La Joya reaches first goalscoring milestone for Juventus

La Joya reaches first goalscoring milestone for Juventus

“At times he’s just unplayable. He’s turning into an extraordinary player”. These were the sentiments of Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri on forward Paulo Dybala to the club’s official website after their 3-1 away win at Sassuolo on Sunday.

He had just witnessed his prized asset mark his 100th game for the club with a hat-trick at the Mapei Stadium to ensure “The Old Lady’s” return to the top of Serie A; albeit for a matter of hours until Napoli thrashed Benevento 6-0 in the later Sunday fixture.

This was not even Dybala’s first hat-trick of the campaign; having picked up the match ball in the 4-2 away win at Genoa last month and he is now the first Juventus player to score in each of the first four Serie A games of the season (eight goals in total).

It only took until the 16th minute for the Argentinian to register his account in the game and earn his 50th goal in the Black and White, curling a beautiful first-time shot from 25 yards that gave Sassuolo goalkeeper Andrea Consigli no chance.

La Joya doubled their lead four minutes after the break with a delicate, low, toe-punted effort from the edge of a crowded penalty area before Dybala wrapped up his hat-trick and the three points for Allegri’s side just after the hour mark with an exquisite curling free-kick.

Having witnessed their team been torn apart by such a devastating display of talent for 85 minutes, it was significant that the majority of Sassuolo supporters at the Mapei rose in unison to applaud Dybala when his substitution came with five minutes remaining.

During the summer, many Juventus fans and quarters of the Italian press had anticipated a possible move from Barcelona for Dybala post Neymar’s departure to Paris Saint Germain.

Although a formal bid was never forthcoming, the Juventus hierarchy took the correct steps to show their faith in their Argentine playmaker.  A new deal was presented to make him the highest paid player at the club and he was handed the No.10 shirt; formerly donned by the club and country national treasure, Alessandro Del Piero.

“I hope he goes on to do better,” remarked Del Piero.

Dybala’s own personal priority must be to take this imperious form into the big occasions.

Critics of the 24-year old have been intent to point out that younger stars like Kylian Mbappe (18) and Marco Asensio (21) have shown more composure and courage than Juve’s star man who came in for some notable criticism for a somewhat anonymous second-half display in the Champions League Final defeat to Real Madrid in June.

Granted, “La Joya” was also outshone by his Argentine counterpart Lionel Messi in Barcelona’s recent 3-0 thrashing of Juventus in the Champions League at the Camp Nou. But Dybala is the first to admit he is not the next Messi: “Messi has his story; I have mine. We’re two different players.”

But this is a young man still maturing. He may not have been the teenage prodigal footballing genius that Messi was, but he is a supremely talented playmaker that is garnering a clinical scoring record.

It was his decisive penalty miss in the Italian Suppercoppa last year that paved the way for the “mask”- the celebration that we have seen so many times since that is a reference to “Gladiator;” one of his favourite films. “In life you have to get up and fight,” he maintains.

With this resolute attitude, we will no doubt be seeing plenty more of these exuberant celebrations and important goalscoring milestones.

Advertisements

Europa Play-Off Round Preview

Europa Play-Off Round Preview

To some it is the start to a long and arduous journey to the best chance many clubs will have of earning a place in the prestigious UEFA Champions League. To others, it is purely the opportunity to taste a sense of European Cup glory; this is the last round of ties to enter the Europa League.

A total of 29 winners from the third qualifying round and 15 losers from the Champions League third qualifying round will battle it out in a two-legged affair to earn a place in the Europa League Group Stage.

Whilst admittedly it may be a competition to split the neutrals interest, the intriguing nature of this stage of the competition is the matching of some of the continents recently risen minnows with a host of Europe’s so-called “fallen giants”, those clubs who boast a renowned history with an esteemed collection of honours to their clubs’ trophy room (notably AC Milan & Ajax).

