Barcelona had its best era in history with Pep Guardiola. The only team that has achieved the sextuple and a dominant system like no other were some of the things that the Catalan left at Barça. However, replacing him has been one of the most difficult tasks in recent years. In this article we will be rating the five managers since Guardiola left Barcelona from worst to best.
Pep Guardiola made history in his time as coach of Barcelona. Despite the countless titles he achieved in his four years at the Camp Nou, he is not mainly remembered for that, but for how that Barcelona played. It was not the big names of Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta or Lionel Messi who permitted the success. It was the role and structure that Pep gave to the team. As a consequence, all of these footballers became superstars.
What Pep accomplished was unique. A sextuple, two Champions Leagues, almost total dominance in La Liga, brilliant football and, last but not least, a practically complete influence on the Spanish national team when they had their golden age in winning the 2010 World Cup.
?️ — On this day in 2012, it was Pep Guardiola's last Champions League match in charge of FC Barcelona. pic.twitter.com/Vvt7QeKsJ4— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) April 24, 2020
However, everything that was valuable from Guardiola has been very difficult to replace. It is not enough to have the team with the best players in the world, but someone who arranges his pawns correctly in the game of chess. Since Pep’s departure in 2012, Barcelona has tried to repeat the spell that led them to glory, but different paths have been taken. In particular, five coaches were chosen to try to replicate such success, but very few have managed to convince the fans.
5. Gerardo Tata Martino
In the last position of the ranking, we have Gerardo Tata Martino. The Argentine coach arrived to Catalonia in the summer of 2013 to play the 2013/14 season with the azulgranas. After a series of successful campaigns, Barcelona went trophyless that season being one of the worst seasons in the decade. Also one of the most unlucky. Well, they hardly lost by 3 points La Liga and reached the final of the Copa del Rey.
Moreover, El Tata was in charge of training Neymar Jr in his first season as blaugrana. Despite the injuries, the coach knew how to adapt him with Lionel Messi in a great way. Similarly, Martino brought out the best of Alexis Sánchez so that the Chilean could exploit his full potential playing as false 9 or as a winger. In addition, Gerardo’s stay in Catalonia had many obstacles with the injuries of Carles Puyol and Víctor Valdés, which was not easy to assimilate, considering that Valdés had a unique replacement and the team had to adapt with 3 defenders during almost the entire season.
While unlucky in the decisive games, it was not coincidence that the team went trophyless in the 2013/14 season | Photo by David Ramos via Getty Images
The level of tactical football of Gerardo Martino was highly underrated, he knew how to unite all the pieces of the team, continue to dominate the games with the possession of the ball and a visionary when it comes to experimenting. At least in the first leg of the season, he was superb. His debut in La Liga was 7–0 against Levante at Camp Nou, he started off on the right foot.
Nonetheless, the months passed and El Tata fell into incompetence. Martino began to want to gain the trust of the locker room in a friendly way, without character and fulfilling their wishes. This ruined all the football work that Gerardo had behind him. He lowered the intensity in training, something that could possibly have caused Messi’s problems with vomiting and team injuries, just as he began to give preferences to heavyweights.
“A lot of times, when you work at the top level, you feel like your part really isn’t as important; you don’t feel as involved in the growth”
As a consequence, what was a potential Treble that season ended in a disappointing trophyless, although the team came very close to achieving glory. Second in La Liga with just three points away from Atlético de Madrid, who beat the Catalans in a dramatic matchday 38 victory to win the competition. Likewise, the blaugranas were eliminated from the Champions League in the quarterfinals after drawing the first leg 1–1 but losing to the minimum in the Vicente Calderón against Simeone’s team.
And finally, the culés reached the final of the Copa del Rey but lost it 1–2 in the last minutes against Real Madrid with a late goal by Gareth Bale. At the end of the season, Gerardo Martino announced that was the end of his era at the club. Sad ending considering his style of play, but understandable by the character he represented.
4. Quique Setién
Too early to draw conclusions and it would be unfair to consider him as the last place on the list, but also in a higher position since he has not yet completed a season with Barcelona. Quique Setién arrived in January 2020 in the middle of the 2019/20 season with many difficulties such as the injury of Ousmane Dembélé and that of Luis Suárez. In addition, he had to face the long break of the pandemic and rescue a Barcelona that had a totally different approach before his arrival.
