the previous two campaigns, the rumblings of discontent have never been too far away. 

Still, his departure – which came after a 3-2 defeat in the Supercopa de Espana semi-finals to Atletico Madrid – seems a little harsh, and we look at five reasons Valverde, who has been replaced by Quique Setien, might feel he has been treated unfairly.

 

HE'S A TWO-TIME LALIGA WINNER

What seems harshest of all is that, despite frequent talk of a "crisis", Valverde steered Barca to LaLiga glory in each of his two full seasons in charge. Indeed, the Blaugrana were beaten just once as they cantered to the trophy in the 2017-18 campaign. The more sceptical of pundits may point to the fact that last season their great Clasico rivals Real Madrid endured a poor campaign, losing 12 times and finishing 19 points adrift. But still, while Champions League success eluded him, in LaLiga Barca have continued to dominate. Throw in a Copa del Rey and a Supercopa de Espana and the trophy return has remained healthy.

THEY'RE TOP OF THE LEAGUE

Okay, so if we're being honest, Barca have not been anywhere their best this term – particularly in defence where the 23 goals they have conceded is 11 more than Madrid and Atletico. But as things stand Barca are top of LaLiga, albeit only by goal difference from Madrid. Three defeats and four draws from 19 matches may not make for great reading for a club that has been so utterly dominant domestically, but they remain top of the pile.

MESSI IS A BALLON D'OR WINNER AGAIN

Granted, the caveat here is you could argue Messi doesn't really need to win football's most prestigious individual prize to lay his claims as the greatest player on the planet. But the fact remains he failed to win the previous three Ballons d'Or before beating Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk in 2019. Under Valverde, Messi has been at his majestic best, with the Argentina superstar scoring a remarkable 83 goals in 84 LaLiga games. While others from Barca's golden era are perceived to be on the decline, Messi has continued to wow the football world.

BARCA'S RECRUITMENT HAS BEEN…QUESTIONABLE

Valverde may be coach of the team and will probably have some say when it comes to the direction the club goes in with signings, but as is the way with modern football, others are in charge of recruitment. Chief executive Oscar Grau and sporting director Eric Abidal are ultimately responsible on that front, although it was Pep Segura prior to the former France international. Kevin-Prince Boateng and Jeison Murillo have been among the more head-scratcher signings, while Malcom was snatched from under the noses of Roma but proved a complete flop. Philippe Coutinho underwhelmed after his big-money arrival from Liverpool and was shipped out on loan to Bayern Munich, while Ousmane Dembele has been hit-and-miss at best. Arturo Vidal has had his moments, Yerry Mina mainly disappointed but at least brought in a big fee and Jean-Clair Todibo has rarely featured despite showing promise. Antoine Griezmann's arrival was met with fanfare but the France international has been nowhere near the standard he showed at rivals Atletico.

AGING STARS ON THE DECLINE

With the exception of Messi, who at 32 is like the proverbial bottle of fine wine and getting better with age, you can argue Valverde is getting the best from a crop of players who are no longer at the height of their powers. Centre-back Gerard Pique has been out of form, Luis Suarez remains an undoubted talent but perhaps not at the same level as he was in the treble-winning days of Luis Enrique, while Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets are also in their 30s. To point the finger solely at Valverde is slightly ludicrous. 

Ernesto Valverde has taken Barcelona training amid widespread reports he will meet with the club's board later on Monday.

Despite his side sitting top of LaLiga, the Barcelona head coach is under intense pressure, scrutiny which increased after last week's 3-2 loss to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-final in Saudi Arabia.

Valverde was pictured taking training as reports in Spain suggested he could lose his position depending on the outcome of talks with the Barca hierarchy.

Barca great Andres Iniesta made an appearance at the session shortly after telling reporters the saga around Valverde had become "ugly", urging respect for his former boss who he felt had seen his position "weakened" by the constant speculation.

Iniesta's former team-mate Xavi, now head coach of Al Sadd, met with the Camp Nou side's director of football Eric Abidal in Qatar on Friday.

But while conceding coaching Barca was his "dream", he did not divulge what was discussed and reiterated his respect for Valverde when he faced reporters after leading Al Sadd into the Qatar Cup final with a win over Al Rayyan.

Reports on Sunday then suggested Xavi had turned down the chance to take charge of Barca immediately.

Ronald Koeman, Massimiliano Allegri and Mauricio Pochettino are the other leading contenders to replace Valverde if the former Athletic Bilbao boss is removed from his role.