The following is a brief preview rundown of each tie; summarising the key facts behind the clashes:

  • FC Utrecht (Netherlands) vs Zenit Saint Petersburg (Russia)- Utrecht are bidding to qualify for the Europa League group stage for the first time since the 2010/11 campaign and will have to be on top form to have any chance of overcoming Roberto Mancini’s Zenit who won the competition in 2008 (known at the time as the “Uefa Cup”) and currently sit at the top of the Russian Premier League.
  • AC Milan (Italy) vs Shkendija (Macedonia) – The only common theme to find between these two clubs is their red and black kit colours. Having completed a host of signings in this summer transfer window, Milan are looking to return to former glories (7 European Cup/Champions League titles). Shkendija, on the other hand have never made it beyond the Europa second qualifying round until this year and are looking to make history by reaching the competition by eliminating one of the giants of the tournament.
  • Ajax (Netherlands) vs Rosenborg (Norway)- Last year’s beaten finalists, Ajax are one of the most successful European clubs having won the European Cup/Champions League 4 times. Rosenborg have never got closer to European glory than when they were knocked out of the Champions League quarter-final in 1996/1997.
  • Altach (Austria) vs Maccabi Tel-Aviv (Israel)- SC Rheindorf Altach finished 4th in the Austrian league last season and are playing in only their second ever Europa League qualifying campaign, having eliminated Chikura Sachkhere, Dinamo Brest and Gent in the three qualifying rounds in the past month. Maccabi Tel-Aviv’s tournament best was qualifying for the round of 32 in the 2013/14 season.
  • Apollon Limassol (Cyprus) vs Midtylland (Denmark) – The Danish side will go into this tie seeking revenge for their elimination by Limassol in the 2015/16 Champions League third qualifying round.
  • Bate Borisov (Belarus) vs Olexandriya (Ukraine)- The reigning champions of Belarus will be looking to secure qualification to have a chance of beating their current Europa League tournament best which they achieved in 2011 when they were knocked out of the round of 32 by Paris Saint-Germain.  Contrastingly, FC Olexandriya are seeking group stage qualification for the first time in their history.
  • Club Brugge (Belgium) vs AEK Athens (Greece)- The runners-up in the Belgian Pro league last season reached the quarter finals of this tournament in 2015 and were beaten in the final back in 1976 by Liverpool. AEK have enjoyed any of their own success with their best efforts in this competition going back to 1977 when they were eliminated by Juventus.
  • Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia) vs Skenderbeu (Albania)- Dinamo have made a record 101 appearances in UEFA qualifying competitions and last played Skenderbeu in their 6-2 aggregate victory over their Albanian counterparts in the 2015/16 UEFA Champions League play-offs.
  • FC Domzale (Slovenia) vs Marseille (France)- Domzale are competing in the Europa qualifying rounds for the fifth consecutive season and are seeking group stage qualification for the first time. A tough tie awaits them against Rudi Garcia’s side whose 2004 UEFA cup final defeat is the closest the French side have been to claiming the trophy.
  • Everton (England) vs Hadjuk Split (Croatia) – After a strong summer of investment, Everton will be confident about qualifying for the tournament for the first time in three years. Despite having competed in the qualifying stages of every season, Hadjuk Split have not reached the group stages since 2010/11.
  • FH Hafnarfjordur (Iceland) vs Braga (Portugal)- FH are looking to become the first Icelandic side to reach a major UEFA group stage and face Braga who have never come closer to winning the tournament than their 1-0 Cup Final defeat to Porto at the Aviva Stadium in 2011.
