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Has Ernesto Valverde gotten the credit he deserves?

Wednesday 28th February 2018

Sitting top of La Liga after 25 games having safely secured their passage into the Copa del Rey final, there is little doubt that Barcelona have had a fantastic season thus far. Nothing new there, some might say.

The Catalan giants also go into their Champions League last 16 second-leg match against Chelsea as firm favourites to progress, having escaped Stamford Bridge with a late equaliser and all important away goal.

They remain on course, then, to complete a famous treble under the guidance of Ernessto Valverde, who was appointed as manager last summer following a successful four seasons at Athletic Bilbao.

In fact, Barcelona are currently on track to break the all-time La Liga points record - 100 - having registered 65 points already with thirteen games still to play.

They are also yet to lose in the league this season, and sit seven points clear of nearest challengers Atletico Madrid.

Champions Real Madrid have effectively surrendered any hope of retaining their crown and were handsomely beaten by Barca at the Bernabeu before Christmas.

So why has credit for Valverde been scarce, so far?

There has undoubtedly been a marked improvement on the side that fell short both domestically and on the continent last term. Last year, Barcelona conceded almost forty times in the league. With a third of the 2017-18 La Liga campaign remaining, they've given away just twelve goals.

Despite losing Neymar to PSG, Valverde's men have a rejuvenated air about them. Club stalwart Andres Iniesta, brilliant though he has been for a period exceeding a decade, is being selected less frequently.

Instead, the likes of Philippe Coutinho have been recruited in a bid to freshen up the squad whilst maintaining the sort of quality we have come to expect from Barcelona. The signing of Ousmane Dembele is another example of this.

Valverde has already stamped his own mark on the club but achieved the desired results to justify the expenditure.

There is a school of thought that a more 'fashionable' name might have received greater plaudits for the way in which his tenure has begun.

Only a catastrophic late collapse would deny the Blaugrana a 25th league championship, which doesn't seem likely.

And it's now down to Sevilla to stop them retaining the Copa del Rey, with the final to be contested towards the end of April. Barcelona are heavy favourites to win that, too.

Would a Spanish league and cup double constitute a successful debut season for Valverde? Even his most ardent critic would surely have to concede that, yes, it would.

But with their European journey very much still in progress, one could argue that the 54-year-old is on the cusp of achieving greatness.

Only one team in the country has ever secured the fabled trio of La Liga, Copa del Rey and the Champions league in the same season, and Valverde currently manages them.

To match this achievement would be sensational. To get close, even, would be admirable.

Of course, we'll have to see how the last three months pan out before passing proper judgement. But with a minimum of two trophies probable, and three still possible, it's time to show Valverde some respect.

James Smith

26-year-old football enthusiast and staunch advocate of all things gambling. Bluenose, for my sins. I have a passion for writing about football - particularly Rangers. My time is spent in London and Glasgow.

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