FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - La Liga Santander - FC Barcelona v Granada - Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain - January 19, 2020 Barcelona coach Quique Setien REUTERS/Albert Gea
New Barcelona coach Quique Setien faces the first stern test of his brief tenure when the champions travel to Valencia in La Liga on Saturday.
Setien, who replaced Ernesto Valverde earlier this month, has yet to see his new side thrive in his possession-based system. They narrowly beat Granada last weekend before requiring an injury time winner from Antoine Griezmann to scrape past third tier Ibiza in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.
Valencia’s high-pressing system is similar to that implemented by the Balearic Island outfit and it will test the league leaders’ mettle in what has often been a tricky fixture. The Catalans are winless at Mestalla in La Liga since 2016.
“I didn’t like what I saw (against Ibiza),” Setien said.
“I’d have liked it to have gone differently. I wanted us to be a lot more precise and to have played better, but I think in the long run this will do us good.
“We will use this to make decisions moving forward. When you don’t do things well it means there’s room for improvement.”
While the rested Lionel Messi will return for the trip to the Costa Blanca, Setien will be without the injured trio of Luis Suarez, Ousmane Dembele and backup goalkeeper Neto.
For the home side, keeper Jasper Cillessen faces a late fitness test to see whether he will be able to line up against his former club. Rodrigo Moreno and Geoffrey Kondogbia are likely to be back.
Second placed Real Madrid, who are level on 43 points with their great rivals, will be ready to take advantage of any slip-ups when they visit Valladolid on Sunday.
Coach Zinedine Zidane used Wednesday’s Copa victory over Unionistas to give playing time to a number of squad players and, barring an injury picked up by forward Gareth Bale, the Frenchman was pleased with what he saw.
“Bale twisted his ankle a bit. I’m not sure what it is but I don’t think it’ll be too big a problem. He wasn’t able to continue, and we’ll see how it develops,” said Zidane.
“The good thing is that we’ve got players who hadn’t played in a long time but their level was right up there, especially in terms of their intensity.”
The weekend’s action kicks off with Levante’s trip to Osasuna on Friday. Third placed Atletico Madrid, who are eight points adrift of the leaders, host second-bottom Leganes on Sunday. Sevilla, behind Atletico on goal difference, host Granada.