Ernesto Valverde Backed by Lionel Messi & Luis Suarez to Turn Barcelona’s Fortunes Around

?Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez have offered their backing to under-fire Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde after La Blaugrana were dumped out of the Supercopa de España by Atletico Madrid on Thursday.

After leading 2-1, Barça threw away their lead in the final nine minutes to lose the semi-final, in turn piling the pressure on Valverde who has come under scrutiny from the end of last season onward.


It has been ?Barça‘s successive capitulations in the Champions League which have drawn the most criticism, however, with aggregate defeats to Roma and Liverpool resulting in calls for the Spaniard to be relieved of his duties in charge. Furthermore, ?La Liga defeats against Athletic Club, Granada, Levante, and last weekend’s draw against bottom club Espanyol, have done little to help his cause.

Valverde still has the support of president Josep Maria Bartomeu, though, and there is an option to extend his deal by another year with his current contract expiring in the summer. Along with the president, it would appear he maintains the backing of his players too, given the comments made by ?Messi in the wake of their Supercopa defeat.

“Yes, there’s complete confidence in the coach,” he said, via ?ESPN. “It’s normal that a lot gets said when there’s a loss, when you don’t meet your objectives or you don’t play like we like to play.

Lionel Messi

“We’re top of the league, but we’re not playing well and we need to get back on our game. We took a step forward today in that sense, looking beyond the result.” 

Those sentiments were echoed by ?Suarez, who said “Valverde’s future is with this club. He doesn’t carry any blame.”

Valverde himself responded to the criticism in his post-match press conference, insisting the pressure on his shoulders is nothing he isn’t used to.


“Coaches focus on working hard and giving everything,” he said in his news conference. “We know how football is. There is a permanent instability when you lose. You can’t control that. I just focus on my own business.”

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Dayot Upamecano Becomes Barcelona’s ‘Ultimate’ Transfer Target

?Barcelona have placed Dayot Upamecano atop their January transfer wish list, with a fee of 53m thought to be enough to secure his signing.

The Frenchman has drawn interest from across Europe over recent transfer windows, having played an integral part in RB Leipzig’s defence as they conceded the fewest goals across the whole of the Bundesliga last season.

Dayot Upamecano

His form has carried over into the current campaign, as RB Leipzig sit top of the division with only two sides boasting better defensive records in the Bundesliga. To date, he’s made 75 appearances for Die Roten Bullen, having signed from Red Bull Salzburg for €10m in early 2017.

?Arsenal have been heavily linked with the 21-year-old ever since the summer – when they failed with a late bid to secure the defender – and are still linked with a potential January ?transfer. However, ?Barcelona will surely be favourites for his signature after ?AS reported that the club have made him their ‘ultimate’ goal this window.

According to the Spanish outlet, a fee of €53m is what will be required to ensure their goal is met. They add that the reason their pursuit of Upamecano has been ramped up is due to needing a replacement for Samuel Umtiti, who has fallen down the pecking order at Camp Nou.


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Umtiti is still very much a Barça player at present, but if Upamecano is brought in then it would open the door for the World Cup winner to depart La Liga, with La Blaugrana keen to avoid losing one of their centre-backs without their replacement already secured.


?Premier League trio Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham have all been linked with Umtiti in the past and, should Barcelona push through with their intentions, it could benefit the English sides who are all on the lookout for defensive cover.

Topping the Bundesliga and on course for a maiden top-flight crown, Leipzig will be hell-bent on ensuring their star defender doesn’t leave mid-season. In response to an Arsenal fan on Twitter hoping for their club to sign Upamecano, the German side even responded with a message declaring they had some ?’bad news’ for the fan.

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Aston Villa Could Be Sued by West Brom If They Sign Barcelona’s Louie Barry

?Aston Villa are at risk of being sued by rivals West Brom over their potential signing of Barcelona’s Louie Barry.

The 16-years-old is on the verge of a £3m transfer from the Catalan giants to Villa Park, but there could be legal issues over the deal.

