Madrid (AFP) – Barcelona’s new era has started with two wins out of two but Saturday’s trip to Valencia will provide Quique Setien with his first true test and an opportunity to make his mark.
After squeezing past Granada 1-0 and scoring two late goals to beat Ibiza 2-1, Barca are still without a convincing victory to give their new coach some thrust.
Against Granada, there were clear signs of intent, in the 83 per cent possession and 1,005 attempted passes, both the most seen by a team in La Liga since Pep Guardiola’s in 2011.
“I saw a lot of things that I liked today,” said Setien.
But dominance did not convert into goals and the winner, scored by Lionel Messi, only came in the 76th minute, after Granada had been reduced to 10 men following the sending off of German Sanchez.
On an artificial pitch and with a weakened team facing inspired, albeit third tier, opposition, Ibiza in the Copa del Rey perhaps always offered little up-side.
But a 94th-minute winner from Antoine Griezmann, who had scored the equaliser too, spoke less of control and more a narrow escape.
When Setien was appointed last week he admitted it was unusual to take over a team top of La Liga and, despite a longing for a change of style, the sense was he might introduce his beliefs gradually.
Yet already Barcelona look like a side committed to change, perhaps because Setien knows no other way or even because the players were craving something different too.
“I was surprised to see their willingness to work and to accept some of the changes,” Setien said last week. “They have to understand everything you say.”
Aside from the passing, Barcelona are also pressing higher and attacking wider.
Against Granada, Jordi Alba was playing like a winger and against Ibiza, both of Griezmann’s goals came after Alba was brought on as a substitute, his second from a direct assist.
But there could be a danger of too much too soon, not least because it remains to be seen whether this group of players are even suited or capable of playing the football to which Setien is so devoted.
He has already shown faith in youth but Riqui Puig’s excellent showing off the bench against Granada preceded a dip against Ibiza, where he was at fault for the goal and taken off in the second half.