  • FC Krasnodar (Russia) vs Crvena Zvezda (Serbia) – The Russian side reached the last round of 16 last season (their all-time tournament best), where they were eliminated by Celta Vigo 4-1 on aggregate. Crvena Zvezda who are also known more traditionally as Red Star Belgrade, notably won this tournament in 1991 when they beat Marseille on penalties to lift the trophy.
  • Legia Warsaw (Poland) vs FC Sheriff Tiraspol (Moldova) – Legia were the runners-up in the 2016/17 Ekstraklasa campaign and were beaten in the last round of 32 by Ajax last season. Moldovan side Sheriff have never progressed beyond the Europa group stages.
  • Ludogorets (Bulgaria) vs Suduva FC (Lithuania) – The Bulgarian league champions eliminated another Lithuanian side Zalgaris in an earlier Champions League qualifier this summer. Suduva have battled through three qualifying rounds to reach this tie and are as of yet to ever achieve group stage qualification in this tournament.
  • Maritimo (Portugal) vs Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine) – Dynamo make the marathon 4,300km journey to Funchal in seek of Europa Group stage football for the first time since 2014. Maritimo are competing in this tournament for the first time since the 2012/13 season after finishing 6th in the Primeria Liga last season and beat Bulgarian side Botev Plovdiv in the last qualifying round.
  • NK Osijek (Croatia) vs Austria Wien (Austria) – The Croatian side are bidding to qualify for the group stage debut, competing at the qualifying stage for the first time since 2012. En route to this tie, Osijek have not conceded a goal. Austria Wien are looking to qualify for the group stages for the first time since the 2013/14 campaign.
  • Panathinaikos (Greece) vs Athletic Bilbao (Spain) – Panathinaikos finished 3rd in the Greek Superleague last year and were eliminated from the Group stage of the competition. 2012 Finalists Bilbao reached the last round of 32 last season, only to be knocked out by Apoel Nicosia (4-3 on aggregate).
  • PAOK (Greece) vs Ostersunds FK (Sweden) – PAOK have consecutively featured in the last four Europa League group stages and face the conquerors of Galatasaray from the second qualifying round, Ostersunds FK; who are enjoying their maiden European campaign, having only climbed from the third tier of Swedish football in 2013.
  • FK Partizan (Serbia) vs Videoton FC (Hungary) – Partizan have not reached beyond the last round of 16 in this competition where they were last eliminated in 2004/05 by CSKA Moscow. Videoton last qualified for the group stages in 2012/13 and were beaten in the third qualifying round last season by FC Midtjylland. These two sides last met in the 1984/85 UEFA Cup third round where Partizan lost 5-0 in Hungary.
  • FC Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic) vs AEK Larnaca (Cyprus)- Viktoria Plzen’s best Europa performance came in 2013/14 season when they were knocked out of the last round of 16 by Lyon. They face the Cypriat outfit AEK Larnaca who have only qualified for the group stage once in the 2011/12 campaign.
  • FK Vardar (Macedonia) vs Fenerbahce (Turkey)- This tie is Vardar’s first Europa fixture since their qualifying round 1 exit to Anorthosis Famagusta in 2007/08 and will be playing a Fenerbahce side who are under pressure from their own national press to step up after a poor domestic campaign last year. In the Europa competition, the Istanbul-based side were eliminated by Krasnodar in the last round of 32.
  • FC Viitorul Constanta (Romania) vs Red Bull Salzburg (Austria)- Viitorul were crowned Romanian champions last year and are notably owned by national footballing icon Gheorghe Hagi. They face Salzburg who have had to beat Hibernians and Croatian champions Rijeka to reach this final qualifying play off.

