Ernesto Valverde has left Barcelona having won five trophies but not many hearts.
Throughout his two and a half seasons at the helm, Valverde was never embraced by the Camp Nou faithful. He was not one of their own and did not have the ‘Barca DNA’.
His style of play was not based on possession and high-pressing but instead a more balanced and cautious approach.
Even when he lifted back-to-back league titles, fans and the club’s hierarchy were not entirely satisfied with his methods. In his replacement, Quique Setien, a difference in ideals will not be an issue.
The 61-year-old coach is known to be an admirer of Johan Cruyff and fell in love with the Dutchman’s philosophy when facing Barcelona as a player. It’s no secret that his own approach is heavily influenced by the same.
Setien is a purist and given the way he transformed Las Palmas and then Real Betis in recent years, he’s the right man to restore the ideas that Barcelona have strayed from but remain historically associated with.
Here, we look at what that means for certain members of the squad..
MESSI REMAINS KING
If there is one constant for every manager that has occupied the Barcelona dugout over the last 15 years, it’s that Lionel Messi is the central figure of the team’s attack. Over the course of his career, his influence on the team has only grown more pronounced and Setien wouldn’t have it any other way.
He is after all a huge fan, even stating that he will “cry forever” the day the Argentine retires.
Already chief playmaker, Messi’s role will only be facilitated by the new manager’s approach. He will still drift into central areas from the right flank but is likely to see even more of the ball and exchange passes with his team-mates more frequently.
There’s also bound to be more movement from his side, making it easier for him to create chances or drive into space. Setien’s high-press benefits Messi as well who’s more suited to aggressive and organised closing down rather than having to maintain shape and hold position.
The resultant turnovers will also present him opportunities to exploit the opposition’s defence in the transition rather than painstakingly having to dismantle a low block.
"It's a luxury to be in the same era as Messi."— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) January 14, 2020
And now new Barcelona manager Quique Setién gets to work with him on a daily basis. 👀 pic.twitter.com/Ha9vjEszT9
NEW SCRIPT FOR ARTHUR
Setien is also a huge fan of Sergio Busquets, even asking him for his shirt after a game. The midfielder obliged with a message accompanying it that read: “To Quique, with appreciation and admiration for your way of seeing football. A hug”.
So it’s fair to say Busquets will remain first choice as the midfield anchor. Frenkie de Jong’s ability is also certain to be appreciated by the incoming boss and the same holds true for Arthur.
The Brazilian midfielder has often drawn comparisons to Xavi given his range of passing and manoeuvres on the ball. He rarely misplaces a pass and recycles possession masterfully, making him perfectly suited to Setien’s style of play.
Despite impressing since his arrival last season, Arthur has seemingly fallen out of favour in the current campaign, only appearing nine times in La Liga. The prospect of boasting three top class ball retainers in a single midfield should prove irresistible for Setien though so expect the 23-year-old to line up alongside Busquets and De Jong.
This however could spell the end for Ivan Rakitic and perhaps Arturo Vidal as well who will have his playing time limited at the very least.
JUNIOR SET FOR SENIOR ROLE
Junior Firpo arrived at Camp Nou highly rated and as a long-term replacement for Jordi Alba. Given that Setien is the man who first gave him his opportunity at Real Betis and developed him into one of the best full-backs in the league, could he make the step up even sooner?
Barca’s new coach is unlikely to discard a seasoned professional like Alba with such haste though, especially when the Spain international is still going strong.
That said, Junior may at least be afforded more chances than the 10 appearances he’s made this season.
Setien likes his full-backs to push high up the field and generate width in attack with the wingers or wide forwards occupying the half-spaces. As such, the demands on the full-backs are high and Alba, while more than capable of that style, may be afforded more rest.
The 30-year-old could then be paving the way for Firpo to take the field more often and gradually succeed him.
Quique Setién back in August, 2019: "Barça has done a great operation by signing Junior Firpo. He has enormous potential and it is worth betting on. Hopefully he succeeds there because I have affection for him" [Cat Radio] pic.twitter.com/3fdiVlEIT1— Barça Watch (@BarcaWatch) January 13, 2020
NEW HOPE FOR YOUNG TALENT
Barcelona fans have been urging Valverde to give Riqui Puig first team opportunities but to no avail. Setien on the other hand will likely be impressed with the talented midfielder who is seemingly tailor-made for his brand of football.
With the Blaugrana dominating possession, Puig’s dribbling and creativity through the middle should come to the fore during cameos late on in games or on the occasional start.
Meanwhile, Jean-Clair Todibo – though linked with a loan move to Schalke – could see some game time as well. The centre-back is quick and exceptional at playing the ball out from the back, traits that Setien will want to incorporate in his back-line.
Carles Alena has already gone out on loan to Real Betis but expect his involvement to grow as well on his return in the summer. With Luis Suarez out for months, Setien will have no issues using teenage sensation Ansu Fati in his front line while Carles Perez will get chances as well.
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