While managing Tottenham, Pochettino had insisted he would never contemplate taking charge of Barca due to his ties to his old team Espanyol, though reports claim the five-time European champions are still keen to make an approach.

Valverde took charge in 2017 and won two league titles, the Copa del Rey and a Supercopa crown over his first two seasons.

Barca are due to train on Tuesday before a day off on Wednesday and will next be in action with a Sunday home league contest against Granada.

Sevilla defender Simon Kjaer has joined Milan on loan with a view to a permanent move after cutting short his spell with Atalanta.

The Denmark international made five Serie A appearances and enjoyed one Champions League outing with Atalanta, but has now joined their Italian rivals.

Sevilla, the club Kjaer moved to from Fenerbahce in 2017, confirmed the switch in a brief statement on Monday, revealing a purchase option that will come into force at the end of the season.

Milan boss Stefano Pioli will hope Kjaer can provide a boost to his flagging side, who sit 10th in the table.

The San Siro club have been buoyed by the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored in Saturday's 2-0 victory over Cagliari to snap a three-game winless streak.

Andres Iniesta has urged Barcelona to show more respect to head coach Ernesto Valverde following "ugly" reports they are attempting to line up club legend Xavi as his replacement.

Barca are on course for a third successive LaLiga title and remain in the Champions League, but Valverde is under increasing pressure.

Following the 3-2 Supercopa de Espana semi-final defeat to Atletico Madrid in Jeddah, reports of the board's apparent frustrations with Valverde have escalated.

Strong speculation has claimed club directors used the trip to Saudi Arabia to open talks with Xavi regarding the possibility of replacing Valverde, but the 39-year-old – who is in charge of Qatari club Al Sadd – is said to have told them he is only willing to take over at the end of the season.

Barca have not confirmed the stories, but they do not sit easy with Iniesta, who spent a season playing under Valverde at Camp Nou.

"What comes to my mind a little, if all this is so, is that the way everything is being done is a bit ugly," he told Onda Cero.

"I think that there should always be respect for the coach. The boss' situation and position has been left very weakened.

"My relationship with the boss is very good. During the year we have been talking sometimes. Really, beyond whether we like the coach or not, I think the situation is not pleasant for anyone: the coach, the team or the fans."

Netherlands boss Ronald Koeman and Mauricio Pochettino have been mentioned as potential alternatives to Xavi if he decides he is not ready to return to Barca.

But Iniesta opted against outright backing anyone, suggesting Xavi and Koeman have positives and drawbacks.

"There is a case for everyone," Iniesta added. "In the case of Pep Guardiola, who was at Barca B and then he took over the first team, the one who knows [the team and club] best is Xavi.

"He will have analysed all the variables that there can be and let's see what happens, but Koeman has a lot of experience as a coach and Xavi is starting out now.

"But a lot of times, experience counts for nothing. Both of them have been at Barca and know the club."

Barcelona appear ready to turn to their next coaching target as the LaLiga giants eye Mauricio Pochettino.

Ernesto Valverde is under enormous pressure after the Supercopa de Espana semi-final loss to Atletico Madrid, but Xavi has reportedly turned down the job – for now.

Amid contrasting reports over Barca's next decision, they may be lining up a move for Pochettino.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA CONTACT POCHETTINO OVER COACHING JOB

Barcelona contacted former Tottenham manager Pochettino to be their next boss, according to RAC1.

It comes as widespread reports in Spain say Al Sadd boss and former Barcelona star Xavi turned down the position.

Meanwhile, Catalunya Radio reported Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman also rejected the opportunity.

After a meeting on Sunday, Barca decided to stick with Valverde for now, according to Sport.

ROUND-UP

- Amid reports Manchester United had agreed to terms with Bruno Fernandes, the Mirror says the Premier League club are set to bid £65million (€76.1m) for the Sporting CP midfielder this week.

- Tottenham are set to sign Benfica's Gedson Fernandes as further details about a possible move emerge. Italian journalist Fabrizio Romano reports Spurs will sign the Portugal international on loan with an option to buy for between £42.7m (€50m) and £51.2m (€60m) in 2021.

- Jerome Boateng continues to be linked with a Bayern Munich exit. Milan are ready to challenge Arsenal for the defender, according to Sky Germany.

- Coming out of contract at season's end, it appears Layvin Kurzawa's future is away from Paris Saint-Germain. L'Equipe reports the left-back – who has made just five Ligue 1 starts this campaign – recently rejected Inter but the Serie A club remain hopeful of signing the 27-year-old this month.

