A defeat to arch rivals Real Madrid, shows that Setien still hasn’t got what it takes to get Barcelona to its rightful place in the title race.
Gerard Pique, in typically caustic fashion, claimed Real Madrid’s performance in the first half was one of the worst he had ever seen at Santiago Bernabeu . The burning question, then, after Barcelona’s 2-0 defeat on Sunday that allowed Madrid to overtake them at the top of La Liga, is: What does that say about Pique’s team?
Barcelona are sick.
They failed to take advantage of Madrid’s defensive lapses in the first half, spurning three crystal-clear first half chances. Antoine Griezmann fired over the bar from a tempting cut-back, Lionel Messi shot straight at Thibaut Courtois and Arthur, when clean through, was denied by the Belgium goalkeeper.
More worryingly in the second half Messi was sent in on goal but Marcelo kept up with the Argentine and helped dispossess him. Barcelona’s captain and talisman left the Bernabeu hurting, head down.
As well as putting Madrid ahead by a point – two effectively, now they have the better head-to-head record – the defeat confirms a number of worrying trends, or creates new ones. Barcelona have only managed one clean sheet in 13 away games, back on December 1 at Atletico Madrid, who are mired in problems of their own.
Messi himself is suffering on the road, failing to score in seven away games running. That last happened in the 2006-07 season, when he was but a teenager.
This is the first time Barcelona have failed to score in consecutive Clasicos since 1974-75, signalling, perhaps, the end of their era of domestic dominance over Real Madrid. Barcelona had boasted a fantastic recent record at the Bernabeu, nicknamed the ‘BernaLeo’ by some fans, where their previous defeat came back in 2014. The Catalans had scored on every visit there in the league since October 2006. Pique himself said that Barcelona did not find it fun winning in the Spanish capital any more after some emphatic victories in recent years.
Things have changed.
Maybe Quique Setien is a good enough coach to stay at the helm, maybe he isn’t, but what is increasingly clear is that Ernesto Valverde’s sacking and the Cantabrian’s appointment is a band-aid over a wound which needs stitches, or even surgery.
Messi looked more alone than ever at the Bernabeu, betrayed by a directionless Barcelona, torn between different ideologies. Griezmann was brought in to recreate the attacking trident that helped the club soar in Luis Enrique’s day, effectively the Neymar replacement after their bet on Ousmane Dembele failed, but he still looks out of place.
Lucho’s Barcelona were a side that would roll with the punches, suffering at the back but destroying in attack, far from what Setien wants his team to look like.
Griezmann’s quality means he has still been able to make some important contributions, like the away goal that kept Barcelona’s Champions League dream alive in Naples last week, but they have been outliers, rather than his norm. The France forward has not fit in because there is nothing clear to fit in to.
Setien has brought possession back but there is still no apparent gameplan forming, other than relying on Messi’s supernatural ability. Messi may actually be sick too. Well, injured. Stories have persisted over the last few weeks over a niggling thigh problem which is keeping him from his very best.