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Setien has difficult task of replacing Suarez at Barcelona

AP , Thursday 16 Jan 2020
Quique Setien
FILE - In this Wednesday, March 1, 2017 file photo, Las Palmas coach Quique Setien waits for the start of a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Las Palmas at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain. Setíen will be at the Camp Nou Stadium on Tuesday Jan. 14, 2020 to be officially introduced as the new coach of Barcelona, the club that for so long inspired his vision of soccer. (AP)

Quique Setien's first task at Barcelona will be a difficult one: Replace injured striker Luis Suarez.

Just before Setien arrived at the Camp Nou, Suarez was ruled out for fourth months with a knee injury, and now it will be up to the new coach to keep Barcelona's attack thriving without the prolific Uruguay forward.

Suarez, who underwent surgery on his right knee last Sunday, was Barcelona's second-leading scorer this season with 14 goals, behind only Lionel Messi.

Suarez didn't play in the beginning of the season because of another injury, but since his return he had missed only one game _ against Slavia Prague in the group stage of the Champions League in November.

Setien has few options in the squad to replace Suarez.

Ousmane Dembele _ usually the team's first reserve in attack _ also is out injured, meaning Setien will likely have to rely on Messi and Antoine Griezmann, with the sporadic support of youngsters Ansu Fati and Carles Alena.

The team could also sign another striker in the current transfer window to help make up for Suarez's absence, but for now Setien will have to be creative.

``Obviously it's a concern because there is an important player who is injured,'' Setien said Tuesday after being introduced as Ernesto Valverde's replacement. ``But we have to think about the players that we have available. That's what really matters right now.''

Setien could change the team's usual 4-3-3 tactical scheme at some point, which could help accommodate Suarez's absence. A solution could be to use Messi as a ``false'' No. 9 up front.

The 61-year-old Setien, who was without a club since leaving Real Betis at the end of last season, has his first game in charge of Barcelona on Sunday, when the team hosts Granada in the Spanish league. The Catalan club leads the league ahead of Real Madrid on goal difference. It has drawn three of its last four league games.

Setien has scheduled a practice session for the morning of the match, something players were not accustomed to during Valverde's time.

The coach will likely be able to count on the return of Marc-Andre ter Stegen on Sunday. The goalkeeper has yet to play this year because of a knee ailment.


Puig's Chance

Setien's first surprise move in charge of Barcelona could be to call up youngster Riqui Puig to the first team.

The 20-year-old midfielder had few chances under Valverde last year, but there are signs he may be part of Setien's plans.

He practiced with the main squad in Setien's first session on Tuesday, receiving close attention from the new coach. Puig also was left out of the list of players selected for the ``B'' team's game this week, another indication he could join the first team against Granada.

``I always look at the academy players. It is important to keep the first-team players from relaxing,'' Setien said. ``I've always maintained that if they keep progressing and earn their chance, they will be allowed to be part of the first team.''


Admiration For Messi

Setien never hid his admiration for Messi, calling him the best player in history, but he doesn't think that will affect the relationship between the coach and the player.

``I've told him that admiration is one thing, reality is another thing,'' Setien said. ``I'm certain that our relationship will be extraordinary, but with everyone knowing their place.''


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