Quique Setien

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Xavi would love Barcelona job if he can ditch ‘toxic’ personalities

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Two months can go a long way and, hey, self-isolation gives plenty of time for internal examination.

Al-Sadd manager Xavi Hernandez, the legendary Barcelona midfielder, says he’s ready to lead the Blaugranas, two-and-a-half months after rejecting the job.

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“Maybe years ago I could give myself some respect, but now that I have seen myself coaching I think I can bring things to the players,” said Xavi, via Marca. “But I made it clear to them that I saw myself in a project that started from zero, and in which the decision making was mine.”

Barcelona leads La Liga by two points with 11 matches to play and zero Clasicos left on the docket. Current boss Quique Setien took over for Ernesto Valverde in January.

Setien has overseen six wins and two losses in La Liga play. Barca was also eliminated from the Copa del Rey and drew Napoli in the away leg of the Champions League Round of 16.

Setien has been tasked with sorting out a club that’s a bit messy from top-to-bottom, and that might be kind. Xavi is wary of that, too.

“I would like to be very in tune with everyone,” Xavi said. “There can’t be anyone in the dressing room who is negative, toxic, and the medical issue is important. Everything has to fit. I’d like to go in with people from my environment to make a good team.”

Al-Sadd has won 57 percent of its matches with Xavi at the wheel, including the Qatar Cup and the Qatar Super Cup. Barcelona is a leap forward, though.

Xavi went as far as to speculate which current players should be lynchpins for Barcelona, and which ones should be targeted from other clubs.

He loves former teammates Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, and Marc-Andre ter Stegen, and says midfielders Frenkie de Jong and Arthur fit the bill.

Xavi said he’d like to see Bayern Munich’s Serge Gnabry and Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho in blue and red, but doubted the oft-discussed return of PSG star Neymar.

“I would sign wingers, like Neymar. I do not know if he would fit in a non-football sense, but football-wise I do not have doubts that he would be a spectacular transfer. Barcelona already have a style of play in the middle of the park… but they lack wingers like Bayern have. There don’t need to be many new ones: Jadon Sancho, Serge Gnabry… .”

It’s not difficult to read into Xavi’s statements; He felt he was ready for the job in January, but didn’t want to step in during a brutal time at the club. While it’s not the resolve you’d like from a club legend you can respect it.

La Liga roundup: Greizmann snaps scoreless streak as Barcelona hold off Getafe

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Barcelona’s close win against third-place Getafe highlights La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Barcelona 2-1 Getafe

Barcelona are level at 52 points with league leaders and rivals Real Madrid, as Antoine Griezmann, who ended a five-match scoreless run in La Liga, and Sergio Roberto added a goal in Saturday’s 2-1 win.

Lionel Messi – on his official 350th Camp Nou appearance – assisted Griezmann for the first the first goal at the 33rd minute, extending his season total count to 12.

“I’ve been here six months, we still have to learn,” the Frenchman said following the victory. “I have to learn [Messi’s] movements and he has to learn mine. We’re enjoying the work we put in together and it’s getting better and better all the time. I’m very happy and really enjoying myself here.”

Quique Setien’s side got off to a lethargic start, and were in trouble in several occasions, but managed to conserve their two, first-half goals against an inspired Getafe, who went into Camp Nou on the back of a four-match La Liga winning streak.

Jordi Alba left the field at 22nd minute mark after suffering a right abductor injury. Junior Firpo, who has yet to find his footing in Barcelona, replaced the veteran fullback.

Barca-linked Angel Rodriguez was the only Getafe representative to put the ball past Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who along with VAR, saved the home side from conceding a pair of goals throughout the night.

Barca, who await for Real Madrid’s outcome on Sunday, set sights on Saturday’s bout against Eibar, while Getafe feature Thursday in the Round of 32 of the Europa League against Ajax.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Mallorca 1-0 Alaves

Villarreal 2-1 Levante 

Granada 2-1 Real Valladolid

With Messi’s set pieces, Barcelona finds a way to get back on track

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MADRID — Under pressure and needing a victory, Barcelona didn’t mind leaving aside its ball-possession game for a while.