- Juventus are looking to the future. CalcioMercato reports the Serie A champions are keeping an eye on teenage Ajax midfielder Ryan Gravenberch and AZ forward Calvin Stengs.

Xavi has resisted the chance to join Barcelona immediately in favour of staying with Qatari club Al Sadd, reports said on Sunday.

Speculation is rife over the future of head coach Ernesto Valverde at Camp Nou, after back-to-back LaLiga champions Barca were defeated 3-2 by Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-finals on Thursday.

Valverde's position has been in doubt since a collapse in the Champions League semi-finals against Liverpool and a defeat to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final the end of last season.

Spanish media widely reported on Friday that Barcelona chief executive Oscar Grau and technical secretary Eric Abidal had travelled to Doha to meet with Xavi.

The purpose of the trip was said to be to offer Xavi the chance to replace Valverde in the coming days, rather than wait until the end of the season.

However, Xavi is reported to have rejected Barcelona's offer, with Spanish sports daily Marca saying he will wait until June of this year or June 2021 to take over at Camp Nou.

Al Sadd confirmed their coach oversaw training ahead of the Qatar Cup final aginst Al-Duhail on January 17.

Xavi acknowledged he met with Barcelona officials but refused to go into detail over the meeting due to his respect for Valverde.

"Coaching Barca is my dream, I cannot hide that, everyone knows I support them from the bottom of my heart," Xavi told reporters on Saturday.

"Yes, Abidal is my friend. I've met him many times, so I cannot say anything, just that I respect Barcelona, I respect Valverde, I respect the players, I respect my club.

"They [Barca] were here to talk to me and we discussed many things. I cannot say anything else. Sorry, but I cannot inform you too much. I met Abidal, he is my friend, that's it.

"I'm doing my job here, I'm doing my best. I was focused on the semi-final and now we play the final so I'm very happy. I'm very happy to coach Al Sadd and I am focused on my team."

Luis Suarez is set to miss the majority of the season after the Barcelona and Uruguay forward underwent surgery on an injury to his right knee.

The 32-year-old had reportedly been struggling with an ongoing problem with the external meniscus in his knee for several weeks, with Barca announcing on Saturday they had decided to go ahead with on operation.

There were initial suggestions Barca expected Suarez to miss around a month of action, but it has now been confirmed the striker will be out for approximately four months following the surgery, which was performed by renowned knee specialist Dr. Ramon Cugat.

Losing Suarez, who has scored 14 goals in total this season, will come as a significant blow to Barca, who do not have great depth in the central striking position.

It also represents another issue for Ernesto Valverde, who is reportedly under pressure at Camp Nou, with media reports claiming Blaugrana icon Xavi has been sounded out over potentially taking over as coach.

It remains to be seen if Barca look to bolster their ranks up front in the January transfer window, or rely on Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, Ansu Fati, Carles Perez and the currently injured Ousmane Dembele to fill the void.

As well as missing crucial games for Barca, including their Champions League last-16 tie with Napoli in February and the Clasico at the Santiago Bernabeu in March, Suarez will also be unavailable for Uruguay's opening World Cup qualifiers against Chile and Ecuador.

Should Suarez return ahead of schedule, he may target the clash with Atletico Madrid – a match that could be crucial in the title race – in late April, though it seems more likely he will make his comeback against Espanyol in the derby on the weekend of May 9-10.

Luis Suarez is set to miss the majority of the season after the Barcelona and Uruguay forward underwent surgery on an injury to his right knee.

Manchester United or Real Madrid?

Ajax star Donny van de Beek is a wanted man following his exploits for the Eredivisie champions.

But the LaLiga giants are reportedly poised to get their target at the end of the season.

 

TOP STORY – VAN DE BEEK SET FOR MADRID

Ajax midfielder Donny van de Beek is on the verge of joining Real Madrid instead of Manchester United, claims The Mirror.

United have reportedly emerged as a suitor for Van de Beek in January due to injuries to Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay.

But a transfer to Madrid at the end of the season "is more than 80 per cent certain", according to the report.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Metro says Premier League champions Manchester City have joined the race to sign Aston Villa's Jack Grealish. Rivals United have been heavily linked to the midfielder.

Tottenham are nearing a deal to bring Benfica midfielder Gedson Fernandes to London on an 18-month loan contract, reports Sky Sports. West Ham have also been looking to sign the 21-year-old.

