Managers come and go, but Lionel Messi remains. There were 15 minutes left in the first game of Quique Setién as coach of Barcelona and the tension was growing, when the Argentine finally escaped to score the goal that prevented his opening night from ending in failure.
Barcelona was approaching with 1,000 passes, but they had struggled to create clear opportunities until Messi, Antoine Griezmann and Arturo Vidal combined. Down on the bench, Setién celebrated. It was only 1-0 but it was enough, for now. It was a beginning.
Seen had said that it was not enough to win; He also wanted his team to play well. However, I knew that I had to win on a cold and windy night in which summary judgments would be fulfilled and everyone would look for clues about what the future holds, signs of what has changed. It’s just a game, but if they didn’t come with the scoreboard, they did come with the intentions: the ball is above all. However, there are also doubts, things to improve.
There were no big surprises in Setien’s first initial XI, no big statement was made. In the absence of Luis Suarez, this was a team that Ernesto Valverde would probably have chosen, including Vidal and Ivan Rakitic, two players who sometimes offered themselves as additional proof that Valverde did not get Barcelona. This was only the first day and there were few other options, while the late presentation of the young Riqui Puig could only be the first of many.
Also, when it started, there were turns. Setién put Ansu Fati on the right, with Messi in the middle. Griezmann lined up to his left, but narrow and close to him, leaving the free wing for Jordi Alba. That meant that most of the time, it was a back-three, with Sergi Roberto staying while Alba came forward, in possession he was as tall as Fati on the right. In attack, a 3-5-2 appeared; in defense a 4-3-3.
The ball was from Barcelona and was always taken from behind, never hitting much. That said, Granada, apparently reluctant to press high, may have been complicit in that pattern. Barcelona accumulated men inside, close together. One of the first Messi ran through the media especially concerned about Granada, but their options were different and sometimes it was less fluid, less automatic decisions, their passes did not always correspond or were delivered with the same sense of security. He also found more players crowded around him.
Barcelona played around and in front of Granada beyond them, only occasionally finding a way beyond the accumulated men around the edge of the area. They had 82% of possession, which meant protection and progression; Maybe more. After two good initial opportunities that Fati put aside, the production slowed down until he lost the ball from a short distance in the far post and Messi and Alba executed their characteristic move only for Messi’s shot to bend just outside the post. .
When the second half began, Messi hit wide after Griezmann had injected rhythm into the movement and Rakitic shot a long shot past the post.
At the other end there was a sign of vulnerability. A break left Vidal having to take down Darwin Machís and two minutes later Yan Eteki hit a pole.
20 minutes from the end, Germán Sánchez received a second yellow card for a foul on Messi. When he left, Puig addressed Rakitic, marking Setién’s first change. And Puig was involved when Barcelona finally intervened, recovering the ball and finding Sergio Busquets. From there he went to Messi, Griezmann, Vidal and Messi again. The attendance was lovely, a setback in Messi’s way, since the goal that meant the beginning of Setién was at least one winner.