 

Have Barcelona finally solved their right-back crisis?

Have Barcelona finally solved their right-back crisis?

In a summer where many argue that new head coach Ernesto Valverde must spend big to return the Catalonian giants to former glories; some would point out that Barcelona have already ticked off the most essential and pragmatic of signings to repair the most obvious of last season’s squad faculties.

In the same week that PSG unveiled Dani Alves, Barcelona have identified their replacement for Alves, a year on from the Brazilian’s departure from the Camp Nou. Alves is the contemporary yardstick by which all future Barca right-backs are to be judged, such was his legacy in his 8-year period at the club.

The right side of defence was one of the key areas that was repeatedly exposed in an inconsistent season by Barcelona’s standards; with Alex Vidal falling out of favour with Luis Enrique and then being sidelined by a significant ankle injury; forcing Enrique to use Sergi Roberto as a makeshift right-back.

After many reports of a return for former Barcelona youth player Hector Bellerin, 23-year old Nelson Semedo has been acquired for €30m from Benfica.

Semedo fits the mould of a young Dani Alves, being a pacey, strong, attacking full-back with excellent defensive awareness. However, the young Brazilian’s career progression has been gradual and somewhat slow-burning rather than a rapid rise to stardom.

Having begun his career aged 17 at Sport Uniao Sintrense, the third division side based north west of Lisbon; Semedo earned himself a move to Portuguese giants Benfica only a year later in 2012, signing a five-year deal in the process.

After two years (with one season being spent on loan at Fatima), Semedo progressed to the first-team picture at the Estadio Da Luz by the age of 21 after Maxi Pereira’s move to Porto in the summer of 2015.

The young Brazilian has not looked back in the last two years, being an ever-present in the Benfica side of 2015/16 and receiving his first senior call-up to the Portugal team in October 2015 after a string of impressive early-season performances.

Helder Cristovao, who coached Semedo in Benfica’s B team, believes Semedo is the best long-term replacement for Dani Alves; “I think of all the players they were talking about, maybe Semedo is closest to Alves than the others…He is very fast and Barca play with a high structure and a very high defensive line…He’s very strong on the wing and he’s able to get good contributions with the players infield and on the outside”.

It must also be said that Semedo’s eye for goal is another understated quality in his game. His exceptional left-foot strike in Benifca’s away Champions League group-stage fixture at Besiktas last season is a perfect example of this.

Earning a move to the Camp Nou aged 23 years old is no mean feat for Semedo, but he must continue to develop his game at the pinnacle of the global football stage to ensure a problem area of the pitch is now one of stability, consistency and more for Ernesto Valverde and Barcelona.

Swedish evolution developing post-Zlatan

Swedish evolution developing post-Zlatan

Hugo Lloris’ inexplicable error in the final moments of France’s Group A qualifier in Stockholm did not only hand Ola Toivonen a last-minute winner to fire Sweden to the top of their group but it also served as a confirmation that the Swedish football team’s transition is coming further into fruition; a year on from Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s international retirement.

The win has put Janne Andersson’s side on course for automatic Russia 2018 qualification (albeit via a slightly superior goal difference over 2nd placed France) and the electric atmonsphere at the Friends Arena in the home fixture against France reflected the Swedes buoyant mood.

Sweden have significantly underachieved in recent times during Zlatan’s final years; having been eliminated from the group stages of Euro 2016 and bearing the shame of missing out on qualification for the Brazil 2014 World Cup. Morale has been low and the general feeling amongst the Swedish press and fans is that they should be building for the future.

After the Stockholm hysteria post-beating France, Ibrahimovic (who is currently without a domestic club) posted a somewhat cryptic video onto Instagram that fuelled widespread speculation in his home country over the possibility of an international comeback. However, in an online poll for newspaper “Aftonbladet”, 65 per cent of voted responses were in fact not in favour of a return to the national side for their all-time leading goalscorer.

Zlatan was the star of the national side and many critics felt that on too many occasions Sweden collapsed in important qualification or tournaments games under his captaincy. The result of Aftonbladet’s poll confirm that Swedish fans believe now is the time to be looking to the forwards; to unearth the future stars of the national side.

Emil Forsberg of RB Leipzig is one such player who has enjoyed a fruitful campaign. The former Malmo midfielder was instrumental to Leipzig’s success last season; notching 8 league goals in 2016/17 and topping the Bundesliga assist table with 20 to his name.

23-year old centre-back Victor Lindelof’s excellent form for Benfica has been attracting widespread transfer attention throughout Europe for the past year and only last week completed a £31m move to Man Utd. Jose Mourinho has stated on Lindelof “Victor has a great future ahead of him here at Old Trafford”.

Manager Janne Andersson was appointed as manager of the national side in the wake of their Euro 2016 exit and has been since praised for creating an environment where even the more seasoned and less high-profile players thrive in response to the team’s positive synergy.

Ola Toivonen (30) is an excellent case in point as he has been largely out of favour at Toulouse this season but continues to provide a potent outlet for Andersson’s side and displayed this with the timely accurate strike to capitalise on Lloris’ error at the Friends Arena.

Why Hoffenheim have been the overlooked surprise package this season

Why Hoffenheim have been the overlooked surprise package this season

As the European mass media will deservedly accolade the top European performers around the continent this season; that of Antonio Conte’s revolution at Chelsea, Monaco’s outstanding title win and Champions League efforts and even RB Leipzig’s extraordinary first top-flight season; there is another success story from the Bundesliga that has not received the same widespread coverage.

