BARCELONA (Reuters) – After replacing the uninspiring yet successful Ernesto Valverde with Quique Setien, La Liga leaders Barcelona will be expected to produce a spectacle of attacking football when they host Granada on Sunday in their first game under the new manager.
Barca have long seen themselves as purveyors of beautiful football rather than a club that only care about results and underlined that reputation by axing double league title winning Valverde, even though his side were top of the standings.
For the Barca board and many fans, the silverware Valverde won did not compensate for sluggish displays of late which lacked intensity and tended to rely on big performances from goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen and talisman Lionel Messi.
Setien, 61, is renowned for his commitment to the type of football Barca mastered under Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola, when the team monopolised possession and undid opponents with flowing passing moves.
He will be expected to return a joie de vivre to the team while also staying ahead of Real Madrid in a close title race, with the two sides locked on 40 points at the halfway stage and Barca only ahead on goal difference.
But beyond rave reviews from football purists, Setien’s CV is far from glowing: he has spent less than four years in the top flight and never won a trophy. He was sacked from his last job with Real Betis after the team finished 10th in the league.
The new coach’s first task will be designing a forward line without Luis Suarez, Barca’s second top scorer this season behind Messi, who is unavailable for the next four months after undergoing knee surgery.
Dutch midfielder Frenkie de Jong is suspended for the Granada game, meanwhile, which could open up an opportunity for Riqui Puig, the 20-year-old homegrown midfielder who has been training with the first team since Setien arrived.
Real Madrid have the chance to go top of the table a day before Barca play when they host fourth-placed Sevilla on Saturday in their first game after their penalty shootout triumph over Atletico Madrid to win the Spanish Super Cup.
They will be without vital Uruguayan midfielder Fede Valverde due to suspension as well as forwards Eden Hazard and Karim Benzema due to injury, while captain Sergio Ramos is a doubt after hurting his ankle.
Atletico, who trail Barca and Real by five points, are in action away to Eibar.
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Christian Radnedge)
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