His style of play has also been devoid of options and with difficulties such as the Arthur Melo’s saga, the exits of Carles Pérez, Carles Aleñá and Jean-Clair Todibo without Setién’s consent. This caused the coach to have to adapt to the circumstances. We have not yet seen a consistent and dominant game but little by little Barça is on the right track. So far we have seen a couple of brilliant games, the most recent being against Villarreal, and he has had interesting approaches.
Some of Quique Setién’s achievements have been recovering defensive solidity by having six of nine matches with clean sheets, finding the perfect system to make MSG shine in a 4–3–1–2, experiencing Sergi Roberto in a back three as well as Nélson Semedo and Jordi Alba in more advanced areas of the pitch and give confidence to Riqui Puig, along with Ronald Araújo. Perhaps there are negative aspects, such as Lionel Messi’s goal drought, problems against compact teams, and the ability to read games. Notwithstanding, little by little he is improving the details.
?️ — Bartomeu: "Setién will lead the team in the Champions league next month." pic.twitter.com/w1zfn7vghR— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) July 12, 2020
Despite losing the leadership of La Liga, Setién’s work cannot be considered to be bad. Quique received Barcelona with around 40 points in the first leg, something that has not been seen since the Gaspart’s era at the beginning of the century. In addition, with insignificant points of advantage over Real Madrid.
With Setién, the leadership was lost with three draws against Sevilla and Celta Vigo as visitors and against Atlético de Madrid at the Camp Nou. Overall, good results. In short, we cannot judge a coach without even having done a preseason at the club. There is still the Champions League to play and everything seems to indicate that he will have his chance in the following season.
3. Ernesto Valverde
Two La Liga trophies in two consecutive years is a deserved job to be in third place. His tactics and philosophy never matched the Barça’s DNA, and he had a soft character for a squad that needed just the opposite. However, Ernesto Valverde was a professional and an expert in the Spanish league making him a great coach.
Valverde, like Setién and Martino, had a big obstacle. When he arrived in the summer of 2017, he was contemporaneous with the departure of Neymar Júnior to Paris Saint-Germain, a sale that caused a lot of controversies and a serious problem in the Barça’s front-three. The successful MSN trio fell apart and the team’s second-best player had left the club, along with his creativity, goals, assists, and Brazilian samba. Similarly, a year later, Andrés Iniesta left the elite’s football to play in the Japanese league.
? — Ernesto Valverde: “All clubs leave their mark and I have been incredibly fortunate to train Barça. I have been a player there. I know when you go to a club of this calibre what it means from all points of view and I am delighted to have been there.“ pic.twitter.com/sLfGBxjBoh— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) February 15, 2020
These two problems forced the club to sign two quality players as soon as possible, investing more than 250 million in Ousmane Dembélé and Phillipe Coutinho. Two stars who have not achieved success in the club. On the one hand, the problem of Dembélé’s injuries and, on the other, the role of a Coutinho who had been signed as Iniesta’s substitute but was wasted in the left-wing.
Despite this, Ernesto managed to make a very solid team in his first season with his famous 4–4–2, having interesting players like Paulinho Bezerra and knowing how to adapt his scheme in each of the matches. In the 2018/19 season, he somehow knew how to make Messi shine in a magnificent way. Despite the fact that the collective game was not the best, and the club depended too much on the Argentine, Valverde led Messi to his sixth Ballon d’Or.
That said, the two leagues he won were overshadowed by Champions League failures. In his first season, he was eliminated in the quarterfinals in Rome after having a 4–1 advantage at the Camp Nou, an advantage that disappeared when AS Roma made a 3–0 comeback. The following year he reached the semifinals and the team dominated Liverpool with a 3–0 and a great game from all the team, but once again the rivals came from behind by winning 4–0 at Anfield.
In the end, Ernesto Valverde was removed from his charge in the middle of the 2019/20 season after being eliminated from the Spanish Super Cup against Atlético de Madrid. His accomplishments were short-term, but long-term damage to the club was poor, tough, under the influence of the board. Only looking on the bright side, Valverde has to be in this place.
2. Tito Vilanova
Francesc Vilanova, or better known as Tito Vilanova, was the successor of Guardiola after he left his legacy. Tito was part of the technical body of Pep in the previous seasons and finally, as the saying goes, the student surpassed the professor to take his place. Pep’s ward was the closest thing the club wanted to get. He remained, and even adopted an impressive tactical level, innovating Messi’s position as false 9, using him as the maximum reference to build from deep.
