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.
Koeman’s system in the Barcelona 4-0 Villareal
With a 4-0 victory at the Camp Nou, Koeman’s side has started the season on a positive note. Find out more about the tactical aspect of the match in this tactical analysis of Barcelona’s match against Villareal.
La Liga is finally back, and it’s back in full swing. We saw many high-scoring matches, with even Atleti scoring 6 goals against Granada. A very entertaining start to La Liga was capped off by Barcelona’s 4-0 Victory over Villareal. Koeman’s first La Liga game in-charge of Barcelona was a resounding success. The mindset of the players involved was clearly different from the mindset under Setien. With many players looking rejuvenated, Barcelona put in a performance which was desperately needed considering the fact that the wounds from Lisbon haven’t yet healed. Find out just how Barcelona managed to dominate a strong Villareal side in this tactical analysis.
Barcelona started out in a 4-2-3-1 as expected. The only surprise was that Messi’s starting position was more central than usual and Griezmann occupied the right-wing. Messi does eventually drift towards the centre anyway but the starting position is usually wider.
Villareal were in a 4-4-2 which later transitioned into a 4-4-2 diamond in the second half after the substitutions. Right from the start, Villareal looked to press from the front, with Chukwueze and Moi Gomez cutting out passing lanes to the full-backs and the two Villareal strikers pressing Barcelona’s center-backs. Here, an advantage of the 4-2-3-1 Koeman deployed was immediately visible. De Jong would drop back to receive the ball and then play it forward to Busquets, who was the other pivot. Had Barcelona played a 4-3-3, the pivot would have dropped back to receive the ball and build-up from the back in this case. But the midfield would be stretched vertically which we saw many times last season.
In midfield, Barcelona were prevented from playing through the centre by Parejo and Coquelin. The distance between Villareal’s midfield and defense lines was not much which forced Barcelona towards the wings. This strategy came back to bite Villareal in the form of Ansu Fati. The 17-year-old left-winger was unplayable against Villareal. Gaspar was unable to contain him. Jordi Alba was much better than in a long time. The work-rate Koeman demands and the many extra training sessions were really showing. After a 2019/20 season which wasn’t the best for Barcelona, yesterday’s performance was very impressive.
Both wingers would regularly tuck-in between the full-backs and center-halves. This allowed Barcelona’s full-backs to advance up the field much more. With the full-backs attacking and the wingers tucking in, the Villareal defensive line would be occupied. This allowed Coutinho more space than usual. Along with this, Busquets and De Jong would be available to either stop the counter, or to act as passing options. This assortment of many attacking roles allowed Barcelona to have sustained attacking possession.
Villareal had a clear game plan as well. Considering the fact that their two strikers are performing well and are well-synchronized, the wingers were instructed to cross the ball often. The full-backs would advance, but not overlap frequently. This could either not be a part of the game plan or because of the attacking threat, Barcelona posed from the start. With Dani Parejo in midfield, Emery would ideally be able to continue playing the possession-based football his teams play. Coquelin would offer a bit of dynamism in midfield along with the Spanish midfielder.
However, Koeman took an interesting decision and gave Busquets the role to man-mark Parejo. Though both were surprisingly not the best on the ball on the day, Busquets did well to restrict Parejo to lateral and back passes. In the second-half, Vilalreal’s game plan was executed better in the 4-4-2 diamond. This allowed Parejo to get on the ball more, wit him playing a major role in the build-up. Emery knows his players’ strengths very well. Parejo in the defensive mid role, with pacey wingers on either sides means fast transitions. For Barcelona s well, the transitions were key. Coutinho’s mediapunta role and the freedom Messi has both contributed to this.
We already saw the many benefits this formation has offered, taking the strengths of the players Koeman has into full consideration. The ease during build-up with one pivot dropping back, being able to sustain the attack with the mediapunta getting more space, the freedom Busquets had to man-mark Parejo, which would have been difficult in a single pivot, etc. Another one of the advantages is in defense.
Barcelona were vulnerable in defense throughout last season. Jordi Alba looks like refreshed and fitter than usual, and with Dest potentially joining the Blaugrana, the full-backs are looking promising. In case that Barcelona does get caught on the counter, Koeman does have a solution to one of the problems. When Barcelona are on the backfoot, De Jong and Busquets would need to make sure their positioning is immaculate. They were instructed to plug the gaps between the center-halves and full-backs, which would have a two-fold purpose. Firstly, through-balls against more creative players would be much more difficult, with the gaps being reduced and Coutinho and Griezmann helping in defense. Secondly, the opposition would be less likely to crowd the box, since Barcelona can now afford to get at least 4 players into the box if the pivots were to position themselves as such. However, this would be very dependent on the split-second judgment and whether the players decide to press or track-back.
For Koeman’s first La Liga match, the performance was quite promising. Barcelona looked better tactically and in terms of hard work than Villareal as we saw in this tactical analysis. The latter being something that Barcelona desperately need, what remains to be seen is how Barcelona will fare against teams that rely on individual ability more than Villareal and the unpredictability that follows. Apart from this, will the players be able to sustain the intense work ethic Koeman demands? If Barcelona do decently in these conditions and some others, we might see a much better season from them than expected.