Quique Setién has always been a curious manager. Since his early days as a manager, the Cantabrian has been a self-proclaimed Cruyffista, emulating his tactics and in-game management on the principles laid out by the Dutch great.
In truth, Setién’s version of possession-heavy football diverts significantly from Cruyff’s original conception. The Cantabrian likes to work within the same framework, yes, but his application of the very tenets is different. For instance, Setién vehemently believes in sticking to his principles, but he is far more laissez-faire than most other Cruyffistas. At Barça, Setién has usually been hesitant with substitutions and tactical changes. This has often cost Barça late on, when a small tweak here or there is the difference between exploitation of space and a stalemate. Even with the availability of five substitutes, Setién has looked to stick to his initial gameplan, exhibiting a sort of principled rigidity that is a far cry from the proactive pragmatism of Ernesto Valverde.
A good example was the usage of Luis Suárez, post the COVID-19 break. Even when the Uruguayan looked tired (and entirely ineffectual) the Cantabrian refused to take him off, to the detriment of the team mind you. Similarly, Setién has been equally reluctant to make tactical shifts. Excessive spells of centrality have somehow not been enough to convince Setién to make in-game shifts. Often, Barça have lacked a presence between the lines, and yet Setién has not seen it fit to put in a player who could offer that.
At other times, however, it’s been the opposite. In yesterday’s game against Valladolid, for instance, Setién was far too erratic with his changes and allowed the opposition back in the game. He needlessly made changes at half time, both in terms of personnel and tactic which shifted the momentum the other way. The 3-2-5, which had worked a treat in the first half, was shifted into a 4-4-2. This curtailed Barça’s wide passing options and progression and let Valladolid exploit Barça’s centrality and force turnovers. As a result, Setién had to hastily return to the 3-5-2. But it was too little too late. The momentum had shifted.
There is no denying that Setién has done good work at Barça, given his limited time and resources. That said, his in-game management is lacking, to put it mildly, and makes it hard to foresee success against bigger opponents. Setién was already outfoxed by Zidane once. The Frenchmen read into Setién’s gameplan and bossed the second half of the Clasico, back in March. More of the same could follow in the Champions League if he isn’t careful.
A judgement on Setién is always going to be harsh, and slightly unfair, all things considered. That said, there are some worrying signs. The Cantabrian needs to become more proactive. Else, he could be looking at an unsavory end to his career as FC Barcelona manager.
We take no prisoners.