Quique Setien has long been regarded as a strong judge of potential in young players – they said it was one of the reasons Barcelona hired him in January despite leaving Real Betis last year having arguably fallen short of expectations.

Ironically enough, Setien's keen eye and faith in academy products could end up costing Barca upwards of €60million, as the reimagining of their midfield looks set to continue.

Why? Because in 2017, just after becoming Betis coach, Setien stepped in and insisted the club not sell Fabian Ruiz to Barca's B team for €1m. A paltry sum in current terms, but at the time the midfielder had only featured a few times for the Verdiblanco's senior side and just spent time on loan at Elche.

"I refused as we wanted him at Betis. I saw Fabian's potential and we decided to keep him," Setien told Marca last year. His faith was well-placed – Fabian made 34 LaLiga appearances in 2017-18 and was one of the league's standout midfielders, earning a move to Napoli that reportedly cost €30m.

An impressive first season in Serie A vindicated the fee and marked him out as one of Europe's most promising midfielders, leading once again to rumours of interest from Barcelona, and Real Madrid too, with both apparently seeing him as a candidate to replace ageing midfield options.

Struggling to adapt to change, or lack of motivation?

It's not all been plain sailing, however. This season has proven a challenging one for Fabian, who had a quiet start to the campaign before seeing his form drop off dramatically.

When Gennaro Gattuso replaced Carlo Ancelotti, he retained faith in Fabian despite his issues, though his form didn't improve particularly with the alteration from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3.

Italian publication Gazzetta dello Sport blasted Fabian just last month, suggesting there was a link between his form and the apparent interest of Barca, before saying his "slowness is embarrassing, almost penalising for Napoli's actions".

But there's a feeling in Italy that Napoli's signing of midfield competition in Diego Demme and Stanislav Lobotka have coaxed a positive reaction from the Spaniard.

With two goals in his past three matches, including excellent performances against Inter and Brescia, Fabian seems to have settled again – and just in time.

The audition

Given Fabian's wide-ranging skillset, he has been mentioned as a potential long-term replacement for more than one Barca midfielder.

Chiefly, it has been suggested he might be the ideal man to push out the increasingly unpopular – among Barca fans, anyway – Ivan Rakitic, as Fabian boasts ability on the ball, incisive passing skills and is a capable striker of the ball. 

While he may lack some of the industriousness of the Croatian, there's little doubt he would present a more refined technician in the final third.

However, with Frenkie de Jong already at the club, others feel Fabian could be moulded into a long-term successor to Sergio Busquets, owing to their similar physical attributes and the Betis product's excellent distribution.

According to Fabian, much of his game has been modelled on former Barca pass-master Xavi, having previously idolised Betis icon Capi – a more attack-minded midfielder – as a youngster, and such influences are clear to see.

Regardless of Setien's presence – as it's by no means inconceivable to think he won't be at the club next season – it's obvious this tie represents a real opportunity for Fabian to shine against the players he could potentially be brought in to replace.

How does he compare to Barca's current options?

Currently, there is no one in the Barca midfield creating goal-scoring chances at the same rate as Fabian, who has laid on 121 opportunities since the start of last season across all competitions - Rakitic (41), Busquets (50), Arthur (41) and Arturo Vidal (47) are all way behind.

Despite questions about his form, the Spaniard has played 38 key passes in 30 matches in 2019-20. De Jong is proving the most effective in that regard for Barca, but his 24 chances created in 33 outings on all fronts is also still some way behind Fabian.

Fabian's record of 527 passes into the final third over the past 18 months compares pretty favourably against Rakitic (598), Arthur (374), Vidal (273) and Busquets (717).

Fabian's average overall pass completion percentage at Napoli stands at 89 per cent, and while that is less than those posted by Busquets (91) and Arthur (93), it's by no means a dramatic drop-off and is the same as Rakitic's record. It suggests Fabian would have no issue acclimatising to Barca's style of play, regardless of whether or not Setien is still at Camp Nou.

But proving those previous struggles merely came down to a blip in a generally tumultuous season at Napoli and building on his recent revival with eye-catching performances against Barca, in a Champions League tie no less, would suggest he has the mentality as well as the ability to play for the Spanish champions.

Barcelona had an approach for Loren Moron rejected as they continue to explore options to ease their injury woes, according to Real Betis coach Rubi.

Barca were dealt a severe blow this week when they confirmed Ousmane Dembele is expected to be out for six months after hamstring surgery.

With Luis Suarez also sidelined, Barca are reported to have been granted special dispensation to sign a replacement, providing the player in question is either a free agent or already based in Spain.

