After last week’s loss against Osasuna, many doubts arose over the future of Barcelona manager Quique Setién, as there were rumours that the board could have been considering sacking him once the league was over.
Barça coach Quique Setién obtained his first defeat after the coronavirus break last Thursday against Osasuna. A defeat that could be classified as a failure or a disappointment as it was the same day that Real Madrid were crowned La Liga champions. Despite Los Blancos‘ 2–1 win over Villarreal already gave them the title, Barcelona’s loss brought even more frustration to fans. Fortunately for Quique, he managed to end La Liga campaign with a 0–5 away victory against Deportivo Alavés.
“We have talked a lot, and it has helped ease the situation for us”
after Barcelona’s 0–5 win over Alavés
Quique Setién has tried to implement some tactical changes at Barça compared to his predecessor Ernesto Valverde, but for several reasons, the changes between both managers has not been highly noticeable in the eyes of fans. In most games the team continues to have the same problems to kill off games and the impact in the third final can be minimal against compact low blocks. In addition, it is increasingly difficult for the best player in the side, Lionel Messi, to score goals or be more decisive from a tactical level.
Nevertheless, Setién has exponentially bolstered the defensive solidity by bringing out the best of Gerard Piqué and Clément Lenglet, by knowing how to accommodate Nélson Semedo at right-back, and by trusting Jordi Alba, who has found some of his best form this season after the return of football. Moreover, he has also given Barça B starlets Riqui Puig and Ronald Araújo the chances to adapt to the first team, apart from obviously 17-year-old winger Ansu Fati.
“We did our self-criticism behind closed doors. We didn’t have a great league season. We can’t let teams want the win more than we do. We need to be more consistent”
after Barcelona’s 0–5 win over Alavés
That said, current Barça B boss Xavier García Pimienta probably is the most prepared man for the manager post at FC Barcelona. Apart from his time as a player in the academy, he has been coaching in the lower categories of La Masía since the beginning of the 21st century, and little by little he has been climbing positions until reaching the reserves. A man who is full of character and knowledge and who possesses and transmits the Barça DNA as well as few others. But to what extent would it be sensible to give the job to García Pimienta at the moment?
Pimienta certainly deserves an opportunity in the first team. However, that opportunity should have probably come when Ernesto Valverde was sacked. After all Pimienta has done, and for being one of the few coaches who can fit in Barcelona, it seemed the right moment to promote him in January and inherit a squad that needed a fresh air in terms of tactics and youth.
Barcelona must ask themselves how much have the current circumstances influenced Quique Setién’s decisions | Photo by Alejandro García via Imago
But times have changed. In January the club hired Quique Setién and it doesn’t make much sense to dismiss him right now with the Champions League yet to be played. The Cantabrian received a weakened and very limited team in which he could not avoid the exits of the likes of Carles Aleñá, Carles Pérez and Jean-Clair Todibo. Furthermore, the Catalans were the leaders in La Liga with a two-point advantage over Real Madrid but with the worst points’ sum for more than ten years in the first half of La Liga.
Quique Setién possibly deserves to have a preseason, to start a new campaign by making his own decisions, to choose which players he wants to count on, and to have the opportunity to show his true football with the freedom he needs. Even so, García Pimienta is an almost perfect profile for this job, but not at this time, since it would mean wasting his undeniable talent by giving him a squad packed with problems.
“Now, we have the confidence we needed. We have done a deep analysis about the situation of the team. I certainly feel that I have the support of Messi and the rest of the team”
after Barcelona’s 0–5 win over Alavés
The best thing at present would be to keep Setién at Barcelona, to let him be in charge of the blaugranas in the Champions League, and then to trust him for the following season. If in Europe or in the following course everything crumbles, then there could come the real opportunity for García Pimienta. Yet, while not having Pimienta as the Barça coach is unfair to him, sacking Quique Setién would be much more unfair due to the poor circumstances he has had to deal with.
