JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA – JANUARY 09: Luis Suarez of FC Barcelona (C) reacts during the Supercopa de … [+]
Even by FC Barcelona’s standards, January 2020 was a choatic month that corners of the Catalan press have dubbed ‘one to forget’ due to its various dramatic twists and turns. Here’s how it panned out.
January 5th: A derby disaster
Returning from the Christmas and New Year break, Barça fell behind to their relegation-threatened cross city rivals through a David Lopez header until Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal equalised and gave them the lead in the 50th and 59th minutes.
Frenkie de Jong brandished a first career red card however, Ernesto Valverde’s charges threw away another match after coming back once Wu Lei netted with two minutes left to a pinch a 2-2 draw.
January 9th: A Super Cup semi final knockout
Koke netting 20 seconds after coming on at half time, Barça yet again pulled it back and headed out in front of Atletico Madrid with responses from Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann.
The Blaugrana producing what many thought was their best performance of the season for a full 80 minutes in Jeddah, Alvaro Morata and Angel Correa sealed a 2-3 win for Diego Simeone’s men in what eventually became Valverde’s last game in charge.
January 10th – 13th: A calamitous hunt for a new manager and a season-ending injury
On the Friday following the Thursday Super Cup exit, shocking rumours emerged that sporting director Eric Abidal and CEO Oscar Grau were heading to Qatar to meet club legend Xavi Hernandez, with regards to possibly replacing Valverde.
It was said that the trip was made first and foremost to check on the progress of the injured Ousmane Dembele, receiving treatment in Doha at the time, and that any visit to the former midfielder, whom Abidal played alongside under Pep Guardiola in the Tiki-taka golden age, was merely a courtesy call.
As further leaks were made to the media however, it was revealed that Xavi had indeed received a proposal which he decided to decline on the Sunday. Feeling he was not ready for the position and should fulfil his obligations with Al-Sadd, the La Masia product also spoke of having respect for Valverde.
This left top brass in a tight spot, with Ronald Koeman and Mauricio Pochettino also turning down the soon-to-be-vacant post. Yet fourth choice Quique Setien was finally appointed as Valverde’s sucessor, when both major decisions were announced within minutes of each other nearing midnight on Monday evening.
Sacked halfway through a campaign despite Barça being top of the league and clinching their Champions League group, the ousting of the double-La Liga and Copa del Rey winner divided fans.
In the meantime, Luis Suarez was ruled out for four months – pretty much ending his 2019/2020 season – due to a knee knock picked up in the mentioned Atleti defeat.
Leaving his team lacking an out-and-out striker, another operation, to procure a worthy substitute for the Uruguayan, began now the managerial hotseat had already changed hands.
January 25th: A fourth humbling on the road
Lucky not to suffer such a fate against lowly Ibiza, where Barça dropped 0-1 behind to the Balearic isle minnows in the Copa del Rey prior to a Griezmann brace saving their blushes, Setien came crashing down to earth at the Mestalla three days later.
Sunken by a Maxi Gomez double, Valencia were unfortunate to only beat their visitors 2-0 yet still sentenced Setien to his first defeat as FCB coach and the first team overall to its fourth in the current campaign. As a result, their lead at the top of La Liga was also relinquished to bitter rivals Real Madrid.
January 30th: A failed quest for a ‘9’ is called off
Following a two week public courting of Valencia’s Rodrigo and Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, club officials decide to carry on the rest of the season with nobody to stand in for Suarez.
Unable to meet demands of around $60mn for either target, these developments came as an embarrassment to an outfit that now plans a fresh raid on Neymar or Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez in the summer. That’s if they have the cash, that is.