Louie Mark Barry,Mees Kreekels

He only signed for the Spanish champions over the summer from the Baggies, but the Mirror have reported that they are yet to receive any compensatory fee for the England Under-17 international.

West Brom tried to offer the youngster a new deal but he decided to walk out of the club in favour of a move to Barcelona. The Hawthorns club were upset over him rejecting contract after contract, but it has now been worsened as Barça look to make a profit on the Englishman by selling him to Aston Villa.

The Championship side are furious and are seeking legal advice with the distinct possibility that they might sue their fierce rivals over the move. 

It comes part of a sequence of events that also saw West Brom’s academy manager Mark Harrison move to Villa Park after Barry left for Spain. 

“We have to make sure locally ?Aston Villa are the club everyone wants to come to,” Harrison said in September in response to reports the pair could be reunited. “A player left West Bromwich Albion to go to Barcelona. He’s from Sutton Coldfield. He’s a Villa fan, his dad’s a Villa fan. That just can’t happen in the future.”

The Baggies had already reported the move to FIFA after they didn’t receive the £235,000 in compensation that they expected from Barcelona.

Barry is expected to be announced as a Villa player soon despite the risk that the ?transfer could result in a large, financial legal dispute between Villa and West Brom.

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Twitter Reacts as Barcelona Throw Away Lead Against Atlético to Set Up All-Madrid Supercopa Final

?Atlético set up an all-Madrid final in the Supercopa de Espana after coming from behind to defeat Barcelona on Thursday evening. 

This one had it all. VAR controversy, great goals and a superhuman performance from Jan Oblak, punctuated of course by cries of VALVERDE OUT. 

 


Before all that though the announcement of each side’s starting XI attracted the usual smattering of calm and balanced reaction on social media. 

Some Barca fans were besides themselves with joy as they saw the much-maligned Ivan Rakitic absent from the lineup. However, others were less impressed at the inclusion of Neto in goal… even though Marc-André ter Stegen’s injury left Ernesto Valverde with little choice in the matter.


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??The first chance of the game came twenty minutes in, with Lionel Messi (who else) surging through the Atlético defence before firing a shot at goal. 

Unluckily for La Pulga, Jan Oblak is quite a good goalkeeper and the Slovenian pulled off a great save to keep the scores level. Twitter was loving it!




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??Ten minutes later there was a string of controversial incidents with Thomas involved in a scuffle with some Barcelona players in the box, before VAR reviewed a potential handball. 

The VAR confirmed something rather obvious – the Saudi Arabian crowd were supporting Barcelona, with a chorus of boos greeted the NO PENALTY decision. 


??The Oblak show resumed soon after with the big keeper making another incredible save – this time from Antoine Griezmann.

The Atlético stopper was out as quick as a flash to deny his former teammate, once again demonstrating his world class skill set.

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As the teams departed for half time tempers flared with Joao Felix at the centre. Possibly the most notable thing he’d done all game up to that point…

Of course Luis Suarez got in on the act and received a yellow card for his trouble. At least the fistycuffs proved that this game was not a friendly.


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Maybe this scrap fired up the Atlético players as just twenty seconds after the restart they took the lead.

Koke who had incredibly only just come on at half-time, slotted the ball past Neto to spark shocked reactions on social media. 


??Their lead did not last long though… five minutes to be exact. 

The scorer? Messi of course and his fans were out in full force on Twitter. There was GOAT emojis galore… and that was just the Barcelona’s official account!




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??The GOAT thought he had a second on the hour mark, only for his excellent finish to be ruled out for handball after a VAR check. 

It was not a popular decision inside the stadium and on social media…

Minutes later though it was forgotten, with Griezmann nodding home a rebound after Oblak made a fantastic stop from Suarez’s header. 




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??Soon after VAR was at it again… ruling out a rare Gerard Piqué goal. 

Cue further shouting on social media.

Barcelona fans were even more upset when Atlético levelled up the game completely against the run of play, with Alvaro Morata sliding home a penalty following some reckless goalkeeping from Neto.