Braithwaite is the weapon Barcelona must keep in their arsenal
When Martin Braithwaite arrived for €18 million from Leganés to Barcelona, the Danish forward was unknown, his move critiqued, his transfer laughed at. Barcelona were allowed to sign him following the long term injury to Ousmane Dembele courtesy of a ‘joker window’ rule in La Liga.
Nine months later, Braithwaite is still a Blaugrana, and has, somehow, managed to earn the legendary ‘9’ jersey! With Luis Suarez departing to Atlético Madrid for peanuts, Braithwaite has remained Barcelona’s only striker option. But where does this equation head?
Braithwaite’s history since his move to Barcelona can be defined with one word: Surprise. Predicted to have no place in the team, a useless transfer and low-tier striker, Braithwaite has positively surprised angered Culés. Predicted to continue the hilarious legacy of Kevin-Prince Boateng who left after a six-month long loan, Braithwaite has comfortably overwhelmed fans.
Coming on as a substitute for Griezmann in the 72nd minute for Antoine Griezmann against Eibar on February 22nd, Braithwaite assisted both Lionel Messi and Arturo Vidal when Barcelona won 5-0 against Eibar.
It seemed like the perfect way to start. After all, Leganés is not Barcelona. In fact, they were 19th, a place above last when Braithwaite’s transfer was made official. However, Braithwaite failed to impress in Barcelona’s 2-0 defeat against Real Madrid. But then, he scored one goal against Mallorca a month later. He didn’t play regularly, though – and rightly so, he was never supposed to be a starter.
Despite getting more and more playtime towards the end of the season, Braithwaite’s importance reduced, eventually linking him with a departure. Fans wanted him out, not understanding why he should stay there. Talks multiplied in the media; Braithwaite was going to leave in the summer. A move never materialized and Braithwaite stayed.
Suarez moved to Atlético, and suddenly, Braithwaite was Barcelona’s only striker, to the general surprise. Not only was he the only striker, but he also received Suarez’s jersey number.
Braithwaite stayed, but Sétien did not. Ronald Koeman arrived at the helm to lead the club, and Braithwaite’s future went bleak. He was not a positive surprise anymore, but the forgotten one.
Against Getafe, in mid-october that Braithwaite finally played his first game of the season, coming off the bench for ten minutes. Games followed, but the 29-year-old did not manage to get more than ten minutes per game, often coming on around the 80th minute.
However, his performance against Dynamo Kyiv might motivate Koeman to give the Danish striker more chances. Not only was this his first start of the season, but also the second time he was on the pitch for the entire 90 for Barcelona.
When the lineup was announced, his inclusion over Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann was questioned, but he ended the game with two goals and an assist. Not to mention, he won the penalty kick which he eventually converted.
It is no exaggeration that the forgotten Danish forward is back to the heart of the topic: Does Barcelona need off the ball runners like Braithwaite, especially when players like Griezmann or Philippe Coutinho fail to perform?
His heatmap against Dynamo Kyiv suggests so. Contrary to Griezmann, Braithwaite does not need the ball to accomplish his work. Whilst Lionel Messi, Coutinho and Griezmann all earn record-high salaries, Braithwaite is a modest player. However, he has a presence in the box that neither of Griezmann or Coutinho have, and that is what he brings to the table. Multiple times could the Braithwaite be seen running to catch what could have been an assist.
Unless Barcelona get to have a proper #9, it’s probably best to keep Braithwaite. In Koeman’s system, a striker is needed, and Braithwaite might be a solution at times. Whilst it seems unlikely for him to start regularly, Koeman should review his options and re-consider his stance on Braithwaite.
Barcelona do not need superstars, they need modest players, and Braithwaite is one of them. Before rushing to conclusions, it is best if the Danish international is given more chances, and hopefully not in the form of a Stan Lee-cameo each game, for yesterday he proved what he can bring to the table — relentless running, a predatory instinct, and a never-dying attitude.