Quique Setién is on the brink.
To be fair, he was given an incredibly hard situation. Coming in for Ernesto Valverde after the winter transfer window, Setién had no say in the composition of the squad. It’s hard enough changing the team in one window, let alone with no real ability to change the team up. Martin Braithwaite was signed after Setién signed on, but that was only after Ousmane Dembélé got re-injured. Then, coronavirus hit.
It was no easy task, but Setién still accepted the job. Surely, because he thought he could get Barcelona back to basics - more possession, more build-up. He experimented with making the team play with a three-man line, but they looked uncomfortable doing it. Right now, the team looks like it’s back to the Valverde era. One crucial difference: they no longer lead the league.
Let’s give him credit. He did try to shake things up against Atlético Madrid. and he did give a vote of confidence in young Riqui Puig in a pivotal match.
His experiment was a 4-3-1-2, sacrificing a winger for Puig in an advanced midfield role. It had its benefits, thanks in part to Puig’s ability. But it had a clear drawback - it was completely overloaded on the right, with no left-winger to create danger on the side opposite Lionel Messi.
Things livened up when Setién finally brought on Ansu Fati, although that was with five minutes left. The introduction of Antoine Griezmann in injury time seemed desperate - the team by that point had Fati, Griezmann, Messi, and Luis Suárez on the pitch, having started out with just two forwards.
Setién said after the game he was not unhappy with his experiment, saying Puig had understood the position very well.
Speaking of Suárez, it’s hard to understand why he keeps getting 90 minutes every game. The Uruguayan is coming off a long injury lay-off, and even before that, it was questionable if he was really up for completing every game.
Asked if Suárez could play at 100% for 90 minutes, Setién had an answer that’s quite telling.
“The truth is, in reality, surely not,” he said.
“We are forcing him, because the situation calls for it. We could opt for other solutions... but you know the level [him and Messi] have.”
Setién said he always hoped that even when not at 100%, Suárez would deliver goals, like he did against Celta Vigo.
He was unsure if Griezmann would “destabilize” the team, always maintaining he wanted both of his star South American forwards on the pitch. Suárez does deliver at times, and to be fair Griezmann (and Braithwaite) have not been outstanding, either. But Suárez has not justified playing him even if, as the coach admits, he is not ready for 90 minutes. He has not justified being a player who only shows up at most a few times per game, and largely does not defend.
Setién has to be bold and be willing to take Suárez out. Much has been made about player power at Barcelona. But Setién was brought in to shake things up. Valverde was the man who went with the flow. Setién is supposed to take more risks, and it if upsets the Uruguayan, so be it. He is not going to be here forever, no matter who he is friends with or how admittedly historically impressive he has been in the past.
What are the players going to do, murder him? The worst they can conceivably do with all their power is get him fired, which will happen anyway if he doesn’t navigate tactics and man-management the way he wants to. The season is not over, even if things look relatively dire. But whatever slim chance of success Setién has, it’ll only happen if he’s willing to shake it all up. Live it up, what’s the worst that can happen?