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Cue MORE VAR madness as Gerard Piqué was somehow not penalised by the technology for a blatant handball. 

Atlético might have felt aggrieved at the decision… had they not scored a third goal minutes later through Ángel Correa. 


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And that’s how it ended… and what have we learnt? Nothing we didn’t already know really. Barcelona aren’t very good at defending and VAR is really controversial still.

Oh, and who could forget #ValverdeOut. What a time to be alive.




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For more from Matt O’Connor-Simpson, follow him on Twitter!

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Barcelona 2-3 Atlético: Report, Ratings and Reaction as Atléti Set Up All-Madrid Supercopa Final

Atlético set up an all-Madrid final in the Supercopa de Espana after coming from behind to defeat Barcelona on Thursday evening. 

Atlético’s defence was surprisingly porous early on, with both Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann having to be denied by fantastic saves from Jan Oblak. 

Despite Barça’s early dominance, it would be Diego Simeone’s side who would open the scoring just 20 seconds after the restart. Some good buildup allowed Koke to break free and slot the ball past a hapless Neto.

Koko

Their lead only lasted five minutes though, with Luis Suarez manoeuvring the ball to ?Messi who levelled up the scores with an unstoppable right-footed drive.

La Pulga thought he had got his and Barcelona’s second on the hour mark, slotting the ball effortlessly past Oblak but it was ruled out for handball after a VAR check. Three minutes later Barça did double their advantage with Griezmann nodding in a rebound against his former employers. 

VAR then ruled out a Gerard Piqué goal that would have put the game beyond doubt, before Alvaro Morata fired home a penalty to sensationally draw the game level. Remarkably, Atléti would then find a winner with Ángel Correa firing home to set up a meeting with city rivals Real Madrid in the final.

Here’s 90min’s breakdown of the game…


Barcelona 

Key Talking Point

?Barcelona – like they have done so many times before against Atlético – completely dominated possession. 

They also used the ball a lot more effectively than they have been recently, with Messi and Griezmann breaking through the Rojiblancos backline with some regularity. 

However, this counted for nothing in the end with Barça being undone by their defensive frailties – particularly in the centre of the park. 

Atlético did not even look that threatening this evening and the fact that they managed to net three goals is a depressing indictment as to how Ernesto Valverde’s backline is performing currently.  


Player Ratings 

Starting XI: Neto (7); Roberto (7), Pique (5), Umtiti (4), Alba (5); Vidal (7), Busquets (6), De Jong (6); Messi (8*), Suarez (6), Griezmann (7)

Substitutes: Rakitic (6), Fati (N/A)


Star Man

FBL-KSA-ESP-SUPERCUP-BARCELONA-ATLETICO

Arturo Vidal showed his worth with an industrious midfield display, but of course, Lionel Messi was the star of the show for Barcelona. 

He cruelly had a second goal ruled out by VAR and was at the centre of everything his side did – yet again.




Atletico Madrid 

Key Talking Point

?As expected, Atlético spent the first half content to sit in a low block, soaking up Barcelona pressure and looking to hit them on the break. 

It was not a vintage Diego Simeone performance however, with the defence struggling to hold back the Barça frontline and thus having to be bailed out on a few occasions by the imperious Oblak. 


After somehow forcing their way in front thirty seconds after half time, normal service was resumed with Atléti’s defence being penetrated far too easily.

Somehow though, thanks mainly to Barcelona’s shoddy defending and partly due to Los Rojiblancos never-say-die attitude, they managed to rally a remarkable comeback and progress to the final.


Player Ratings

Starting XI: Oblak (9*), Trippier (6), Savic (6), Felipe (5), Lodi (6); Correa (7), Herrera (6), Thomas (6), Saúl (6); Félix (6), Morata (7)

Substitutes: Koke (7), Vitolo (6), Llorente (6)


Star Man

FBL-KSA-ESP-SUPERCUP-BARCELONA-ATLETICO

?Jan Oblak’s highlights in this game will feature a string of saves that few goalkeepers in world football are capable of making. 

