Barcelona Vs. Real Sociedad: Ernesto Valverde to Cap Off Perfect First Season at Helm

Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi at the Camp Nou, Barcelona, May 6. David Ramos/Getty

When Ernesto Valverde was unveiled as the new Barcelona manager less than 12 months ago, his task was huge.

He may have been taking over one of the most successful teams in the history of football, but this was an aging squad.

Xavi had gone. Neymar was sold. Iniesta was retiring. And the remaining stars of the Guardiola era, such as Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique, were in their 30s now.

So an overhaul was expected, and quite possibly may still be needed. But as Valverde prepares to face Real Sociedad on Sunday in the final game of the season, his first year in charge couldn't have gone much better.

Sunday's sensational shock 5-4 defeat to Levante means Barcelona are unable to finish the season unbeaten. They are no longer invincible. But, in Spain at least, they are dominant.

Such was Barca's relentlessness this season, the La Liga title was wrapped up in April. They can finish the season at least 15 points ahead of bitter rivals Real Madrid with a win against Sociedad, completing a league and cup double.

But while Barcelona have ruled in Spain, Madrid has conquered Europe. While Messi et al will be resting up ahead of this summer's World Cup, they would rather be in Real Madrid's position.

Zinedine Zidane takes his team to Kiev for the Champions League final against Liverpool, the third time in four years they have reached the last two.

Real, the first team to successfully defend the competition in the modern era, go into the game believing this is their trophy. No other team has touched it since 2015—and that was Barcelona.

Ever since then, the Catalans have failed to get past the quarterfinals stage. Beaten by Atletico Madrid in 2016, Juventus the following year, and, of course, the miraculous comeback by Roma in the Eternal City last month.

So Valverde will be pleased with his first campaign. Silverware will certainly appease the Camp Nou faithful, but envy will lurk as they watch Real reach another final.

The demands at Barcelona are great. Valverde will have to improve on this season in Europe while continuing to transition his squad. It was never going to be easy.