His approach made Messi score 60 goals in 50 games that season and manage to increase his numbers to later beat Gerd Müller’s record for most goals in a year. Apart from that, without many signings, only with the arrival of Jordi Alba, he managed to give more minutes to players who hardly had such as Thiago Alcântara and Christian Tello. Overall, Vilanova always had great football, despite the complications.
?️ — Tito Vilanova: "We're different. Winning alone is not enough. We have an ideal of youth team players & attacking football, as Barca's culture demands. We have our faults but being cowards will never be one of them." pic.twitter.com/pshXPDHxIu— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) August 13, 2019
The most historical was the record for the most points in the history of La Liga, achieving a total of 100. The team only lost two games and draw four, scoring the ridiculous number of 115 goals and conceding only 40. Moreover, Tito almost always had overwhelming victories…always looking for goals.
Unfortunately, Tito did not have the season of his dreams due to external problems. A bigger obstacle than any other a coach has passed in a club. Vilanova had already been diagnosed with parotid cancer in 2011 but had already been recovered. Nevertheless, midway through the season, he was in command of the Catalans, his illness returned, having him at some dates away from the team to undergo different treatments. This caused a great depression in the entire blaugranas‘ entity and lowered the spirits of the team. In addition, Jordi Roura, Tito’s second coach, was assigned to several meetings as interim coach of the club.
Tito Vilanova: "Football is not a job, but my best therapy." pic.twitter.com/KdwdNE8imU— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) January 22, 2018
These problems were largely responsible for the fact that the Catalans were eliminated from the Champions League with a 7–0 defeat on aggregate against Bayern Munich. In addition, the culés were eliminated from the Copa del Rey in the semifinals against Real Madrid.
1. Luis Enrique Martínez
We reached the end of this rating with Luis Enrique Martínez, who was the longest-standing of the aforementioned coaches. He arrived in 2014 to start his first season as a Barça’s coach after good jobs at Celta de Vigo and AS Roma. Luis Enrique probably had one of the best transfer markets in the history of the club. In his first season, the blaugranas signed Marc-André ter Stegen, Claudio Bravo, Iván Rakitić, and Luis Suárez. All these players ended up being important and historical in Catalonia.
Luis Enrique had the difficult task of achieving chemistry between Messi, Suárez, and Neymar in the azulgranas‘ front three. Three superstar players, but that ego may have been the biggest problem. Nevertheless, Enrique with his great character and tactically offensive level, arranged all the pieces to form one of the best trios in the history of football: the MSN. A ridiculous number of goals, assists, and individual awards for the three at the club, in addition to always shining when all three played together.
? | Happy birthday, Lucho. Thank you for giving us one of the most memorable seasons in the club's history. pic.twitter.com/bAtHPERWcn— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) May 8, 2018
Moreover, Luis chose to use the 4–3–3 throughout his time as a coach, managing to adapt Rakitić to be Xavi’s replacement, along with a solid defence and the most offensive style in history. Enrique had the mentality of hunger for a goal, that it is not the same to win 3–0 than 5–2, because the more goals the more dominant the team was. Surreal matches of 7–0, 8–0, 6–0 in a constant way. Also, it was not a surprise to see Messi and Suárez score four goals in one match or Neymar score a hat-trick since they did it in almost every match.
Luis Enrique’s first season was historic. He won La Liga with 94 points and a 2 points advantage against Real Madrid, made the team champion of the Copa del Rey sweeping the best Spaniard’s clubs, and won the fifth and last Champions League of Barcelona in its history, beating all the champions of the best European leagues in the knockout stage: Manchester City, PSG, Bayern Munich and Juventus. Thus achieving, the second treble in the history of the blaugranas and the first team in history to achieve this feat.
?️ — Luis Enrique: "Before the final in Berlin, I half-jokingly asked the players: 'what do you think is the worst thing that can happen to us today?'. Xavi and Alves said: 'We're not faithful to our style'. I said: 'the worst thing is to be a Juve player and face Barça'." pic.twitter.com/N9RkbpZnfi— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) June 5, 2020
Some time later, Luis Enrique also managed to win the European Super Cup and the Club World Cup but unfortunately, Ernesto Valverde’s Athletic Bilbao managed to beat the invincible Barcelona in the final of the Spanish Super Cup, thus avoiding another historic Sextuple to de Catalans.
After the successful 2014/15 season, Luis Enrique continued to shine with his game system and making matches with a ridiculous number of goals scored. They won La Liga in the 2015/16 campaign and the Copa del Rey, but were eliminated in the UCL quarterfinals against Atlético Madrid.