Imperious in the Atlético goal, the Slovenian was the sole reason that his side remained in the game in the first half and the fact that Griezmann nodded in the rebound after he had miraculously kept out Suarez’s header proved there is no justice in the world.



Looking Ahead 

Both teams face a lengthy wait for their next fixture due to there being no La Liga games this weekend. 

Barcelona are next in action against Granada on January 19 while Atléti travel to Eibar one day earlier.


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Leicester in Talks to Sign Barcelona Defender Moussa Wagué on Initial Loan Deal

Leicester City are in talks to sign Barcelona right-back? Moussa Wagué, as they look to lure the defender away from Camp Nou on an initial loan deal with an option to buy.

The Senegalese international has come through the ranks at Barça’s youth academy in recent years and has made four senior appearances for the club this season.


The 21-year-old defender was part of the ?Barcelona side that beat ?Inter Milan 2-1 in December, knocking the Nerazzurri out of the Champions League at San Siro. Beating Inter on their home turf is no mean feat, and Wagué’s performance was faultless as he played the full 90 minutes.

However, Italian journalist ?Nicoló Schira claims that the Foxes are negotiating with the Spanish giants over a transfer as they look to bolster their defensive options this month.

The deal would initially be on a loan basis, but an option to buy clause would likely be added to any agreement.

Moussa Wague

?Leicester have been one of the major Premier League surprise packages this season and currently sit in second position, ahead of champions ?Manchester City. Current right-back Ricardo Pereira has been in exceptional form throughout the season, firmly establishing himself as one of the best full-backs in the division, so it would be interesting to see where Wagué fits.

Brendan Rodgers has revolutionised the side since he took charge last February. They were – simply put – stuck in a mid-table rut under previous boss Claude Puel and Rodgers has performed wonders. Signing Wagué would improve his squad even further as he looks to continue their stellar start to the season and secure a top-four spot in the ?Premier League.

If they were to do so it would certainly cement Leicester’s reputation as one of the best clubs in England – and it may even force questions about whether the traditional ‘Big Six’ cliché has become outdated. We’ll have to wait and see how things unfold for the rest of the season before any major adjustments are made to such a cliché, though.

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Barcelona Opt Against Arda Turan Return After Istanbul Basaksehir Loan Is Cut Short

Arda Turan will not return to Barcelona for the final six months of his contract despite cutting his loan at ?Istanbul Basaksehir short this month.

The midfielder initially joined the Turkish club on a two-and-a-half year loan during the winter window of the 2017/18 season, having not featured at all for La Blaugrana during that campaign.

Arda Turan

Prior to joining ?Barcelona, Turan spent four seasons with Atletico Madrid where he scored 22 goals in 178 appearances, helping the club secure ?La Liga, Copa del Rey and Europa League crowns. 

His performances granted him a €34m move to Barça, but he failed to nail down a starting berth during his time there and subsequently was sent to his homeland on loan.

His deal with Basaksehir was due to finish this summer, but ?Marca have revealed that Turan demanded to be allowed to leave immediately, a wish the club’s president eventually agreed to and the contract was subsequently terminated.

That leaves six months left on his deal with the Camp Nou outfit, but Ernesto Valverde’s side have no intention of taking him back for that spell, something the 32-year-old understands, and he won’t return to the city.

Turkish Spor Toto Super Lig"Medipol Basaksehir FK v Kayserispor"

Wherever Turan moves next will presumably have to be in Turkey, due to some unsavoury incidents he got himself involved in back in 2018. Turan was charged with multiple crimes, including firing a gun to cause fear and panic, illegal possession of weapons and intentional injury.

Having been initially sentenced by the court to spend time in jail, the 32-year-old avoided such a ruling after the verdict was deferred, meaning he will be spared from prison time as long as he doesn’t commit any crimes in the next five years. That does include remaining in his home country, therefore a move abroad is not on the cards for the midfielder.

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7 Peculiar & Surprising Statistics From the Football Season Thus Far

Mario Balotelli. The man, the myth, the history-maker. 

