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Under new coach, Barcelona show signs of their old magic in a 1-0 victory over Granada

Barca beat Granada 1-0 with a performance that epitomised their footballing philosophy, dominating the ball, strangling the opposition and eventually finding the chink in the armour, with Lionel Messi – who else? – applying the finishing touch.

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Last Updated: Jan 20, 2020, 11.26 PM IST
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Agencies
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This looked like a Barcelona far from their heyday, still reliant on Messi for some magic.
By Rik Sharma

Quique Setien promised to take Barcelona back to the future by restoring the possessionbased, attack-minded game so beloved at Camp Nou and, as he made his bow on Sunday night, the Catalans took their first steps towards recovering their identity.

Barca beat Granada 1-0 with a performance that epitomised their footballing philosophy, dominating the ball, strangling the opposition and eventually finding the chink in the armour, with Lionel Messi – who else? – applying the finishing touch.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the Blaugrana are suddenly back, though. This is very much a work in progress and, for large periods, Barca failed to create clear cut chances at a blustery Camp Nou; the winds of change perhaps hampering their precision in possession.

There were se- veral differences from the Ernesto Valverde era evident from the start, though.

Setien, who’s been hands-on in training, came out to watch the warm ups — unlike Valverde or Luis Enrique — and the team worked more on their movement than with the ball. His starting line-up was unsurprising, though.

With Frenkie de Jong suspended, Arthur still not ready to start and Luis Suarez injured, he opted for Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal in the middle and Ansu Fati in attack.

Barcelona lined up 4-3-3 without the ball and 3-3-4 with it, with Jordi Alba pushing very high up the left flank to join the attack, and right-back Sergi Roberto dropping in at centre-back.

As promised by the Cruyff-loving Setien, his players constantly demanded the ball, recording 82 percent possession in the first half and attempt 508 passes. They failed to score, though, and, in truth, despite the tactical changes, the first half as a whole left rather the same feeling that has been in the air at Camp Nou for a while.

This looked like a Barcelona far from their heyday, still reliant on Messi for some magic.

The Argentine turned it on as per usual, despite being brought down several times by a Granada defence looking to stop him at any cost. With their captain pulling the strings, Barca turned the screw in the second half, but dodged a bullet as Yan Eteki’s low drive hit the inside of Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s post and bounced out. Then, German Sanchez’s harsh second yellow card — for a trip on the evergreen Messi — tilted the game in Barcelona’s favour.

The defender was dismissed after 69 minutes and Barcelona were ahead by the 76th, with Messi coolly passing the ball into the net after an intricate team move. This was the football that Setien promised.

There was no way back for the 10-man visitors, with Setien pocketing a debut win to take Barcelona back top of La Liga on goal difference ahead of Real Madrid, who defeated Sevilla on Saturday.

With Ansu starting, and Riqui Puig and Carles Perez being brought on from the bench, the coach also nodded towards La Masia, which will have gone down well with Barca traditionalists.

The Catalans already have more structure, purpose and hope. After a week in charge that’s as much as Setien or the fans could have hoped for, with one very good goal giving them an exciting glimpse of a brighter future.
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