Setien back at Betis with buckling Barcelona
BARCELONA – Quique Setien returns to face his former side Real Betis with Barcelona on Sunday in La Liga, but his current club are on the brink of crisis.
After parting ways with the Andalusian side by mutual consent after a 10th place finish last season, by his own admission, Setien could never have believed he would return at the helm of one of Spain's giants.
However, the circumstances are less favourable than he would have liked, with star player Lionel Messi and sporting director Eric Abidal engaging in a war of words, while Ousmane Dembele has been ruled out for the rest of the season.
Reigning champions Barcelona failed to sign a replacement for injured striker Luis Suarez in January and Dembele's return was Setien's great hope, but the Frenchman tore his hamstring in training on Tuesday and may need surgery.
"I had a lot of hope in Ousmane," admitted Setien on Wednesday. "It's a disappointment but all my life I've had problems and you have to look for solutions. We'll always see things with optimism and hope."
Setien's time at Betis started that way, with a sixth-place finish in the 2017-18 campaign exciting supporters, but as results turned against him, so did the fans.
Betis were able to beat Barcelona 4-3 at Camp Nou and defeated Real Madrid at the Bernabeu twice in a row, but Setien left having alienated the crowd and will face an unfriendly reception at the Benito Villamarin.
Second-place Barcelona are looking to keep chasing league leaders Real Madrid, who are three points ahead after 22 games.
Real travel north to face Osasuna earlier Sunday, looking to extend their advantage on the Catalans before they face Betis.
Zinedine Zidane's side have been rock solid in defence this season in La Liga, shutting out city rivals Atletico Madrid last week and conceding just 13 goals so far.
That gives them the best defensive record in any of Europe's top five leagues and has been the key to their title challenge.
Osasuna's key attacking weapon, Chimy Avila, is poised to miss the rest of the season with a knee injury and they were sunk 3-1 by Villarreal last weekend to drop to 11th.
"We will not change the way we play," insisted coach Jagoba Arrasate, after Avila's injury, which means Madrid are in for a scrap at El Sadar.
High-flying Getafe, up to third in La Liga, host Valencia on Saturday, with Los Che licking their wounds after Granada sent them crashing out of the Copa del Rey on Tuesday.
Jose Bordalas's team impressed last season but have been even stronger in this campaign, displaying the strong team-ethic and determination which got them this far.
Their defence is tight and their strikers lethal, with Angel Rodriguez linked with a move to Barcelona to replace the injured Ousmane Dembele.
Villarreal, who were surprisingly eliminated from the Copa del Rey on Wednesday by second-tier Mirandes, travel to face Real Valladolid.
The weekend's other fixtures are Alaves v Eibar, Levante v Leganes, Atletico Madrid v Granada, Espanyol v Real Mallorca, Real Sociedad v Athletic Bilbao, and Celta Vigo v Sevilla.dpa