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BARCELONA - REAL MADRID

Barcelona-Real Madrid: Valverde the scourge of Zidane, Solari and Lopetegui

Julen Lopetegui was sacked after a 5-1 Clasico defeat while Santiago Solari was canned after Copa del Rey failure; a 17-point gap in 2018 did for Zidane.

Update:
Ernesto Valverde, en un partido de esta temporada.
Gorka Leiza / Diario As

Zinedine Zidane’s job is hardly resting on the outcome of the Clásico at Camp Nou, but Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde does have a pretty impressive CV when it comes to ending the employment of Real Madrid coaches, even if he got off on the wrong foot when he took charge in 2017 and promptly lost the Spanish Super Cup 5-1 on aggregate to the eternal rivals.

Neymar had departed for PSG, leaving a void that some would argue has still not been filled, and Gerard Piqué admitted after the defeat that Barça felt inferior to their rivals, who had just won the Liga title and the Champions League.

Valverde faced the press on 16 August and left a couple of messages that would later prove providential: “First, we have to recover, overall in terms of morale. But we also have to find a system that will allow us to win.” Cue the discarding of Barça’s tried and tested 4-3-3 for a 4-4-2 and the delivery of a domestic double in 2017-18. “Nobody is unbeatable,” Valverde added that day. “If there is one certainty in football, it’s that everybody will lose one day. It has happened to us and it will happen to Real Madrid.”

Valverde's tactical superiority

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Four months later, Barcelona arrived at the Bernabéu top of the table and outplayed Madrid in a 3-0 victory that practically sealed the league title with half the season played and left Zidane deflated. Madrid may have won the Champions League again but Zidane was gone at the end of the season, and didn’t hesitate to explain why when asked what his happiest moment was: “Winning the league was the high point.” That season, Barcelona finished 17 points ahead of Madrid.

Julen Lopetegui was brought in to replace Zidane and apply his tactical wizardry to a Madrid side that had become a little stale domestically, seemingly only driven by history and Cristiano Ronaldo to keep scaling the heights of Europe. He was sacked 18 weeks later after Barcelona thrashed his hapless side 5-1. Santiago Solari replaced him for the remainder of the season, but also got the axe after losing to Barcelona in the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey and conceding the league after a 1-0 defeat to Valverde’s side. The 4-1 aggregate defeat to Ajax was the final nail, but Valverde was holding the hammer.

Zidane was brought back to steady the ship with the league title already heading in Camp Nou’s direction, with an eye on this season. As things stand, Barça and Madrid are neck and neck in the title race this season on 35 points. The Clásico on Wednesday will not be decisive but it will be a chance for Zidane to test his 2019-20 formula against one that has claimed the last two Liga titles.

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