Now banging in the goals for his hometown club Brescia, Balotelli converted his first of the new year against Lazio on Sunday, and in doing so became the first scorer in Serie A of the new decade. 

A great record to hold, but nothing spectacular, one might think. Well, what if I told you that the maverick striker pulled off the exact same trick on the beginning of the previous decade, too? 

Mind. Blown. 

Brescia Calcio FC v SS Lazio - Serie A

That’s right, ?Mario Balotelli managed to score the first goal of 2010 in Serie A, and then repeated this feat in 2020, too. 

Given the off-field problems that have plagued the Italian striker throughout his career, we should all be thankful that he is still plying his trade at the highest level to achieve this incredible record. 

But this particular quirk got us thinking: What are the most peculiar statistics to have been unearthed over the course of this season? 

90min investigates (with the help of our good friends ?Opta). 


Black & Yellow Mist 

When you’re in the middle of a relegation dogfight, the key is to keep your heads when those around you are losing them. 

Someone needs to tell ?Watford that. The Hornets have had a player sent off in each of their last three games in all competitions – and guess who was the last Premier League team to achieve such an unwanted feat?

Roberto Pereyra,Graham Scott

That’s right. Watford themselves, back in December 2017.  

Let them know you’re there early on, lads. 


Chris Wild-Var Hates Technology 

?Sheffield United have made an incredible start to life back in the Premier League, and the Blades have sliced and diced their way to eighth place in the table. But where would they be without damned technology? 

Well, Chris Wilder’s men have had an incredible FIVE goals chalked off through VAR decisions this season, and a total of seven decisions have gone against them. Strikes against Southampton, Tottenham, Brighton (twice), and Manchester City were all ruled out, costing the Blades valuable points along the way. 

Chris Wilder

VAR vs Wilder is an impossible fight that I’d love to witness. 


The Goddess of Goals 

?When you think of the highest scorers in Italy, who immediately springs to mind? 

Well, ?Juventus have ?Cristiano Ronaldo, so it’s got to be them, right? Wrong. 

What about ?Napoli, with their attacking trident of Dries Mertens, José Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne? Try again, friends. 

Alejandro Gomez,Josip Ilicic,Marten De Roon

Okay, I’ll put you out of your misery – it’s Atalanta! La Dea has scored 46 goals so far – prior to this season, the last Serie A team with so many goals after 18 games were Juventus in 1959/60. 

Put stat in your pipe and smoke it.


Theatre of Nightmares 

?I had a recurring dream as a child that a giant clown was chasing me and my family through some sand dunes, and my despicable parents and sister left me for dead in a giant sand castle. 

So I think we can all relate to how ?Manchester United must be feeling, as they suffer the persistent nightmare of being battered by their local rivals on their own turf. 

TOPSHOT-FBL-ENG-LCUP-MAN UTD-MAN CITY

?Manchester City are responsible for four of Manchester United’s last 12 defeats at Old Trafford in all competitions, a stat which must leave the Red Devils tossing and turning in their beds, crying out ‘please Sergio, no more! Leave Phil Jones alone, he means no harm!’

Haunting stuff. 


Year of The Budgerigars 

If you’re a ?Barcelona supporter, then 2019 probably wasn’t too kind to you. La Blaugrana looked set to compete in the prestigious Champions League final, before ?Liverpool decided to humiliate them in a similar fashion to that which Roma dished out the season prior. 

With their title defence hanging in the balance this year, Ernesto Valverde’s men were minutes away from kicking off the new decade with a win, until Espanyol striker Wu Lei bagged a huge equaliser for the struggling hosts. 

Wu Lei

With that strike, Wu Lei became the first Chinese player to score vs Barcelona in all competitions ever, and Los Periquitos (that’s right – the Budgerigars) had a new hero. What a story!


Andy Carroll Doing Peak Andy Carroll Things 

?If there was a ‘Least Surprising Stat of the Season’ award, then this one would probably finish first, second and third. ?Newcastle United striker ?Andy Carroll is a big bloke, and he loves a header or two (that’s not the stat). 

