What should Quique Setien do to improve Barcelona chances of winning Champions League?

    Barcelona’s Champions League action gets underway on February 25 when the Catalans travel to the Stadio San Paolo to take on Napoli in the first leg of their Round-of-16 tie

    Widely considered as massive favorites to advance to the quarter-finals, the Spanish giants will be looking to extend their winning away run in Europe to three straight matches.

    But, with just one goal conceded and seven netted in three group stage fixtures (W2, D1), the Partenopei will have their say in this two-legged tie.

    Both sides have done well in Europe so far this season, and Champions League betting odds provide insight into their chances of reaching the next knockout round.

    Change of Management at Camp Nou

    Barcelona finished top of ‘Group of Death’ without a single loss (W4, D2), four points clear of second-placed Borussia Dortmund and seven of Inter Milan, sealing a place in the Champions League Round of 16 for the 15th season in a row.

    But, Ernesto Valverde, who guided the Catalans to the knockout stage, is now part of the club’s history, with the former Betis boss Quique Setien taking over the reins at the Camp Nou following the Super Cup failure against Atletico Madrid.Β 

    The 61-year-old tactician will now face a daunting prospect of leading Barcelona to their first Champions League crown since the 2014/15 season. Indeed, Setien has three major stumbling blocks to overcome in his efforts to drive his side to Istanbul.

    Replace injured Luis Suarez

    The first thing Setien has to do is to find a way to replace the injured Luis Suarez. The Uruguay international will spend around three months on the sidelines after undergoing knee surgery and will, therefore, skip Barcelona’s clash against Napoli in the last-16.

    Unfortunately for the Blaugrana fans, the 32-year-old is the only real central forward at Setien’s disposal at the moment. Deploying Antoine Griezmann as a striker is an option, but the Frenchman has endured a torrid campaign so far and seems to be struggling to link up with Lionel Messi.

    However, unless the reigning La Liga holders manage to snap up a replacement for Suarez by the end of the January transfer window, Setien could be forced to take a gamble with the World Cup winner.

    β€˜One-Man Team’

    Probably the most challenging task on his agenda will be easing the pressure on Messi. Indeed, the Argentinean wizard has almost single-handedly propelled Barcelona to the knockout stage, contributing to 55% of their goals in the group phase.

    What’s more, the 32-year-old has scored 14 of the Blaugrana’s last 26 goals in the competition (53%), which has fueled talks about Barcelona being a ‘one-man team.’ In addition to the left-footed magician, only four other Barca players have found the net in the Champions League this season, which casts doubt on the team’s independence from Messi.

    Without Suarez, who has been Barcelona’s top scorer in the group stage with three goals, Messi will probably have to shoulder the burden all by himself once again. Hence, Setien needs to find a way to get other Barca players more involved in the attacking third to improve his team’s chances of making it to the final.

    Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

    Barcelona last failed to reach the quarter-finals in 2006/07, but they were bowed out after failing to capitalize on a massive first-leg aggregate lead in both of their previous attempts to secure a place in the final.

    In 2017/18, the Catalans hammered Roma 3-0 at the Camp Nou but succumbed 4-1 in Italy in the return leg, ending their European adventure in the quarter-finals.Β 

    Last year, they stunned Liverpool 3-0 in Spain before suffering a disastrous 4-0 defeat at Anfield in the second leg of their semi-final tie. That fiasco actually raised doubts over Valverde’s capability of leading Barcelona to the Champions League title and started paving the way for his dismissal.

    Although they avoided defeat in each of their three continental trips this term (W2, D1), the Spanish powerhouse have won only six of their last 16 away fixtures in Europe (D6, L4).

    That’s a sharp contrast to their intimidating home form. In fact, Barcelona have picked up 31 wins in their previous 35 European home matches (D4), with their last Champions League loss at the Camp Nou dating back to 2013.

     

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