July 5, 2022, 12:18


Ernesto Valverde stamping his mark on Barcelona, says Guillem Balague

Ernesto Valverde stamping his mark on Barcelona, says Guillem Balague

Guillem Balague is back with his weekly ‘five things’ column after an interesting weekend in La Liga. What has caused Real’s slow start, and are Barca missing Neymar?

Playing to Messi’s strengths

Barcelona are doing very well on the pitch – nine points from nine, none conceded, nine scored. They have shown traits of what this team is going to be like under Ernesto Valverde; they will press high, they will be physically strong, they have started the season in very good condition and with very clear ideas.

Without Neymar, Jordi Alba has more opportunities to go forward, and we started to see the old Jordi Alba that we had been missing for a while.

If Gerard Deulofeu accepts playing as a No 12, the first sub, he will make a good impact, especially with assists. Meanwhile, Ousmane Dembele will start soon for Barcelona.

Dembele will need a flank, probably the right-hand side while Nelson Semedo gets used to Barcelona. Those two can become a really powerful force on that right-hand side, and leave the left one to Jordi Alba.

As well as pressing high, there is a lot of play through the midfield. and that brings the best out of Andres Iniesta. They have nine midfielders, all quite different, which gives them lots of versatility.

Lionel Messi continues to score for fun, and this could be a better goalscoring season for him than last because the team plays to his strengths.

He’s playing in what you may call a false nine position, but really it’s wherever he wants, and he feels he is much better near the box, through the centre, with many midfielders around him moving the ball around, creating spaces and moving the ball early.

Crisis at the top

At the top of the club the crisis continues; the opposition is trying to gather some momentum to get president Josep Bartomeu out, and there is a motion of no confidence in place. But even though clubs in Spain claim to be very democratic, it’s almost impossible for this motion to take place and make an impact.

They need 16,000 season ticket holders to vote in favour, and at the moment they have 3,000, which the opposition consider very good. They have two more games to gather more signatures, but it’s just not very likely that it will happen.

There were chants against the president on Saturday at the Nou Camp, even though the result was strong against Espanyol, and that suggests a lot of people are still unhappy at how things were done; the promise of one or two signings by the technical secretary, the fact the Catalan press were insistent that Philippe Coutinho was coming, the departure of Neymar, all of this has frustrated the fans.

But it goes beyond that. Iniesta’s deal has not been renewed, Messi has not signed his contract, and the fact that players get a bonus for signing on, a massive one, £26m for Neymar for instance. It suggests the players are running the club, that the board is weak.

Real’s attacking conundrum

In their 1-1 draw on Saturday, what we saw with Real was a little bit of clumsy play; they were not in fifth gear for most of the game, which is obviously partly down to the defensive work of Levante but also because some Real players were not quite at it. It’s early stages, but they haven’t started the season with the same impulse as they ended the last campaign.

Marco Asensio wasn’t so good in the second half, Gareth Bale had chances but needs to give more having been played as a centre forward following Karim Benzema’s injury. They have only scored three goals in the two home games and after 55 shots on goal, the Madrid media is wondering whether Alvaro Morata and Mariano Diaz are being missed.

Against Real Sociedad this weekend, it will be interesting to see how they sort it out. It’s Cristiano Ronaldo’s last match out with a ban, Benzema is out for a month-and-a-half and Borja Mayoral has hardly played.

Bale will probably be the striker again. If he avoids injury he could have the best goalscoring season of his time at Madrid, even better than the 2015-16 campaign when he scored 19 goals.

Real ref pressure laughable

There is a campaign from Real Madrid to put pressure on referees. It started because three of their leaders – Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and Marcelo – have been sent off already this season.

The president Florentino Perez gave an interview on Spanish radio saying the referees are not as good as they should be. Then you have Sergio Ramos and Lucas Vazquez complaining about referees publicly, when Vazquez in particular never complains.

On Real Madrid’s TV channel, in their debate programme with journalists, it has become a big, big issue. It’s a clear, orchestrated campaign, but I think it’s a little too early for all of that. When Barcelona and Real Madrid complain about referees, it is just laughable!

Sociedad vs R Madrid

September 17, 2017, 7:40pm

Live on

Get Sky Sports Get a Sky Sports pass Real Sociedad soar to top

Top of the league, and with Real Madrid at home next. Real Sociedad beat Deportivo 4-2 on Sunday, and could have scored four more. Asier Illarramendi scored twice, but also ran the show for the visitors.

The difference between this Real side and past ones is their away form; that’s 15 away wins in the year-and-a-half since Eusebio took charge, which suggests they play the same way home and away.

They want the ball, they want to be protagonists, they play very good football, and they produced a great reaction after going 2-0 up and then being pulled back to 2-2. They didn’t want a draw, even away, they wanted more.

Adnan Januzaj played really well; the first two moves he made were dribbles forward with the ball. That’s what he brings to Real Sociedad, personality and quality.

A Madrid vs Malaga

September 16, 2017, 7:40pm

Live on

Get Sky Sports Get a Sky Sports pass Guillem answers your Twitter questions…

Callum Bradke‏ @CallumBradke – With Diego Simeone signing a contract extension; do you think he thinks he’s confident of winning another La Liga title or possibly more?

For Simeone it is not about the end goal, it’s about how much the team can improve, and he realises they can. He sees a young side, he sees the hunger of everybody, and sees the club responding to his demands, including the signing of Diego Costa, which he believes is coming.

These are the things that make him want to stay. For him, it’s not about the end of the journey, it’s about the journey itself.

Barcelona vs Eibar

September 19, 2017, 10:00pm

Live on

Get Sky Sports Get a Sky Sports pass

Craig Francis‏ @MrPrestige14 – Why didn’t Real Madrid go for someone like Paulo Dybala?

I think Real needed a striker, not so much Dybala. With Asensio firing, did they really need Dybala? Barcelona could have gone for Dybala, but again, they do not have the money to get everyone, and I actually think it would have put the club in trouble financially if they’d kept going higher.

As it is, Barca’s finances are weak, with the percentage dedicated to wages and with the renewals of Messi and Iniesta to come up.

Cruyff14‏ @cruyffta14 – Will Messi play false nine permanently from now on? #AskGuillem

Messi plays where he feels the team needs him most. In the last two seasons it was mostly off the wing, from the left to the centre, but now it is more through the centre. He feels that especially with Iniesta in place, there is no need for him to drop so deep, so he does his damage in the last third.

Luis Suarez is the No 9 and Messi plays around him. I don’t know how to coin the position; it’s the Messi position! He plays where he wants!

Sourse: skysports.com

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