Setien in the spotlight but familiar flaws haunt Barcelona

Barcelona’s Spanish coach Quique Setien (centre) gathers players during the Spanish League football match between Celta Vigo and Barcelona at the Balaidos stadium in Vigo June 27, 2020. — AFP pic
Barcelona’s Spanish coach Quique Setien (centre) gathers players during the Spanish League football match between Celta Vigo and Barcelona at the Balaidos stadium in Vigo June 27, 2020. — AFP pic

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MADRID, June 29 — The weight of blame may be shifting again towards their coach but Barcelona’s failures in the draw away at Celta Vigo on Saturday go deeper than Quique Setien.

Setien admitted today he is “new to this situation”, a novice when it comes to the challenge of massaging egos of elite players and managing their frustrations.

Barca’s board might have foreseen that being a problem in January, when they tasked a talented coach with winning the Champions League, a competition in which he was yet to oversee a single match.

They were attracted to Setien’s dedication to a Barcelona-style too, even if an identity shift mid-season, amid a chaotic transfer window, always looked impossible.

Instead, engrained fragilities remain five months later, three of them with neither training nor matches.

And all of them resurfaced against Celta, where the 2-2 draw that might set Real Madrid on their way to the title ran like a checklist of Barca’s all-too familiar flaws.

There was capitulation, an inability to defend a lead or soak up pressure seen previously on a grander scale against Roma and Liverpool, defeats that have perhaps never been expunged from this team’s psyche.

It was another stumble away from home too, making it 23 points from 16 games on the road this season, three fewer than 13th-placed Southampton have mustered in the Premier League.

And when Celta tore away on the counter-attack, they found space at will, driving through the heart of a Barcelona midfield that has long been exposed by speedy opponents on the break.

Yet their trump cards were in play too: the brilliance of Lionel Messi, the goals of Luis Suarez and the match-turning saves of Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who clawed one off the line late on to at least preserve a point.

Repeatedly, those players have lifted this Barcelona side above themselves, carrying them even to consecutive La Liga titles, each time with a lead of more than 10 points.

They could still make it a third, if Madrid follow up five wins out of five by caving during a run-in that looks significantly kinder than Barca’s.

But even if the unexpected happens in the remaining six games of the season, another domestic success for Barcelona will feel hollow and few expect them to threaten in the adapted Champions League in August, not even Messi.

“The way we are now I don’t think it’s enough to win the Champions League,” he told Mundo Deportivo in February.

Their players argued in the dressing room on Saturday because they know they are way off. Messi ignored Setien’s assistant Eder Sarabia, frustrated at the end of yet another campaign where the club has wasted his talent.

Messi, Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique have all taken shots at the board in recent months. Under president Josep Maria Bartomeu, decisions seem to be taken haphazardly, without direction and often with the financial merits in mind.

Arthur Melo came on as a substitute on Saturday, the 23-year-old once with Barca’s DNA in his veins, who was circled as the long-term replacement for Xavi Hernandez.

Instead, Arthur will be sold to Juventus as part of an accounting merry-go-round that allows the board to balance the books before June 30.

Antoine Griezmann came on too, the €120 million (RM578 million) signing from Atletico Madrid who was reportedly never wanted by key players and has been rarely played in his best position.

Of the 11 that started at Balaidos, six were 31 or older, and at least three were reportedly offered to Paris Saint-Germain last year in a botched attempt to bring back Neymar.

Barcelona face Atletico Madrid at Camp Nou tomorrow, looking to salvage their season but the future already looks bleak for Setien.

He was asked about his job today, five months after he arrived. “Victories hide many things, defeats reveal them,” he said. “Sometimes the results don’t depend on me.” — AFP

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