Andy Carroll

So are we shocked that he won 24 aerial duels against ?Everton; the most in a single Premier League game since Opta started recording this data in 2006-07? Nah, we ain’t. 


Fernando Fox in The Box

?Speaking of big fellas – how much do we all miss Fernando Llorente in the Premier League? Some players hate being pigeonholed as one dimensional, but big Fernando has truly embraced the role of ‘immobile head on a stick’. 

Fernando Llorente

The Spanish striker has a habit of being in the right place at the right time, and that ‘right place’ just happens to be the penalty area. 

The 34-year-old has been tapping and nodding home some important goals over the past decade, and by the end of 2019, he had racked up all 96 of his goals from inside the box. 

That tally is more than any other player within the top five European Leagues. 

Here’s to another decade of tap-ins, Fernando. 


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Neymar Picks Ridiculously Unbalanced 5-a-Side Team With Zero Defenders

?Neymar has revealed his ideal 5-a-side team, as the Paris Saint-Germain forward opted to go with a blend of current and former teammates.

The Brazilian forward is currently embarking on his third season with the Ligue 1 champions following on from his world-record move from Barcelona back in 2017, hitting form once again after another spell on the sidelines.


Despite being the most expensive footballer in the world and needing to take care of countless of off-field commitments, the 27-year-old still took time to choose his ultimate 5-a-side team. 

Speaking to Red Bull, as shared by ?ESPN, his selections included some of best players across Europe, but also showed that he should probably leave the sport entirely when he retires and never consider a role in management, like, ever.

That’s because his side doesn’t contain a single defender or goalkeeper. Yes, opting for sheer attack with not a care in the world about defending, ?Neymar chose some familiar names, starting with none other than former ?Barça teammate ?Lionel Messi.

Neymar spent four seasons with the Argentine at La Blaugrana, netting 105 goals in a lethal three-pronged front line that including another one of his picks, ?Luis Suarez. The Brazilian joined one season before the Uruguayan but together with Messi the trio were an unstoppable force in Spain, winning two La Liga titles, three Copa del Rey crowns and the Champions League in 2015, among others.


His next pick was one of Europe’s superstar talents and a current teammate of his, ?Kylian Mbappe, who he has featured with at PSG throughout his time in Paris. The Frenchman has bagged no less than 78 goals in his 106 outings with the club and is someone who is likely to be selected in most peoples’ 5-a-side teams, such is his quality.

?Paul Pogba also joins the star-studded lineup, despite only making seven Premier League appearances this season as a result of niggling injuries. However, he played a starring role for France in last summer’s World Cup, as Les Bleus secured their second scalp in the competition.

Another player who has been blighted with injuries this season is Eden Hazard, the final name on Neymar’s list. Since joining Real Madrid from Chelsea the Belgian has been limited to just eight league outings and has netted just once since leaving London for a fee that could rise to £150m. He hasn’t hit the form he demonstrated at Stamford Bridge yet, but is still undoubtedly a solid choice.

FBL-FRA-LIGUE1-PARIS-AMIENS

Clearly possession is nine-tenths of the law in Neymar’s book, who reckons as long as his side have the best forwards in world football then attack is the best form of defence. 

Neymar was also asked to select a team based on retired players, with four ex-Premier League players (Thierry Henry, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and David Beckham) named alongside Spanish legend Xavi. 

So there you have it, Neymar hates goalkeepers and defenders.

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Why Carles Alena’s Loan Move From Barcelona to Betis Benefits All Parties Involved

?We’ve seen this tale before. Whether it be Serge Gnabry at Arsenal or Paul Pogba at Manchester United (first time around), we’ve seen top talents slip through the fingers of Europe’s elite. 

And while in the past they have been keen to integrate academy graduates into the first-team as regularly as possible, Ernesto Valverde and Barcelona were becoming at risk of enduring a similar fate with a midfielder who had slipped to as low as sixth in the Spanish boss’ midfield pecking order. Frenkie De Jong, Arthur, Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal were all favoured over Carles Alena.

