Barcelona special: Setien struggles and Messi magic in 2019-20

Barcelona has appeared short of its best for much of 2019-20 but is on course for La Liga glory. We take a look at the side's season thus far.

Quique Setien

Quique Setien's Barcelona has 58 points from 27 games - the side's worst return at this stage since 2007-08, when it had 54 points in the last knockings of Frank Rijkaard's tenure.   -  Getty Images

Top of the table, sack your head coach, lose El Clasico, return to the top of the table.

It is hard to argue with where Barcelona stands as La Liga's season pauses amid the coronavirus pandemic, although its means of staying on course for a ninth title in 12 seasons have often been unconvincing.

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Here, we take a look back at the numbers behind a campaign where Quique Setien has replaced Ernesto Valverde in the Camp Nou hot seat and many of the old certainties seem not to exist anymore. Well, apart from one man's enduring brilliance.

- Worst Barca performance since before Guardiola -

Barcelona's points haul of 58 from 27 games is enough for a two-point lead over Real Madrid in second but it is the side's worst return at this stage since 2007-08, when it had 54 points in the last knockings of Frank Rijkaard's tenure

The Blaugrana's 63 goals in 27 outings is also their lowest since that season, when they had 52 at this juncture and finished a distant third on 67 points.

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Pep Guardiola took the reins for 2008-09, completed a clean sweep of trophies and Barca have never been outside the top two since.

That run is unlikely to change this time around but concerns over the longer-term direction of travel are understandable – even if making Valverde the first La Liga boss to lose his job despite being top at the midway point since Radomir Antic made way for Leo Beenhakker at Real Madrid in 1991-92 left a sour taste.

Perhaps prophetically, Johan Cruyff's Barcelona won the title that year.

- Majestic Messi -

Unperturbed by these struggles and even speculation over his own future, Lionel Messi has continued on his merry way. The six-time Ballon d'Or winner is the top scorer in La Liga this season with 19 goals and his 12 assists also lead the divisional statistics.

Borussia Dortmund and England star Jadon Sancho is the only other player in Europe's big five leagues with double figures for both, with 14 goals and 15 assists.

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For now, Messi also has another marker over the man to whom he will always be compared. His 438 domestic league goals put him one ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo on 437, although Messi's have arrived in 474 appearances as opposed to Ronaldo's 540.

The Argentina international now has 420 La Liga starts to his name and has surpassed the previous highest by a non-Spanish player, former Atletico Madrid and Deportivo La Coruna defender Donato (415).

- The Barcelona way -

Setien's commitment to a short passing, high pressing style earned him the nod of the Barcelona board after Valverde's unseemly departure.

Although the high-octane thrills of his best Real Betis sides have largely been absent, he did put down an important marker in his first game. During the 1-0 win over Granada, Barca completed 1,002 passes – only the third time it or any other team has done so in a La Liga contest.

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The 1,046 recorded by Guardiola's men against Levante in May 2011 remains the highest, with his successor Tito Villanova overseeing 1,035 versus the same opponent in 1,035.

However, hoarding possession does not provide the security it once did. Barcelona has conceded 31 goals in La Liga so far this term, amounting to a higher goals per game against than in any of the previous nine season (1.15).

In fact, in five of those, Gerard Pique and his defensive colleagues had let in fewer than 31 at the end of the campaign. Easier to score against, not as prolific and yet still on course for the title usefully sums up the peculiarity of Barcelona in 2019-20 at this point.

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