The Quique Setién era began with a performance that both optimists and pessimists can garner something from. For the optimists, there was possession, ball movement, revitalized performances, and a win. For the pessimists, there was a lack of goals, a glaring issue moving forward, and a result colored by a red card.
Let’s start with the end. Not only did Riqui Puig get his first appearance of the season, coming on as a substitute in the 71st minute, but his defensive act led to the only goal of the game. He may have been shoved off the ball a few times, but his ingenuity and liveliness with the ball at his feet was an upgrade when he came on for Ivan Rakitic.
Lionel Messi was certainty up to it, as Sam Marsden suggests. Whether it was the appointment of Setién or the extra rest after the Spanish Super Cup, Messi looked hungry. Without Luis Suárez plodding next to him, Messi knew he add ten teammates pushing to take the ball back. This allowed him to pick his spots to press.
Sergio Busquets was the man of the match… and the statistics speak for themselves.
Because he didn’t have to drop back between the centre-backs to receive the ball, he was much more involved in pulling the strings and making the Granada defenders chase shadows. His first touch was sublime; it’s not that Rakitic and Arturo Vidal weren’t combining well – Busquets was just that good.
Samuel Umtiti getting the first start under Setién was telling as well. When healthy, he does have a bit more mobility and takes far more risks than Clement Lenglet. He did have a few mishits, but Umtiti has the tools to be the better fit under the new regime.
The cries for Messidependencia will only grow louder as Luis Suárez sits on the sidelines. It seems that Barcelona now have a problem unrelated to their style of play. Without Suárez to finish, 82.6% of the possession doesn’t lead to much. Ansu Fati fits well tactically with what Setién is hoping to do. The raw talent is there, but the 17-year-old’s first touch made him look like a 17-year-old at times. At the moment, the idea that Fati, Carles Peréz, and Ousmane Dembélé give Setién a glut of riches is still a positive one. However, questions will be asked if that position doesn’t bring about a final ball or timely finishing.
Antoine Griezmann is the other part of the Messidependencia equation. Playing in the middle as Jordi Alba pinched up on the left side and defending all over the field, Griezmann looked lively and influential throughout the match. Yet, a lack of an end product eluded him. If Griezmann isn’t firing on all cylinders, Barcelona will have an issue.
The cynics also have a case that Barcelona would have settled for a draw if not for Germán Sánchez’s red card. It was a debatable call, though some credit is due to Barcelona for capitalizing. Vidal didn’t have a sterling game, but he did pop up where Sánchez would have been to deliver Messi a simple finish by his standards.
One match shouldn’t paint the whole picture, but some things are clear. Setién will look to play a 3-5-2 with possession and a 4-3-3 without it. This will be more nuanced, but signs are bright. Plugging Frenkie de Jong and a healthy Arthur (good to see him back from injury) into the midfield should complete the picture.
The pressure of the first match is gone, as Sid Lowe wrote, but there is still much to do.