Sudden reports suggest that Quique Setién could be shown the door before the closure of this season. But is the problem at Barcelona really restricted to a change of coach, or is it much more deep rooted?
It has been less than six months since Barcelona parted ways with Ernesto Valverde. After what seemed like an eternity of monotonous anti-Barcelona football, fans all over the world celebrated the arrival of Quique Setién to the driver’s seat. He was supposed to be the harbinger of nostalgic football, the one to make the most of what is left of the golden generation. Yet just five months into his spell, he finds himself at the edge of the cliff. According to reports from goal, Barcelona is already looking to change the coach with multiple players being “unhappy” with his ideologies.
The problem is much deeper than it appears
Power is a very dangerous thing in the world of football. Three institutions challenge for the power at any club: The board, the coach and the players. Barcelona has problems at multiple strata.
The outrage against the current board has been steadily increasing with every passing day. Arthur Melo‘s transfer, however, was definitely the final nail in the coffin before the patience of supporters broke. The decisions taken by president Josep Maria Bartomeu and Co. are clearly completely financially oriented. There is evidently a lack of focus on the footballing aspect of the club.
No adequate steps to take care of the future, mind-boggling sums given off as transfer fees to get Galáctico signings re-affirm this mindset. Blind renewals of contracts of senior players with colossal salaries make them almost impossible to move on at any time in the near future.
“We all know Setién is a huge fan of Johan Cruyff’s style and we share the same objectives. What I like most is the communication he has with his players, his way of working, his way of coaching”
Josep Maria Bartomeu
during the presentation of Quique Setién in January
When a board has placed trust in a manager to rebuild a clearly broken team, it is expected that he will be given time to work his way with the squad. But just five months in and reports suggest that more than half the board members want Quique Setién to be shown the door at the earliest!
The future of this club can not be expected to sorted under this board. They are completely result-oriented and least concerned about the footballing project. The recent transfer record is testament to this.
Players having power is not ideal by any means. Losing the dressing room is as good as losing their job for managers. While media reports suggest that Setién “lost the dressing room’‘, it is safe to say that Quique never had the dressing room to begin with. Agreed that he hasn’t proved himself at any big clubs or won any titles. It is also true that he is stubborn about playing a certain brand of football. Nevertheless, the dressing room never really backed him. Multiple episodes starting with assistant Eder Sarabia having to publicly apologise to the players, to Luis Suárez’s post-match comments after the draw against Celta de Vigo justify this.
“The problem in away games? That’s something the coach needs to analyse. We just give our everything”
after another away draw against Celta de Vigo
Unquestionably, most of the senior players in the squad were extensively pampered under Ernesto Valverde’s reign. Guaranteed starting roles, not much tracking back on the field and less ground to cover were just a few of the let-offs they enjoyed. They stayed silent through the shameless European night at Rome and Anfield, defending their manager who clearly made mistakes. But here they are, ready to pounce on Setién just five months into his tenure?
Of what use is a change in coach at Barcelona if the players are unwilling to do what is asked of them!
Will a change of coach do any good to Barcelona?
Quique Setién can be demanding and harsh on players, but he definitely has brought about a positive change in the gameplay. The finish line is still a long distance away, but there are certainly visible positive changes in the brand of football. At such a stage, changing the manager certainly doesn’t seem like a sensible option for the club. He has been given hardly any time to make any changes, and showing him the door now would just be another display of lack of faith in their own decisions.
Looking at what has happened with Arthur Melo, Philippe Coutinho, Malcom and now Setién will surely seed a doubt into the heads of any aspiring players or managers who want to join the Catalans.
What should Setién do now?
The best option on the table for the Barcelona boss is to do exactly what he has been doing for so long. Stay oblivious of the media and circulating news, and stay focused on the job at hand. Every game is a must-win game at this stage. With the massive game against Atlético de Madrid coming up, no distractions can be entertained.
It is indeed shameless to see both the players and the board ganging up to scapegoat the manager when the issues stretch far beyond. What this club needs is a complete rebuild, from the grassroots level. Such a change cannot be brought about until the elections bring a capable candidate on board. Quique Setién may have till the end of august to save his job, and he has to work tooth and nail to show something special that lets him hang on.
Glass half empty: Is the season already over for Barcelona?
If the objective for Barcelona for the present season was to make up for what was lost in its predecessor, then they have gotten off to the possible start. In nine matchdays in the current campaign, the Catalans have garnered up a measly eleven points from a possible 24, and even with 30 matchdays yet to play, doubts have been cast over their title credentials.
Leagues are lost in the first eight games
In his book Pep Confidential, Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola said that leagues are lost in the first eight and won in the last eight games of any given campaign. One need only look at the Barcelona and tumultuous end to the 2019/20 season for evidence of the same.
Despite heading into the lockdown holding a two-point advantage over nearest challengers Real Madrid, Barcelona proved to be the perfect test subject for what Pep Guardiola’s experiment. In the final eight games of the season, Los Blancos won 22 points while the men in Garnet and Blue garnered up just seventeen. Why so?