Similarly, in Enrique’s last season in 2016/17, Barça only won the Copa del Rey, since Real Madrid won the Spaniard’s league with a 3-point advantage. Moreover, Barcelona that season was the protagonist of the most historic comeback in the history of football, after losing 0-4 to PSG in the round of 16 and winning in a dramatic 6-1 at Camp Nou in the second leg. However, the Catalans were disappointingly eliminated against Juventus in the quarterfinals.
On this day, three years ago:— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) March 7, 2020
"If they can score four, we can score six."
– Luis Enrique
The rest, as they say, is history. pic.twitter.com/wbC7OR9I3V
His stage was over but we will always remember Luis Enrique. An exemplary coach, full of character and always looking out for the principles of the club and putting them above any player. In addition, his ambition to win, but not only to win but to dominate in every game was priceless.
Lucky and blessed were those who witnessed Luis Enrique’s Barcelona, the closest thing in ambition to Pep’s game. While Guardiola liked control and being dominant in every game, this was not Luis Enrique’s main mission, but always to score as many goals as possible and instill fear in the rival when they faced powerful FC Barcelona. Undoubtedly, one of the best coaches who have ever walked the doors of the Camp Nou.
Detailed Analysis: Ferencvaros 0-3 Barcelona
In collaboration with Soumyajit Bose.
As Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona looked to continue their perfect Champions League 2020/21 record, they faced Serhiy Rebrov‘s Ferencvaros side whose Europa League hopes were at stake at the Groupama Arena.
Compared to La Liga, Barcelona’s UEFA Champions League campaign has been much stronger. With 12 points in four games, with just two goals conceded and 13 goals scored, the confidence was high. However, for Ferencvaros, the best possible finish is in third place in Group G, which would see them qualify for the Europa League.
As a motivated Ferencvaros side faced Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona, a 0-3 victory in favour of the Blaugrana was far from ideal for the Budapest outfit. In this analysis, we take a look at the patterns seen throughout the match and the tactics used by the Barcelona, as well as the Ferencvaros side.
Serhiy Rebrov’s Ferencvaros side had a clear game-plan from the start. Though this was commendable, there were some immediate issues. The disappointing aspect of this was that Rebrov was either unable to, or was unwilling to make the changes which could have changed the outcome of the match.
The Hungarians looked to play a back-three throughout the match. The two full-backs essentially had little to do in the build-up. Partly because their starting position was too high and also because Barcelona’s forward four were able to cut passing lanes effectively.
Ferencvaros’ number five, Abraham Frimpong, was at the heart of the defence. When building up, he would often drift forward in line with the full-backs. This would have been a good strategy, but the back-three were constantly forced to launch the ball forwards after Barcelona’s pressing.
When defending, the full-backs would tuck in and the wide forwards would drop back to form a 5-4-1. At times, there were too many players in defence. Isael on one occasion played Griezmann onside when there were six players back defending.
As the above heat-maps shows, forward Tokmac Chol Nguen was barely involved, and the full-backs Endre Botka and Marcel Heister were only active in small parts of the field. There was a clear disjoint between the midfield and the forwards and between the defence and the midfield at times as well.
As expected from the current Barcelona side, the 4-2-3-1 was deployed. Right off from the start, something very apparent was the different player profiles in the attack. With Lionel Messi, Pedri, Philippe Coutinho, three players like to have the ball and roam around. Add Antoine Griezmann to that mix and you have four players who do best in a free role and have a moderate attacking work-rate at best.
With Martin Braithwaite, Fransisco Trincao, Ousmane Dembele this Barcelona side were able to press high and very actively as we shall see later.
The double-pivot of Sergio Busquets was at the core of the team in terms of recycling possession as well as playing balls forward. As the above pass-map shows us, these two were very active in passing and formed strong combinations with many players.
With the full-backs, or rather the wing-backs, very high up the field, Ousmane Dembele and Trincao would tuck in. This would make underlaps easier, as we saw with Braithwaite’s penalty-winning run, and it would also give the full-backs freedom to drive forwards.
The different full-back profiles on either side meant that down the left, excellent combinational play was visible and while Dest was more direct in his approach. This offered the Catalans with more choices in the final third.
A new pattern we saw in the build-up was a diamond between the centre-backs and the pivots. With Mingueza moving a bit further up the field, Busquets would drop back and form the second passing options for Clement Lenglet. Miralem Pjanic would look to find passing lanes in midfield and provide the third, and most direct, passing option.