It was with set pieces that the team salvaged a crucial win this weekend to get back on track after a turbulent start to the year under coach Quique Setién.

Lionel Messi had three assists – two from free kicks – as Barcelona twice came from behind to defeat Real Betis 3-2 in Seville on Sunday. The victory kept the Catalan club three points behind Spanish league leader Real Madrid, which earlier had won 4-1 at Osasuna.

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Barcelona didn’t fully abandon its traditional passing game, but it only got the goals it needed at Benito Villamarín Stadium thanks to the set pieces. The team was losing 2-1 when Messi found Sergio Busquets inside the area for the equalizer just before halftime, and after the break it was a header from Clement Lenglet off another cross from Messi that gave Barcelona the win.

“What hurts the most is that their team can score a thousand different ways but we conceded two goals from free kicks far from the area,” Real Betis coach Rubi said.

Barcelona continued to improve despite the narrow victory, relieving some of the pressure over Setién since he replaced Ernesto Valverde at the beginning of the year.

“We’ve played more games and had more time to practice under him,” Barcelona midfielder Sergi Roberto said. “After a change, you always need some time to adapt, but it’s a lot easier to work after victories.”

Next for Barcelona will be a league game at home against third-place Getafe, which has been playing some of the best soccer in Spain recently.

GETAFE’S RUN

Getafe again has become the sensation of the Spanish league.

For the second straight season, the modest club from southern Madrid is hanging around near the top of the standings, contending for a Champions League spot and outplaying some more traditional Spanish teams.

Getafe is in third place after 23 matches, ahead of Atlético Madrid, Sevilla and Valencia. It trails second-place Barcelona by seven points and Real Madrid by 10.

“It’s a tough team to beat,” Valencia coach Albert Celades said. “It plays very solidly on defense and it doesn’t concede many goals. When a team is in third place like that, it’s because it does a lot of things well, there is no doubt about that.”

Valencia was Getafe’s latest victim on Saturday, routed 3-0. In the previous round, Getafe had won 2-0 at Athletic Bilbao.

Getafe was in contention for a Champions League spot until the end of last season, holding on to fourth place until being overcome by Valencia with two rounds to go. It will face Ajax in the round of 32 of this season’s Europa League.

EFFECTIVE STRIKERS

Real Sociedad’s Alexander Isak and Espanyol’s Raúl de Tomás have been among the hottest strikers in Europe.

Isak has scored eight goals in his last six games, including one in Sociedad’s 2-1 win over Athletic Bilbao in the Basque Country derby in the Spanish league on Sunday. A few days earlier he had scored twice in the team’s stunning 4-3 win at Real Madrid in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey.

The 20-year-old Isak, who already plays for Sweden’s national team, joined Sociedad from Borussia Dortmund last year.

De Tomás, Espanyol’s most expensive transfer after joining from Benfica in January, has scored in each of his first five matches with the Barcelona club. His latest goal was a 58th-minute winner against Granada on Sunday, giving his team its first home victory in the Spanish league this season.

He was signed for a reported 20 million euros ($21.9 million) plus add-ons, surpassing the nearly 10 million euros ($10.9 million) the Spanish club had paid for Matías Vargas last year.

The 25-year-old de Tomás has a contract with Espanyol until 2026. He used to play in the youth squads of Real Madrid before joining second-division club Rayo Vallecano on a loan. He was eventually sold to Benfica for 20 million euros ($21.9 million).

La Liga roundup: Messi fuels Barcelona win over Real Betis (video)

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Lionel Messi’s genius in Barcelona’s win over Real Betis highlights La Liga’s Sunday action.

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Real Betis 2-3 Barcelona

Lionel Messi assisted three times on Sunday in Quique Setien’s anticipated return to the Estadio Benito Villamarin, as Barcelona edged Real Betis 3-2.

The victory marks Barcelona’s second consecutive league win, who remain three points behind league leaders – and winners on Sunday – Real Madrid.

The match got off to a burning start as Sergio Canales converted from the spot six minutes in after a handball was called by VAR on Clément Lenglet, who wound up exiting the pitch after cumulated yellow cards in the 79th minute.

