Lionel Messi’s second-half strike ensured Quique Seitén marked his first game as Barcelona boss with a home win over Granada that moved them back to the summit of La Liga.
The Argentine’s 14th league strike of the season was enough for a patient Barca side on Sunday night, who reclaimed the top spot from arch-rivals Real Madrid thanks to their narrow 1-0 victory.
In a first half of few chances, Messi came within a whisker of scoring for Barcelona, but his effort whistled just past the post, following Jordi Alba’s cut-back. And for all of the hosts’ possession and dominance they were unable to break down a disciplined away defence, as the teams went in level at the break.
Frustrated and contained, completely against the run of play Barca almost went behind as Yan Brice Eteki struck the foot of the post for the visitors. Unfortunate there and perhaps unlucky to lose defender Germán for a second bookable offence, a dismissal that proved incredibly costly.
As if on cue minutes later, Messi came to the fore, he received a neat backheel from Arturo Vidal before making no mistake to caress the ball home and claim all three points for La Blaugrana.
Key Talking Point
It was Seitén’s introduction to the Nou Camp and his first test as Barcelona head coach. So could the new boss fare better than former manager Ernesto Valverde who oversaw a shock 2-0 loss in the reverse fixture earlier in the season?
Some in the football world may have seen the Valverde sacking as harsh given Barca’s position at the top of the table.
But, Barca fans got their wish and on this display, the free-flowing football associated with the former Real Betis boss shows why the Nou Camp faithful were so keen on Seitén taking charge.
Their interplay was crisp and concise, and it was very much back to what we had come to expect from Barca a decade ago.
The Barca teams of Valverde and Luis Enrique were not always so easy on the eye, but the new boss will be expected to instil intricacy and neat patterns to Barca’s play.
I wouldn’t mind even if we somehow lose this game today because we know the goals and wins will eventually come. But this team has new energy, new desire they’re dominating the mid and there’s hunger. This is Setien era!! #BarcaGranada
— Vineet (@VineetFCB) January 19, 2020
No doubt it will evolve and improve, but the signs were encouraging Seitén’s opening game with a far greater intensity and purpose to Barca’s attacks.
The first-half threw up several occasions where midfielders Vidal and Sergio Busquets injected pace into Barca’s play, passing through the lines. And thanks to the ever-dependable Messi, Seitén made the perfect start to life in the Barcelona hot seat.
Starting XI: Ter Stegen (6); Roberto (6), Pique (7), Umtiti (7), Alba (8); Busquets (8), Vidal (7), Rakitic (5); Messi (8), Griezmann (7), Fati (6).
Subs: Puig (7), Perez (7), Arthur (6).
Seiten has made no secret of his admiration for midfielder Busquets having once received a signed shirt from the player, and judging by this performance, you can see why.
Valverde made our team so bad that even busquets couldn’t keep up with ball. But, what you saw in this game, is our real busquets. Setién has unveiled the real one, the engine, the octopus. Give any name, this lad is back at his form. We are enjoying Setién’s era. pic.twitter.com/9hUG0b6boE
— Sweta Bhandari. (@bsweta56) January 19, 2020
Sergio Busquets’ first half
68/74 passes completed
4/4 duels won
Ain’t that “done” as soon as you change the way you play, huh?
Imagine playing the midfield with Arthur and Frenkie. #BarcaGranada
— empinism (@mykesma) January 19, 2020
Is there any player who is so calm under pressure as Sergio Busquets? Could watch him play all day, the positioning, the small body feints, the passes #FCBGRA
— Tobias Hahn (@hahn97_t) January 19, 2020
Busquets was the fulcrum of Barca’s attacks, the man threading passes through the middle, finding Messi in between the lines.
The Spain international never looked rushed all evening and displayed a composure on the ball that saw him control the tempo of the game.
During Valverde’s tenure, Busquets’ days with Barca appeared numbered but here he looked rejuvenated and full of life in this one.
Starting XI: Silva (6); Diaz (7), Germán (5), Domingos (7), Foulquier (6); Gonalons (7), Eteki (7); Azeez (6), Vadillo (6), Marchis (7); Fernandez (5)
Subs: Herrera (7), Puertas (6), Gil (6).
Seitén oversees his first away game in charge of Messi and co. as Barcelona start their quest for the Copa Del Rey as they visit Ibiza on Wednesday.
As for Granada, they are also in Copa Del Rey action on Wednesday when they make the trip to Segunda División B side CF Badalona, having beaten Mallorca 1-0 at home in the last round.