It was Barca’s first loss at home in any competition since September 2016 and the manner of the defeat was truly impressive.
Real Betis battered Barca for much of the match and finished with a commendable 48 per cent possession, a feat few clubs can match at Camp Nou. At no point did Betis trail.
Fourteen months on, that remains the last time Barca were defeated at Camp Nou, in any competition. But now, the man who masterminded Betis’ win is in charge of the champions.
Quique Setien was announced as the successor to Ernesto Valverde following his unceremonious sacking on Monday, with the 61-year-old seemingly hired due to his football ideologies being closely aligned to those of Barca.
Despite being held in high regard by many for his philosophy and championing of Barca icon Johan Cruyff, there remain massive reservations about his adaptability and whether he truly is the right man for the club in the long-term.
If he is to be the perfect fit, there are a few things he needs to address at a clun that some feel has lost its identity.
Adapt his system to Messi and determine future of aging stars
A non-negotiable condition of the job that even the most vociferous cirtics of Valverde will accept he more than met during his two-and-a-half years in charge – get the best from Messi. In theory, Setien’s possession-based football should make him the ideal fit for Barca, and therefore Messi. But his teams – namely Las Palmas and Betis – had as much of a reputation for a chaotic approach that bordered on all-out attack as they did for dominating possession. Betis in particular played some rip-roaring football at a blistering pace, but playing at break-neck speed won’t always been the case for Barca, who often have to be more methodical to break down deep-sitting opponents. Messi should still be expected to thrive, but where Setien opts to utilise the 32-year-old and the other stars of an aging team will be crucial. Can Gerard Pique, Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets and the others over the age of 30 still keep up?
Look to La Masia, promote Puig
During the 2016-17 LaLiga season, Setien’s Las Palmas squad had 14 ‘cantera’ products in it. While that might be more readily expected of a club with a significantly smaller budget than Barca, he continued to make the most of the academy when at Betis. Francis, Fabian Ruiz, Loren Moron and Junior Firpo – with whom he has reunited – were all prominent figures under Setien at the Benito Villamarin. Barca’s famed La Masia has been less successful in recent years, but there are certainly talents coming through with the likes of Ansu Fati. An easy early win for Setien would be promoting Riqui Puig to the first-team, with the silky – albeit diminutive – midfielder ready for the step up. Don’t be surprised to see teenager Pedri also link up with the senior squad when he officially joins from Las Palmas at the end of the season.
Sign a Suarez substitute
Luis Suarez is set to miss most – if not the rest – of the season after having knee surgery, leaving Barca with a significant hole to fill. It’s likely Antoine Griezmann will be asked to take up a central position, but beyond him their options are more or less limited to Carles Perez. As such, Barca are reportedly considering bringing in another forward, with Girona’s Cristhian Stuani seemingly among the most likely arrivals. But the burly Uruguayan is not an archetypal Setien striker – Chimy Avila of Osasuna is. The Rosario-born forward is said to be being monitored by Barca, as the Argentinian is enjoying a fine season. A feisty competitor, Avila’s nickname ‘Chimy’ comes from his father’s conclusion that he is “spicy like chimichurri”, a popular South American sauce. Small, quick, agile and relentless, comparisons with Sergio Aguero are understandable, and his release clause is a fairly modest €25m.
To be fair, achieving league success in isolation may not be good enough to keep Setien in a job for long – just ask back-to-back LaLiga winner Valverde. No, Setien will have to do more. He’ll essentially have to win LaLiga while playing exciting football and win the Champions League to earn an extension to his contract, which ties him to the club until 2022. But, as was made abundantly clear by Josep Maria Bartomeu in Setien’s presentation, the length of a contract can be irrelevant if certain expectations aren’t met. “Setien has signed until 2022, but there’s also a caveat that there can be a change,” the president said on Tuesday. “Valverde had a contract until 2021 [until 2020 with the option for another year] and we saw there’s a change.”
Avoid a Champions League collapse
Perhaps the biggest issue the fans had with Valverde was humiliating collapses in successive Champions League campaigns. In Valverde’s first season, Barca took a 4-1 lead into their quarter-final clash with Roma, only to be eliminated by virtue of a 3-0 loss in the return leg. The next year they did go a step further, but the result was much the same – a 3-0 defeat of Liverpool at Camp Nou was following by a 4-0 Anfield annihilation by the eventual champions. The concerns some might have of Setien relate to his teams’ defensive capabilities, as such an emphasis on attacking left Las Palmas and Betis vulnerable at the back. While he will have a greater calibre of player at Barca, if this side of his team is to be exploited, it’ll likely be in the latter stages of the Champions League.