Let me say this right off the bat: I love Quique Setién and I believe in him. His work at Las Palmas was sublime and he was great for 18 months at Real Betis. With better players more suited to his and Barcelona’s philosophy, he will be successful if given the chance next season.
This doesn’t stop me from criticizing him right now. Quique Setién’s first giant week in charge of Barça, with a Champions League road game and El Clásico with a chance to end Real Madrid’s season, finished with no wins and a lot of tactical and decision-making errors from a man known for his tactics and smart decisions.
The biggest of all mistakes: Arturo Vidal on the right wing. After shining as the second best player on the pitch in last week’s 5-0 win against Eibar as a false left winger, reminding us of the early Pep Guardiola days where Andrés Iniesta played the exact same position with the exact same role, Vidal played the two biggest games of Barça’s season on the right, where he was completely useless.
Vidal’s constant presence on the right side stops Lionel Messi from doing what he does best: moving freely from right to center, picking his spots based on the opponent’s defensive setup to work within the right channel to create for himself and others. The problem against Napoli and Madrid was that Vidal was also on the right channel, ALL THE TIME, clearly instructed by Setién to never leave that spot, and Messi was forced to play solely as a number 10, which just does not work against Casemiro or the Napoli bus that had five players in the middle at all times on Tuesday.
Vidal is also stopped from doing what he does best: move freely all over the attacking third looking to link up with teammates and make timely runs into the box. Setién’s tactics completely nullified Barça’s two best players in two consecutive and decisive matches away from home, which is just inexcusable and unacceptable.
Quique’s decision-making on lineup choices substitutions was also well below par in both matches: it made no sense to bring Ansu Fati on with just 5 minutes left in Naples, and it didn’t take a genius to realize Martin Braithwaite should have come on for a horrible Antoine Griezmann (not Vidal, just change his friggin’ position!) in El Clásico after Madrid’s incredible start to the second half, but he waited too long to make a change and Braithwaite nearly scored a goal seconds before Vinicius Júnior found the back of the net for Madrid. What would have happened if Braithwaite had come on 10 minutes earlier? We never know, but maybe the pressure wouldn’t have been so big.
The biggest criticism of Setién in what was a miserable end to his tenure at Betis was his stubbornness and inability to recognize and change what wasn’t working, and he sure does love possession to a fault, doesn’t he? This team is passing too much and creating too little, and that’s why he got the sack at Betis.
I’m not saying he should be sacked at all, and I really believe in this man. But if he doesn’t learn the clear and painful lessons from his two poor coaching performances in the two biggest games of the season so far, it’s really hard to see him having any long-term future at this club. Better get better quick, Quique.