3. Ernesto Valverde (Athletic Club)
Valverde played for Barcelona during Cruyff’s time as manager, so he knows the club first-hand
Tactical suitability, 2/5: Wedded to a rough 4-2-3-1 system, Valverde tends to implement ball-oriented pressing to cut off the opposition’s passing options, with a double pivot in midfield supporting the press. His sides do, however, use a lot of direct play and crosses in attack, which doesn’t necessarily suit Barcelona.
Strategic fit, 5/5: Valverde also played for Barcelona during Cruyff’s time as manager, so he knows the club first-hand. And, having managed Athletic Bilbao for two separate spells, he understands what it means to be in charge of a team utterly embedded within, and representative of, its community.
Results, 4/5: After leading Espanyol to the UEFA Cup final in 2007, Valverde won titles in Greece with Olympiakos. Most recently, he’s made Athletic Bilbao perennial challengers for the European places in La Liga.
2. Ronald Koeman (Everton)
As a club icon responsible for scoring the winning goal to seal Barcelona’s first-ever European Cup victory, Koeman is highly respected at the Camp Nou
Tactical suitability, 2/5: Koeman has gained a reputation for improving defences and has restored some semblance of order and balance to Everton this season. Defensively, his teams are compact and structured, while offensively they play a mixed possession game. The Dutchman has varied between 3-5-2, 3-4-2-1 and 4-2-3-1 configurations.
Strategic fit, 5/5: As a club icon responsible for scoring the winning goal to seal Barcelona’s first-ever European Cup victory in 1992, Koeman is highly respected at the Camp Nou. He also fits the bill with his emphasis on youth development, which has been evident throughout his managerial career.
Results, 4/5: A decent spell with Feyenoord in Koeman’s homeland followed title victories with both Ajax and PSV. And, after struggling abroad with Benfica and Valencia, he brought improvement to both Southampton and Everton.
1. Jorge Sampaoli (Sevilla)
Tactical suitability, 5/5: Sampaoli’s sides operate with a high-octane pressing style in the defensive phase, while they also play a fluid possession game focused on penetration of the opposition. The Argentine coach is renowned for his ability to tailor his team’s approach to the opposition at hand.
Strategic fit, 3/5: An unconventional and intense touchline persona, Sampaoli is a heavily detail-oriented football obsessive, although he’s still in his first year of management in European football.
Results, 5/5: After transforming Universidad de Chile into one of South America’s best sides, winning Chilean titles and the Copa Sudamericana en route, Sampaoli led the Chilean national team to a momentous Copa America win in 2015. And, thus far, his time with Sevilla has been a success.