A lot has happened in the world of soccer since the beginning of the winter break: Liverpool still has a flawless record, Tottenham is struggling to find a Harry Kane replacement due to a hamstring injury and Watford actually won a few more matches.
But this column will be looking away from the Premier League and focus more on what’s happening in Spain’s La Liga, where on Jan. 13, FC Barcelona sacked Ernesto Valverde from the club following their 3-2 defeat to Atlético Madrid in the Supercopa semifinal.
Being a Barcelona fan, I was relieved to see the news of the sacking. After poor choices, or lack thereof, for substitutions and tactics in big games it was nothing but a dream to see the Spaniard get the axe from the club; and a few hours later Barcelona announced their new coach until the end of the 2021-22 season: Quique Setien.
The former Real Betis manager wasn’t their first choice of coaches for the Balugrana. Originally, the board turned to former midfielder Xavi for the position but turned it down which is probably a smart move. We’ve seen former players like Frank Lampard and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer coach their boyhood clubs, and while Lampard’s Chelsea has been doing pretty well despite his managerial experience, Solskjaer’s Manchester United have seen mixed results. But what can Setien really bring to the table? The answer: The old Barcelona.
Setien typically favored a “Johan Cruyff” style of soccer, which was keeping open space when on the offensive and making the pitch look smaller in the defensive. This play style should ring a bell to many Barcelona fans, since not only did Cruyff play for and manage Barcelona, but also established this style of soccer in Ajax and Barcelona’s youth academies.
Already in Setien’s first match on Saturday against Granada there was greater intensity in defense from the likes of Pique and Samuel Umtiti as well as better movement and fluidity when handling the ball. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
While it has only been his first game as coach only time will tell what kind of impact Setien will have at the Camp Nou. Currently, the Spaniard will have to work with a Suarez-less team, as the Uruguayan is out for four months with a knee injury. Besides, there’s one thing Setien has to prove not only to the Barcelona board but to the fans: Winning the Champions League.
If there’s any pressure on Setien, it’s bringing back the Champions League trophy back to Barcelona; the last time was in 2015, when Barcelona won the treble under Luis Enrique. Under Valverde, as stated earlier, his lack of substitutions and good tactics had cost the Catalonians their Champions League triumph in 2018 against Roma and in 2019 against Liverpool, where in both occasions they blew their chances in the second leg. Setien’s first Champions League match will be against Napoli away on Feb. 25, so it will be interesting to see how Barcelona performs under him between now and then.
So, is Setien the right choice for Barcelona? Only time will tell.
Thumbnail Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.