Meet Julian Naglesmann (29), appointed as 1899 Hoffenheim coach on a permanent basis in February 2016; the youngest ever Bundesliga managerial appointment (aged 28 at the time). A truly animated touchline figure; routinely fist-clenching and arm-waving his way through every 90 minute period at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena, willing his team on so.

At the time of his appointment Hoffenheim were in dire straits domestically. 17th in the table and seven points from safety, few would have criticised him at the time for making plans for life the following season in the 2. Bundesliga. Quite the opposite. A remarkable turn of form gleamed 7 wins from the final 14 games, finishing a point above the relegation play-off.

A year on and the club has been transformed. After a 0-0 home draw on the final day to FC Augsburg, Hoffenheim have finished in 4th place; just 2 points behind Borussia Dortmund and will contest a Champions League qualification play-off in August to qualify for Europe’s ultimate competition.

Naglesmann has certainly had limited financial resources to work with since his arrival. In fact, one of the key attributes to the club’s success this season has been his ability to get the best out his arguably average Bundesliga squad, particularly the likes of Kerem Demirbay and Sandro Wagner.

Naglesmann’s most lavish purchase last summer was Andrej Kramaric (£8.5m); the forgotten man of Leicester City, managed of course at the time by Claudio Ranieri.

A fringe player at best at the King Power Stadium, the Croatian made only two appearances in the Foxes’ title-winning season last year. Since his move to the Bundesliga, Kramaric has been instrumental behind Hoffenheim’s success this season with 15 league goals and 8 assists to his name.

Naglesmann should be hailed as one of the coaches of the season; not only for Hoffenheim’s impressive domestic performance but for his ability to get inside of the heads of certain first team individuals. Take Wagner as a case in point; an individual who has certainly been around the block in Germany having appeared for Duisburg, Werder Bremen (II & first team), Kaiserslautern, Hertha Berlin (II & first team) and Darmstadt since graduating from the Bayern Munich academy in 2007/08. Barely four months younger than Naglesmann, Wagner has flourished under his coach this season, having longed throughout his career for a manager that believed in his ability. Wagner has now received a call-up to the German national side squad for the 2017 Confederations Cup this summer.

Naglesmann had worked for Hoffenheim for 5 years prior to being named as head coach of the first team. He first joined the club as an assistant coach in the academy after having his playing career cut short by chronic injuries problems. His innovative and meticulous coaching methods are reflected not only by the club’s upturn in domestic performance but by the close bond he has with his players.

Naglesmann still underlines the importance behind preserving Hoffenheim as a stable top- flight Bundesliga side and he will realise the need to keeping his young players in check. But there can be no denying the fact he is only one qualifying play-off away from leading the club into their most prominent moment of their history.

La Liga round-up

La Liga round-up

Madrid show resoluteness with another late winner

A 90th-minute winner from Isco rescued the three points for Real Madrid at Sporting Gijon on Saturday afternoon after twice coming from behind at the Estadio El Molinon.

Zinedine Zidane’s side have shown on repeatable occasions that they have the character and willpower in their ranks to snatch vital points at the death of games. They have notched an incredible 13 goals after the 90th minute this season, indicative of their mental strength and indomitable spirit.

Gijon took the lead in the 13th minute when Mikel Vesga’s sublime chip bamboozled Real’s centre-backs and Duje Cop slotted home with a well-placed volley past Kiko Casilla. However, just three minutes later, Isco showed superb feet in Gijon’s box, dancing around challenges before curling a masterful finish into the far corner to level the game.

Vesga (the Athletic Bilbao loanee) was again at the forefront of the action at the start of the second-half when he looped in a header over the out-of-position Casilla to restore Gijon’s lead over the leaders.

This time, Gijon just about made their lead last 9 minutes as Danilo’s pinpoint cross found Alvaro Morata who made no mistake finding the net with a clinical header to level the game once again.

Real turned up the pressure in the final quarter and at the moment the fourth official was preparing the electronic display for injury time, Isco was turning on the edge of Gijon’s box to rifle a shot into the left-hand corner to snatch victory and maintain their title-charge momentum.