While it’s understandable for the greatest number six of the 2010s, the dynamic Dutchman and the press resistant Brazilian to be granted more game time than La Masia graduate Alena, it’s criminal that the 22-year-old has played just 179 La Liga minutes for the Catalans this season. 

Carles Alena

Overall, Alena has made 39 appearances for Barcelona and as a result of his recent move, we should see the Spaniard represent La Blaugrana regularly in the future. 

At the end of December, Real Betis agreed a deal with Barcelona for the loan of the Spanish midfielder until the end of the season, and it’s a move that benefits all the parties involved. 

For Alena, the loan to Betis will give him what he wants, and deserves – game time. In his sole Champions League appearance this season, his significant talent was on full display as he starred in Barcelona’s 2-1 win over Inter at San Siro back at the start of December.

Amid Antonio Conte’s typically intense press, Alena remained cool and showed off a press resistance that can be likened to teammate Arthur. The Spaniard often used his body as a shield expertly, protecting the ball brilliantly from the likes of Marcelo Brozovic, as his composure and silky footwork in midfield proved pivotal in enabling the youthful Barça side to progress the ball upfield.

Marcelo Brozovic,Carles Alena

Not only was the 22-year-old impressive in his own half, but he also showed his ability to be penetrative – setting Carles Perez on his way with a wonderfully weighted pass in behind the Inter backline for his side’s first chance of the game while in the second period, Alena was the key linker between defence and attack – finishing the game with four key passes.

It was the sort of display that should’ve seen him granted more minutes by Valverde, and he was, as he started and finished Barca’s final game of 2019 against Alaves. 

Nevertheless, at Betis, his opportunities to start should come persistently once he’s settled in in Seville. The decision to loan him to a club in La Liga was a smart one as well. Instead of being forced to adapt to a new culture, a new language and a different playing intensity, Alena will continue to play in a familiar environment – increasing his chances to thrive in a technically sound Betis side. 

Speaking of which, Betis should reap the benefits of having such a talent within their ranks for the remainder of the campaign. Chief creator Sergi Canales has seen his numbers slide this season – contributing to just two goals thus far – while the defensive-minded Andres Guardado has started to show signs of age catching up with him in the Betis midfield.

In his small sample size, Alena has proven to be an industrious character out of possession and an immense ball-retainer who holds the imperative ability to play vertically through opposition’s lines. Rubi’s emphasis on a possession-based style of play means that the Alena-Betis combination is a match made in heaven. 

Rubi

For the remainder of the season, you can expect Alena to slide into the left side of central midfield in Betis’ preferred 4-1-4-1, and due to the deployment of Marc Bartra as the defensive-midfielder, Rubi has the licence to use whoever he wants next to Alena. With the Barca man in the side and Nabil Fekir only getting better, Los Verdiblancos should start to surge up the La Liga table – they’re currently 13th and nine points adrift of the relegation zone. 

So, with the player and the new club inevitable beneficiaries of the loan move, how will Barcelona benefit?

Well, Alena’s departure enables Valverde to get a good old look at the smooth 22-year-old week in, week out and with the Spanish boss feeling that Alena isn’t ready to feature regularly for the Catalans in their hunt for yet another La Liga title, it means that the midfielder’s development won’t grind to a halt.

With minutes under his belt in the Spanish top-flight, Alena will continue to grow as a footballer and by the time the 2020/21 campaign comes around, there’s little doubt that La Masia graduate will be ready to compete fiercely for places as one of Barcelona’s number eights. He’ll shine in a Betis shirt for the remainder of the campaign, bookmark it.

TOPSHOT-FBL-ESP-LIGA-ALAVES-BARCELONA

A loan move away from Catalonia was long overdue for Alena, but with the Spaniard now put in an environment which should see him thrive, those at his parent club have to understand the immense talent that they have in their ranks. 

And instead of seeing Alena tear up Europe with a Juventus or a Bayern – like what Manchester United and Arsenal fans had to do with Pogba and Gnabry respectively – they’ll be blessed to see Alena blossom at the Camp Nou in the 2020s.

Let’