Former Barcelona coach Setién faces old team with Villarreal
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Quique Setién believed he had reached the pinnacle of his career three years ago when he was tapped to become the new coach of Barcelona.
An enthusiast of the possession-based style forged in the 1990s by Johan Cruyff and defined by Barcelona ever since, Setién took over a squad led by Lionel Messi and sought to revitalize the team's attack.
But the former midfielder's tenure ended after eight months following a humiliating 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich in August 2020. Setién retreated to his home in rural northern Spain to regroup with his family and the cows that he occasionally mentioned as providing him with some peace. It would take two years for him to return to coaching when he signed with Villarreal in October.
On Sunday, the 64-year-old Setién will face Barcelona for the first time since he was fired following a title-less campaign and a loss that has marked his career.
Barcelona is in first place in the Spanish league and is looking to extend its eight-point lead over Real Madrid, which had its game against last-place Elche pushed back to Wednesday while it plays the Club World Cup in Morocco.
Messi and other players that never seemed to gel with Setién are now gone, but Xavi Hernández has Barcelona playing better than Setién could ever manage in his short stint in charge.
Setién had grabbed the attention of Barcelona in 2018 when he guided Real Betis to a 4-3 win at Camp Nou, the first home loss for Messi’s team at that point in more than two years. He then got his first job for an elite club in January 2020 when Barcelona let Ernesto Valverde go mid-season despite leading the league. Things, however, quickly fell apart.
Speaking to former Spain coach Vicente del Bosque for Spanish newspaper El País only months into his coaching hiatus, Setién said that the loss to Bayern “left me seriously damaged.”
“With that loss, you enter the history books of Barça,” he said. “I went through mourning.”
Earlier this season, Barcelona beat Villarreal 3-0 at Ceramica Stadium in the second-to-last game under Unai Emery, who would soon leave the club he led to a Europa League title and semifinal appearance in the Champions League to take over Aston Villa.
In came Setién. After a rough start, Villarreal is battling for a return to the Champions League with a top-four finish. The team beat Real Madrid 2-1 last month, but has sputtered recently with back-to-back losses. That included a 3-1 loss to Elche last weekend, the first victory of the season for the league’s worst team. Villarreal is in sixth place, four points behind fourth-place Atletico Madrid.
“Elche was a very hard blow, but we want to bounce back by winning this Sunday,” said Villarreal defender Pau Torres, who is available to play after missing two games with a leg injury. “For us, the game depends on us pressing well and handling the ball well when we have it.”
Villarreal will likely not win the possession battle against a Barcelona team led by Spain playmakers Pedri and Gavi, but it has both goals and loads of creativity in Gerard Moreno. Yeremy Pino and Samuel Chukwueze provide speed on the wings. Raúl Albiol anchors the defensive line.
Third-place Real Sociedad visits Espanyol on Monday. Atletico is at Celta Vigo on Sunday, when Rayo Vallecano, which has surprisingly risen into fifth place, is at Getafe in a Madrid derby.
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Joseph Wilson, The Associated Press