Well, a panoply of systemic issues ranging from the incompetent management of Quique Setién to the atrocious defending from the back four as well as unexpected injuries were enough for the Blaugrana to concede the title.
A pattern all too similar — if not worse — is repeating itself in the current campaign. As mentioned before, the former champions have won just eleven points from a possible 24 and are on their worst start to a season since 1991-92 under Johan Cruyff. Some conspiracy theorists would argue that because it happened then, history might repeat itself, however, the context today is significantly different from that of the 90s.
With 23 points and sitting atop of the pile is Real Sociedad and they show no intention of slowing down. Not right now, anyway. Ten games into the season, the Txuri-Urdin have emerged victorious seven times, drawn twice and conceded defeat just once. They have hit the back of the net 21 times (best in the league), and have picked the ball from theirs on just four occasions.
📊 — Barcelona are currently placed 13th on the La Liga table. They are 12 points away from the league leaders (Real Sociedad), and are 4 points away from relegation zone. pic.twitter.com/DuECLJT0jt— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) November 23, 2020
Barcelona meanwhile are on one of their worst scoring seasons in recent history, averaging just below two a game while conceding just over one in each. To put into perspective just how disastrous a campaign this is turning out to be, the Catalans would need to taste defeat just once more to equal their record from the 2014-15 treble-winning season.
Much from this point on will depend on La Erreala’s form in the future. Based on expected goals and points, a dip might be on the cards, however, how drastic it will be, or if it will even come around in the first place, is uncertain.
A lack of tactical ingenuity
Koeman’s stubbornness has left the season in the dust for Barcelona. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)
A handful of the matches played during the Ronald Koeman era that have shown glimpses of how his ideal Barça side should play, however, these sorts of performances have often been sandwiched between games that were, to say it lightly, deplorable to watch.
The Dutch manager does not seem to have a set plan of action for whenever the team finds itself a goal down. In moments where his critical thinking ability is put to the test, he seldom passes. Rather than insist on maintaining control of the ball by adding a midfielder or two, he completely drains the team of them, perhaps believing in the logical fallacy that more attacking players equal to a higher chance of winning.
Not only is he inept at making proper changes to the side when in a losing position, but his willful ignorance at the failures of his favoured 4-2-3-1 also massively contribute to the team’s inability to win.
Riqui Puig should be the symbol of everything Barcelona should strive to be, however, due to his preference of one formation and one only, arguably the Catalans’ best midfielder finds himself cast into the shadows.
Everyone loves Riqui Puig…everyone but Koeman apparently. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)
If a system in which the midfielder that embodies the Barça way of playing is not playing, and the arrangement itself is barely living up to its expectations, then a continuation of the same will serve not only to widen the gap between the Blaugrana and the rest of Europe’s elites but also stray further and further away from what made them great, to begin with.
A crisis in the clinic
As if it were an epidemic within the dressing room, injuries have once again proven to be the incurable seasonal plague that Barcelona simply can not find a way around.
It would by no means be logical to place blame on the manager for these unforeseen and uncontrollable happenings, however in light of their title challenge, the more injuries come, the slimmer Barça’s chances are of surmounting a challenge worthy of being crowned the best in Spain, let alone Europe.
In attack, the Blaugrana are just one injury away from being forced into playing with three attackers upfront. It might force Barcelona to go back to using the 4-3-3, but it will stem from a position of compulsion rather than by design.
On the contrary, given the fact that Ansu Fati will be out for another three months, any lesion on either one of Ousmane Dembélé or Lionel Messi, the two most productive members of the current attack, could signal the end of any title challenge the Catalans, if there is one to begin with.
The absence of Fati and Pique will hurt Barcelona massively this season. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)
In defence, following the long term injuries sustained by Gerard Piqué and Sergi Roberto, the same horrid storyline repeats itself. The two-time treble winners find themselves just two injuries away from having just neither a centre-back nor a left-back. The shallowness the defence faces today, in comparison to the depth it nearly boasted just two months ago shows to what extent football’s hand can be as unpredictable as it is cruel.
Given the trend, Barcelona have found themselves victim to over the past two seasons, another wound might be somewhere around the corner. Of course, no one in the Barça camp wishes this upon their players, however, the odds seem firmly stacked against their favour.
Any scope left for Barcelona in this season?
Barcelona is by no means a club known to surrender, in any season — in the La Liga at least —, but finding themselves a whopping twelve points behind this early on makes the task seem almost unsurmountable. As unlikely as it sounds, the Blaugrana still do have a chance to clinch the title for the 27th time.
For this to happen, however, Barcelona will not only have to weed out some of its core systemic problems but also pray that fate’s cruel hand will not strike them another blow. The problems Barcelona face are not set in stone, fortunately. They will need plenty of mental strength, tactical ingenuity and luck to go the extra mile and do the impossible.