- United midfielder Nemanja Matic is in talks to swap Old Trafford for MLS outfit Chicago Fire, according to The Sun. Linked to Atletico Madrid, Inter and Milan, the Fire want to bring in the veteran as a replacement for Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Arsenal are considering a loan deal for Milan midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu, reports The Mirror.

- La Gazzetta dello Sport says Inter have reached an agreement with Christian Eriksen for a contract until 2024. Now, Inter must strike a deal with Tottenham for the soon-to-be free agent. Spurs reportedly want €20million (£17m) for the Dane.

- Sporting CP captain Bruno Fernandes has agreed personal terms with United for a contract until 2025 with yearly wages of €6m, according to Italian journalist Nicolo Schira.

Ajax star Donny van de Beek ruled out a January transfer amid growing links to Manchester United and Real Madrid.

Van de Beek has reportedly emerged as a target for United, who are desperate for midfield reinforcements following injuries to Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay.

LaLiga giants Madrid have previously contacted Ajax over a possible deal, though a transfer did not materialise at the start of the season.

Despite interest, Netherlands international Van de Beek has no plans to leave Eredivisie champions Ajax.

"It is not that I can or want to do something at the moment," the 22-year-old told FOX Sports Netherlands.

"I have said it before and I will say it again: I will remain at Ajax this season. And maybe next season as well.

"These reports about Real Madrid or Man United are a good sign, but it is not important now. I've said I will stay at Ajax and I will do so for 100 per cent."

Links to United come as the Red Devils struggle in the Premier League – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side are fifth and 27 points behind runaway leaders Liverpool.

Asked whether he could see positives and negatives in moving to Manchester, Van de Beek – who has scored eight goals across all competitions this season – said: "You can look at it like that.

"It is not something that is in my mind right now, but what you say is true."

Meanwhile, veteran forward Ryan Babel has returned to Ajax on a season-long loan deal from Turkish side Galatasaray.

The 33-year-old emerged from Ajax's youth system in 2004 before joining Liverpool three years later, though he made his way back to Amsterdam in 2012.

Xavi described becoming Barcelona head coach as his "dream" but insisted he respects under-pressure incumbent Ernesto Valverde.

Valverde's position has come under increased scrutiny after Barca's dramatic 3-2 defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-final.

Al Sadd boss and Barca legend Xavi confirmed reports he had met with the Camp Nou club's director of football Eric Abidal in Qatar on Friday amid speculation he will be offered the opportunity to succeed Valverde at the end of the season, or potentially before that.

But the 39-year-old was reluctant to go into detail about the meeting, insisting he respects his former club and their coach.

"Coaching Barca is my dream, I cannot hide that, everyone knows I support them from the bottom of my heart," Xavi told reporters after leading Al Sadd into the Qatar Cup final with a win over Al Rayyan on Saturday.

"Yes, Abidal is my friend. I've met him many times, so I cannot say anything, just that I respect Barcelona, I respect Valverde, I respect the players, I respect my club. 

"They [Barca] were here to talk to me and we discussed many things." 

"They were here also to check on Ousmane Dembele, that's all," Xavi added of the Barcelona forward, who is recovering from a thigh injury in Qatar.

"I cannot say anything else. Sorry, but I cannot inform you too much. I met Abidal, he is my friend, that's it. 

"I'm doing my job here, I'm doing my best. I was focused on the semi-final and now we play the final so I'm very happy. I'm very happy to coach Al Sadd and I am focused on my team."

Xavi endured a long and distinguished playing career with Barca, with his incredible list of honours including eight LaLiga titles and four Champions League triumphs. 

Liverpool broke yet more records in their latest Premier League triumph over Tottenham, achieving a benchmark that not even Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain or Bayern Munich have previously managed. 

Roberto Firmino scored the first-half winner as the unbeaten Reds recorded their 20th top-flight victory in 21 games to take their tally to 61 points this term.

In the three-points-for-a-win era, that is the biggest points haul any team in Europe's top five leagues has ever managed after 21 games.

The likes of Barcelona, PSG, Juventus and Bayern Munich have enjoyed spells as all-conquering giants in their respective domestic leagues, yet none of those sides have been able to achieve such a total at the same stage.

In avoiding defeat, Klopp's side also extended their unbeaten Premier League run to 38 games, the equivalent of a full season.

They have accrued 104 points in that time, winning 33 times and drawing on five occasions, bettering the previous record totals Manchester City and Chelsea (both 102) managed across 38-match spells in 2017-18 and 2005 respectively.

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