BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — When you get to manage Lionel Messi, it sounds downright silly to talk about the challenges awaiting Barcelona’s coach-to-be.
Yet whoever the Catalan club picks to replace Luis Enrique on Monday will not just be handed a star-studded team led by one of the best players in the world.
The chosen one will also inherit a handful of small, but serious flaws whose handling will determine whether he is a success or failure.
Ernesto Valverde, who recently left Athletic Bilbao, is the leading candidate to replace a worn-out Luis Enrique. The official announcement is expected after the club’s board meeting on Monday.
“On Monday we will know officially and the coach that comes will have the qualities to carry this team forward,” Andres Iniesta said after Barcelona salvaged its otherwise disappointing season by winning the Copa del Rey on Saturday.
“Now our task is to keep winning,” Iniesta said. “When you don’t achieve your objectives, which is to win major titles, your season wasn’t a good one. We know we have things to improve. That’s how demanding this club is.”
Here is a look at the most pressing issues facing Barcelona’s future boss:
THAT MISSING BIT
Despite winning a third straight Copa del Rey, Barcelona took a step back this season.
But a look at its numbers will leave Enrique’s successor the puzzle of figuring out why.
Barcelona had the highest scoring attack in the Spanish league with the competition’s top two scorers in Messi and Luis Suarez. It also defended well, conceding four fewer goals than champion Real Madrid.
In the Champions League it pulled off one of the most spectacular comebacks in the history of the competition when it roared back 6-1 against Paris Saint-Germain to overturn a 4-0 first-leg deficit. Then it promptly slumped out 3-0 to Juventus after not scoring in either leg.
The difference behind those three extra points that Madrid earned through 38 rounds and its highs and lows in Europe resides somewhere in the intangible world of keeping up the maximum levels of effort and concentrations week in, week out.
Bridging that tiny gap between very good and sustained greatness is task No. 1 for Barcelona’s incoming manager.
The steady stream of talent that once flowed from Barcelona’s La Masia training academy into its first team dried up under Enrique.
The only homegrown player to earn a starting role under Enrique was Sergi Roberto, a midfielder converted to right back. Rafinha remains a reserve after returning from Celta Vigo, while Pedro Rodriguez and youngsters Munir El Haddadi and Sandro Ramirez left to find playing time.
The academy that has produced current figures Messi, Iniesta, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets needs to reclaim its weight on the first team for the benefit of both.
Nobody can say that Enrique wasn’t a winner.
He had a perfect first campaign in 2014-15, repeating the rare treble of Champions League, Spanish league and Copa del Rey first conquered by Pep Guardiola. He followed that with a double of the league and Copa del Rey in 2015-16, and then added a third cup when Barcelona beat Alaves 3-1 in his last match in charge.
Toss in a Club World Cup, a European Super Cup and a Spanish Super Cup, and his team won nine of a possible 13 trophies. Those numbers are on par with Guardiola’s 14 of a possible 19 titles from 2008-2012.
But many of Barcelona’s purists complained that the team had lost its identity of dominating opponents through superior ball control by its midfield.
Since the arrival of Neymar and Suarez to join Messi up front, the focus on the team has shifted from its midfield to its attack.
Before last season, the club tried to bulk up its midfield by signing Andre Gomes and Denis Suarez. But the team struggled to dictate matches when the Iniesta was off the pitch, leaving Messi as its best playmaker.
If the Barcelona of old is to be the Barcelona of the future, its coach must get more from its other underperforming midfielders to help out Iniesta, who will turn 34 next season.
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