Just three minutes later, Frenkie de Jong canceled out Betis’ lead with a delicate finish of his own. Nabil Fekir, however, would put the home side up with a long-range shot in the 26th minute. Setien’s return to Seville was off to a rocky start.

Like in many cases in the past, Messi’s dominance would wind up saving Barcelona.

The Argentine’s desperate ball into the box was pushed in by Sergio Busquets in the final seconds of the first half, while his lofting cross was met by Lenglet’s well-placed header in the second half to give the Blaugrana the much-needed victory.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Espanyol 1-0 Mallorca

Real Sociedad 1-0 Athletic Bilbao

Osasuna 1-4 Real Madrid 

Celta Vigo 2-1 Sevilla

Barcelona’s Setien under pressure after three games in charge

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BARCELONA, Spain — Barcelona hired Quique Setien to improve a team that was already leading the Spanish league.

Two weeks later, the defending champions are trailing Real Madrid and clearly struggling to adapt to the on-the-fly coaching change.

The team has boosted its possession of the ball and its number of passes, tenants of the orthodox Barcelona style professed by Setien that had waned in recent seasons. But that has yet to make it firmer on defense or lead to more goals compared to its performances under predecessor Ernesto Valverde.

Barcelona needed a goal by Lionel Messi to get past Granada 1-0 in Setien’s debut on Jan. 19. A double by Antoine Griezmann, including a second goal in stoppage time, saved them against third-tier side Ibiza in the Copa del Rey with a 2-1 win on Wednesday.

But on Saturday Barcelona was completely outplayed at Valencia, which was content to let Barcelona have the ball and then wait to pounce on the break. Valencia won 2-0 despite also missing a penalty and hitting the post. Madrid’s 1-0 win at Valladolid on Sunday let it move three points ahead and take charge of the title race.

Setien acknowledged that his team has yet to play like he wants.

“We are evaluating the position of our players and the understanding we need to have to do what we propose,” Setien said after Saturday’s loss. “One thing is that (the players) understand it on the chalkboard and quite another is how we put it into practice.”

Setien’s three-man backline, a change from Valverde’s four defenders, left the team’s flanks exposed against Valencia. Ansu Fati and Jordi Alba, playing as wing backs, were unable to effectively join the attack. And, most disconcertingly for Setien, the midfield of Sergio Buquests, Frenkie de Jong, and Arthur failed to set up Messi and Griezmann in scoring positions.

Barcelona only got going once it was trailing in the score and after Arturo Vidal had replaced Arthur. Vidal set up Messi’s goal against Granada and was his best partner in attack again at Valencia.

“There are things that (my players) didn’t interpret correctly,” Setien said. “That, or we didn’t explain them well. We made passes that didn’t help advance the team. There are things we need to work on to correct.”

Setien will need to work out the kinks in his team before Barcelona visits Napoli in the opening leg of their Champions League round-of-16 leg on Feb. 25.

Next up is Leganes in the Copa del Rey round-of-16 on Thursday.

SIMEONE’S SLUMP

Atletico Madrid is in a slump and its road forward is only going to get more difficult.

Diego Simeone’s side will take a four-game winless streak across all competitions to crosstown rival Real Madrid next weekend.

Madrid bettered Atletico on Jan. 12 in a penalty shootout to win the Spanish Super Cup. That loss started a wretched run for Atletico that has included a 2-0 loss at Eibar, a humiliating exit from the Copa del Rey to a third-tier team, and Sunday’s 0-0 draw at home with lowly Leganes.

“The results are not good, but we have never stopped trying nor fighting for the good times to return,” goalkeeper Jan Oblak said. “We hope to build the run of wins that we all need.”

While Oblak is keeping the team in matches by anchoring a strong defense, the team’s attack is sputtering. With 22 goals in 21 league matches, only five teams in the 20-team division have scored fewer. Barcelona, the leading scorer, has 50 goals.

The pressure will be on former Madrid player Alvaro Morata to lead an attack with Angel Correa and youngster Joao Felix, who has yet to meet expectations following his 120 million euros ($133 million) transfer from Benifca.

A win at the Santiago Bernabeu would do wonders to silence Atletico’s critics. A loss would realistically leave the team with only the Champions League to play for. It faces defending champion Liverpool in the round-of-16 next month.