Nery Barcelona limp to victory to keep pace

A brace from Lionel Messi and a Paco Alcacer goal in an entertaining first-half ensured Barcelona laboured to an unconvincing victory over in-form Real Sociedad to keep pace with Real Madrid in the Saturday evening fixture.

On 17 minutes, a smooth combination between Paco Alcacer and Luis Suarez set up Lionel Messi who smashed a left-footed pile driver into the bottom corner.

Twenty minutes later, Messi was on-target again with a scuffed tap-in that despite being far from the level of quality his repertoire of magic normally produces; it was just as significant as it meant the Argentine is just two goals short of the 500 milestone.

Inigo Martinez then showed great improvisation for Sociedad in Barcelona’s box firing a shot across the goal past Marc-Andre ter Stegen which ricocheted off Samuel Umtiti to bring them back into the game.

A high-tempo end to the first-half ensued as Paco Alcacer was slipped in by Lionel Messi to restore his side’s two-goal cushion before Barcelona’s recent defensive woes were again highlighted as barely a minute later, Xabi Prieto ghosted in behind the back four and met a square ball over the top with a cool side-footed volleyed finish.

The three points keeps Barcelona 3 points behind leaders Real but such an unconvincing display is far from the ideal on the eve of their biggest week of the campaign; they host Juventus on Tuesday evening (where they will need to overturn a 3-0 deficit) and face the El Classico next Sunday; a domestic make or break encounter for Luis Enrique’s men.

Atletico dispatch Osasuna to strengthen grip on 3rd

Yannick Carrasco scored twice as Atletico Madrid comfortably beat rock-bottom Osasuna 3-0 at the Vicente Calderon in a game that also saw two missed penalties for Diego Simeone’s men.

As star-man Antoine Griezmann had been left on the bench by Simeone in preparation for the Champions League tie in midweek at Leicester, it was Carrasco who took centre stage as he drove home a powerful shot from the edge of the box on 29 minutes.

The Belgian midfielder was again on the scoresheet at the start of the second half, heading in Nicolas Gaitan’s cross to notch his 10th of the season.

On the hour mark, Filipe Luis confirmed the points for Los Colchoneros and notched his third goal in four La Liga matches curling a close-range opportunity around Osasuna goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu with his weaker right foot.

After Angel Correa was felled in the 88th minute, Carrasco wasted the chance to score a hat-trick from the penalty spot, before Thomas Partey also saw an attempt saved just seconds later with an impressive save from the Italian goalkeeper.

 

Elsewhere in Spain

-Sevilla were unable to close the gap on 3rd-place as they were held to a 0-0 draw at Valencia, keeping them three points adrift of Atletico Madrid.

 

-A second-string Celta Vigo warmed up for their Europa League quarter-final return leg tie at Genk with a dazzling 3-0 win away at Granada to hand new boss Tony Adams a sobering defeat in his first match in charge. Jozabed, Marcelo Diaz and Claudio Beauvue with the goals for Eduardo Berrizo’s men. Granada are currently seven points adrift of safety.

Four candidates in the frame to replace Enrique at Barcelona

Four candidates in the frame to replace Enrique at Barcelona

On the evening after Barcelona’s 6-1 hammering of Sporting Gijon came the announcement that many quarters of the Spanish media were expecting to be made from the Catalan club (admittedly closer to the season end) that manager Luis Enrique would be leaving his post at the end of the season.

As unusual as it is to broadcast a decision of this nature after such a resounding victory, it must be said that after the 4-0 first-leg away reverse in the Champions League to PSG and continuous conflicts with the local Spanish press, many felt this announcement would only be a matter of time.

Despite this first-leg battering, Barcelona produced one of the most spectacular comebacks ever seen in European Cup history overturning the four goal deficit to beat PSG 6-1 in Catalonia with three goals scored in the last five minutes of the game in the most dramatic of circumstances.

Away from the CL, the season is far from over for Enrique’s men. Still in the title race (leading Real Madrid by one point who have a game in hand), with a Copa Del Rey final against Alaves to contend, the former Barcelona midfielder has a chance to end his managerial stint with the Catalonians with a treble.

