Which Barcelona youngsters can excel under Quique Setien?
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As Barcelona fans will tell you, the devil has been exorcised. Ernesto Valverde perhaps won’t go down as the worst manager in history, but he'll sure rank up amongst the most-hated. After much speculation narrowing down a potential successor, the board pulled out a surprise in appointing Quique Setien.
While not at all inexperienced, having been in the managerial game for almost two decades, he’s not the Mauricio Pochettino or Erik Ten Hag many hoped for. Instead, the Blaugrana now have a very down-to-earth gaffer with the love for playing the “Barcelona way”.
Indeed, a disciple of the Johan Cyruff school of football, the 61-year-old’s philosophy is everything the supporters have craved for. The brand should also bring a positive impact to those under him.
The Spaniard’s an avid Messi fanboy, it’s obvious their game will continue working around him. Barca’s erroneous defensive nature means mistakes will continue while Antoine Griezmann should find better footing in a natural role. That being said, certain youngsters can especially benefit from his guidance.
Frenkie de Jong could be rewarded from this change. He rarely played in his natural role under Valverde’s twisted system. An implosion was clear in the sending off against Espanyol. Now under a manager with the belief in taking time building up play rather than being swift in passing it to Messi, he’ll be able to flourish his creative genes.
The 22-year-old has recorded 92.7% passing accuracy (WhoScored) this season. Those numbers should ramp up once he gets to make more passes at a deeper role in Setien’s possession-based style. Expect his defensive contribution to get better with the growing hunger to dominate, too.
But the Dutch wonder won’t be the only to revel under the change. Young Riqui Puig made the headlines for “liking” the Instagram post of Valverde’s sacking. It’s unlikely to get him punished. Instead, the Spaniard should give him the opportunities he never received under the former manager.
The 20-year-old’s almost like Andres Iniesta’s reincarnation. His movement, trickery and creativity mirror the legend. There’s a reason he won 2019’s Young Player of the Year in Catalonia. Puig drips with finesse. It’s now up to the new manager to escalate him onto the next level.
Going by his admiration for Barca’s methods, the youngster should get chances to shine. As long as he gets enough time to prove his wizardry with the ball, the La Masia product should delight the fans. Ansu Fati is the special jewel Setien wants to transform into a diamond. The 16-year-old might’ve been handed his debut by Valverde, but it’ll be on the new gaffer to accelerate his development. Under his system, Fati will perhaps need to tweak his style.
If Barca ends up dominating possession, the teenager must be clever with his movement. His ability to slide past defenders is unquestioned. But he’ll need to find incisive runs for his midfielders to find him in opportunistic positions. To really thrive under the new system, he’ll have to tune up his off-the-ball movement to compliment his lethal instincts inside the area.
Carles Alena would’ve also been one on the former Real Betis manager’s agenda. But he’s been loaned to Los Verdiblancos for further “exposure”. That was a Valverde move to ensure more minutes for Ivan Rakitic, Arturo Vidal and Arthur. While the Brazilian should find his best form under new management, it could also be lights out for the others.
Rakitic is withering with inconsistency. Vidal isn’t interested in staying at Catalonia much longer. Rather than pleading to his ageing stars, Setien would much rather start building on the golden generation for future success. In his own words, if the youngsters are talented enough, they’re experienced enough to play. This should come as encouragement for the acclaimed academy. As the avid chess player starts pieces his team together, the revamp should be sweet for Barca’s up-and-coming midfielders.