Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 27 October 2020

'He always conjures up something special': Lionel Messi gives new Barcelona boss Quique Setien debut win

Argentine's 76th minute strike settles tie to keep champions top of La Liga on goal difference

Lionel Messi ensured Quique Setien's Barcelona reign kicked off in winning fashion with the only goal in a nervy 1-0 win over Granada at Camp Nou.

Barca's talisman settled the tie with a fine finish into the bottom corner on 76 minutes with the visitors reduced to 10 men after German Sanchez was sent off minutes earlier.

"Messi did what he has done his entire life," Setien said of Barca's captain and all-time top scorer.

"He has done this so many times in games like this, games when you cannot find a way through, things aren't going for you and you are lacking inspiration, but he always conjures up something special.

"We made a few moves like this in the first half but it didn't come off but when the ball falls to Messi you know there's a very high chance it will go in."

The victory took Barca back to the top of La Liga on 43 points after 20 games, ahead of second-placed Real Madrid on goal difference.

Setien replaced the sacked Ernesto Valverde last week with the club top of La Liga and having won back-to-back Spanish titles. The Spaniard was hired for his devotion to possession-based football and his side enjoyed a staggering 82 per cent possession against 10th-placed Granada, completing over 1,000 passes.

"I have seen many things from the team today that I want to see," said Setien. "But I already saw some of them against Atletico [last weekend] because Barca has been doing great things for many years."

Granada proved obstinate opponents, and almost took the lead through Cameroon midfielder Yan Brice Etekiwho struck a post but their resistance was hampered when Sanchez received a second yellow card for hauling down Messi.

Messi, who had already threatened Rui Silva's goal either side of half time, finally broke the deadlock when Arturo Vidal supplied the Argentine after substitute Riqui Puig began a slick passing move.

Twenty-year-old Puig was rarely given a look in by Valverde but he was given his first league appearance of the season by Setien, who has pledged to honour the club's tradition of giving young, home-grown players a chance.

"He did very well, he came on when we were in a good situation with an extra man and he read the game perfectly," added the coach.

"I'm very happy because we only conceded two shots in the game, we did many things well and I hope that little by little we'll get more fluid and get sharper in front of goal."

Earlier, two challengers for the top four stumbled as Valencia were thrashed 4-1 away at Real Mallorca and Real Sociedad beaten 3-0 by Real Betis.

After Sevilla and Atletico Madrid both lost on Saturday, Real Madrid and Barcelona are now eight points clear of the chasing pack, in what looks increasingly like a two-horse race.

Updated: January 20, 2020 08:32 AM

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