Having pointed to one of the identical personal reasons for his departure as his predecessor Pep Guardiola citing weariness and mental fatigue after three seasons in the role, it is debated as to which personality that will have the stomach and endurance for this pressured managerial position. The following 4 names are being touted as the most likely replacements:

Ernesto Valverde

One of the early favourites for the job. Valverde has been in charge of Athletic Bilbao since 2013 and has since led them to Champions League qualification, a Spanish Super Cup victory over Barcelona and a Copa Del Rey final.

A diplomatic character who has played for Barcelona in his career for two seasons and who will not be afraid to make important squad decisions to reinvigorate an ageing Barcelona team.

In addition to his achievements at Bilbao, his side became known for an intense pressing game, much akin to that of Mauricio Pochettino’s current model at Tottenham Hotpsur. However, his record at the clubs he has coached (particularly Bilbao and Olympiakos) also implies he brings a stout defensive resoluteness to sides.   At Bilbao, a team that had conceded 65 goals in La Liga under previous coach Marcelo Bielsa, let in only 39 under Valverde – going from 12th to 4th in the process.

In Greece, Valverde delivered three titles at Olympiakos over three seasons, with an attacking possession-based philosophy that produced a 68% and 75% win rate in his two spells respectively, signifying the level of dominance Olympiakos enjoyed under Valverde.

A well-rounded, calm and collective individual whose excellent media-relationship skills makes him the typical “Barcelona fit” required to occupy the hot-seat and be the front-facing figure at a club surrounded by such complex internal politics within the hierarchy.

Likelihood of a Barcelona approach- 8/10

Jorge Sampaoli

Since joining Sevilla last summer, Jorge Sampaoli has impressed with the 2016 Europa League Champions, particularly improving their domestic performance in La Liga, so much so that they are competing with La Liga giants Real Madrid and Barcelona in a three-horse title-race (Sevilla currently sit 4 points off leaders Barcelona).

He made his name with the Chilean national team, famously claiming a Copa America title in 2015.

The frenetic, bold and attacking style seen at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan this season has won the hearts of many a football neutral this year and will no doubt result in many Barcelona fans calling for the Argentine to make the move across Spain to take their club forward to future glories.

The Barcelona tradition of appointing managers either from within their internal coaching structure or previous players may work against the possibility of an approach as the Sampaoli fits neither category, having had no previous association with the club in his career to date.

An outspoken and passionate individual, whether or not he will fit the mould of FC Barcelona can only be decided by the boardroom.

Likelihood of a Barcelona approach- 7/10

Ronald Koeman

Having played for the club for over six years between 1989 and 1995 and with an impressive managerial CV, the Dutchman will inevitably be linked with a hot-seat vacancy at the Camp Nou.

Having managed at a host of renowned and esteemed European clubs in his seventeen-year managerial career including PSV, Ajax, Valencia and Benfica, the Dutchman would bring a wealth of experience to Barcelona.

Two successful spells at his first English Premier League club Southampton resulted in a 7th and 6th league table finish, both in campaigns where he had to contend with the sales of many of his star players from the club.

Having signed a three-year deal with Everton last summer, Barcelona would be forced to pay a substantial compensation package to the Merseyside club for Koeman.

Many feel however that it may prove too great a step up at this moment in time; particularly as many in Spain remember his unsuccessful spell at Valencia in a campaign where his side plummeted to 15th in La Liga and had finished bottom of their Champions League by the time the Dutchman was dismissed.

Likelihood of a Barcelona approach- 5/10

Mauricio Pochettino

The current Tottenham Hotspur manager is a dark-horse in the running. Having transformed the North London club into a title-chasing outfit has been no mean feat.

With a strong ideology for an intense, high-pressing attacking style, many would argue that the Argentine would be an excellent fit at Barcelona.

However, repeated failures to progress to advanced rounds in European competitions has cast doubt over the psychological toughness of his side and one may feel this may be a jump too steep too early in Pochettino’s career.

Likelihood of a Barcelona approach- 5/10