When defending, Busquets and Pjanic would look to close off the channels, and Alba and Dest would have to retreat quickly. With the back-four completely flat and the pivots cutting passing lanes, the forward were given the best chance to show their work-rate and that is apparent from Barcelona’s goal-protecting activities that started from the front.
Barcelona were devastatingly good in the first half, scoring all three goals and putting the game to bed. They dominated possession, pressed much better than their opponents, all while outshooting and consequently outscoring them. Here is the game data at a glance:
Next, we take a look at the quality of chances created in the shotmaps and xG flow:
Barcelona created brilliant chances all game, and all of the goals came from high-quality chances. Understandably, they took their feet off the gear in the second half. This allowed Ferencvaros to create their most threatening moments. Even then, Barcelona had plenty of opportunities to score at least a couple of goals later in the second half. Profligacy in front of goal meant they could not add to their already impressive goal tally.
Barcelona’s territorial superiority is shown in the following figure. Field tilt – a metric to measure final third passing share, and hence territorial dominance –was overwhelmingly in Barcelona’s favor for most of the game. As shown, Ferencvaros only did better for certain stretches of the second half.
A look at the goals
Here we take a look at the goals Barcelona scored. Ousmane Dembele had one of the games of his life. He constantly linked up with Jordi Alba to create threat down the left. This very combination led to the first two goals of the game. For the first one, Dembele and Alba had some nice little one-twos, before Dembele released Alba into space behind the Ferencvaros right back. Alba used his speed to reach the ball ahead of his tracker and lay off a nice low cross to Antoine Greizmann, who made an excellent run into the box. Greizmann finished the move with an exquisite flick. Here are illustrations of the entire buildup and animation of the final moments :
The second goal came from a long buildup. First, a shot by Sergino Dest was blocked in the box. Following a flurry of passes, Griezmann made a cross-field pass to Alba. Alba laid the ball off to Dembele, who beat his marker by speed and played another low cross into the box. This time, it was Martin Braithwaite who made an intelligent poacher’s run into the box to prod it home.
Braithwaite made yet another great run behind Ferencvaros’ defence before getting fouled just when he was getting ready to shoot. Dembele scored from the resulting penalty.
Clement Lenglet could return from an injury scare to start the game, so Barcelona had two senior members at least in the beginning. The defence remained unperturbed for most of the half. Lenglet and Oscar Mingueza did an admirable job of cleaning up loose balls and snuffing out attacks. Ferencvaros rarely managed to get the ball to Barcelona’s final third. Here is a time-evolution chart of PPDA, which measures press intensity:
Evidently, Barcelona pressed much better throughout the game. The only interval where Ferencvaros had any luck pressing was in small intervals in the second half.
Next we take a look at Barcelona’s defensive heatmap.
This is probably the first time Barcelona have pressed this high up the pitch. Their effort paid dividends too, as Ferencvaros really struggled to build up successfully from the back, as shown in the following:
On the other hand, while Ferencvaros tried pressing higher, Barcelona were able to build through the press fairly regularly. The following images show Ferencvaros’ defensive efforts and Barcelona’s unsuccessful passes.
La Masia and youth get chances again
Several youngsters got a runout yet again. Mingueza continued to impress displaying composure on the ball and no-nonsense defending. Dest had yet another stellar show as the right back. He was impressive in tracking back, showing both speed and strength to nullify Tokmac Nguen. Dembele was electric; scoring and assisting one goal each and could have had more to his name. He finished the game wearing the captain’s armband.
Frenkie de Jong came on in the second half to replace Sergio Busquets and ended up playing centre back after Lenglet was withdrawn as well. Francisco Trincao got a start and played for about 80 minutes. While wasteful in front of goal and generally had some ugly touches, he also came up with some great dribbles. He should have really scored after being set up one on one by Dembele.
Carles Alena, Riqui Puig and Konrad de la Fuente all had cameos as well. Puig was particularly impressive, racking up 3 key passes in 28 minutes. He could have had an assist had Dembele elected to shoot from his pass.
Five wins out of five in the Champions League. Three victories in a row in all competitions. Three clean sheets. Eleven goals scored. Ronald Koeman probably could not have asked for a more favorable series of results for his team. Not only did important players like Lionel Messi and Frenkie de Jong get some rest, the fringe players got some decent run-out. Greizmann has scored three goals – he surely is brimming with confidence right now. Braithwaite has scored 4 goals in 3 games. Dembele looks to be in good form. The team seems to be hitting better stride. Injuries notwithstanding, this is a perfect time for Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona to make up for all the points lost in the league.