Willian Jose, Angel Rodriguez, Lucas Perez and Loren were said to be their chief targets, though a reported €12million budget limits them significantly.

And Rubi admitted Barca did make an approach for Loren but were unsuccessful, with Betis not willing to let the player go.

"Loren is going to end the season with Betis," Rubi said of the striker who has scored eight LaLiga goals in 22 appearances this term.

"They have asked, but the operation is 99 per cent not done. We don't want him to leave and they have looked at many [players].

"Loren trains just as well as always. This is something that happens in football.

"We couldn't sign another player unless his release clause is paid. Loren's €50million, so 99 per cent it is not done.

"The information I have is that he is [staying] here and that is what we all want."

Loren, 26, was given his league debut for Betis by current Barca coach Quique Setien in February 2018.

First Barcelona and now Real Madrid. Lautaro Martinez is a wanted man.

With 16 goals across all competitions for Inter this season, Martinez is attracting plenty of interest following previous links to Manchester United.

Madrid and Barca are set to go head-to-head on and off the pitch.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID JOIN BARCA IN MARTINEZ RACE

Real Madrid want to pay the release clause of Inter star and Barcelona target Lautaro Martinez, according to Tyc Sports.

Martinez has long been linked with LaLiga champions Barca, who are eyeing a long-term replacement for Luis Suarez.

However, Martinez is now firmly on Madrid's radar with a release clause of €115million and Luka Jovic struggling to score regularly behind veteran striker Karim Benzema at the Santiago Bernabeu.

 

ROUND-UP

- ESPN says Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea are chasing Manchester United goalkeeper Dean Henderson, who is on loan at Premier League side Sheffield United. The 22-year-old – who is contracted to United until 2022 – has impressed at Bramall Lane and is reportedly unwilling to return to Manchester unless he is number one ahead of David de Gea.

Manchester City have joined Madrid, Barca, Arsenal and Tottenham in the race to sign RB Leipzig centre-back Dayot Upamecano, reports the Manchester Evening News. Pep Guardiola's City are desperate for defensive reinforcements following Vincent Kompany's exit and injury woes.

- According to the Daily Express, Serie A champions Juventus are eying a shock move for Chelsea's Willian, who is out of contract at the end of the season.

- Remaining in Turin and the Daily Mail claims Juve have entered the chase for Birmingham City teenager Jude Bellingham. The 17-year-old is also wanted by United and Chelsea.

Tottenham are plotting a double swoop for Norwich City pair Ben Godfrey and Max Aarons, the Express says. It comes as the Daily Mail reports Spurs will sell Eric Dier if he does not sign a new contract.

- Marca says Barca have contacted Levante about Roger Marti but the club have pointed to the striker's release clause. Barca are looking to bring in an emergency forward following Ousmane Dembele's long-term injury. Real Betis' Loren Moron and Lucas Perez of Deportivo Alaves are also reported options.

Jadon Sancho is a player in demand.

The former Manchester City youth player is a man in demand due to exploits with Borussia Dortmund.

The Premier League's elite are circling…

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL WANT SANCHO AMID UNITED LINKS

Liverpool want to sign Borussia Dortmund star and Manchester United target Jadon Sancho, according to the Daily Mail.

United are reportedly confident of luring the 19-year-old England international to Old Trafford, ahead of Premier League rivals Chelsea.

However, a fresh report claims Premier League leaders Liverpool have joined the race for the teenager as Jurgen Klopp hopes to take advantage of the relationship with former club Dortmund. Sky Germany also says Sancho will leave Dortmund at the end of the season.

 

ROUND-UP

Barcelona are preparing to re-sign Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain, reports El Confidencial. Neymar, who left Barca for a world-record €222m fee in 2017, has been heavily linked with a return to Camp Nou. After missing out on an off-season move, Neymar could be on his way back to the LaLiga giants – who are reportedly willing to sell one or two players to finance the blockbuster transfer.

- According to The Sun, Chelsea are battling United for the signature of 16-year-old Birmingham City sensation Jude Bellingham, who could cost up to £50million. The teenager has also attracted interest from Barcelona and Real Madrid.

- United recruit Odion Ighalo has been barred from the club's training ground due to ongoing coronavirus precautions, says The Mirror. Ighalo arrived from Chinese Super League side Shanghai Shenhua on deadline day, moving to United on loan until the end of the season. The Nigeria international, however, has not been allowed to train at Carrington.

Barca have ruled out signing Real Sociedad striker Willian Jose, reports Marca. With Ousmane Dembele and Luis Suarez sidelined, Barca are set to receive permission to sign an emergency forward within Spain. Real Betis' Loren Moron now reportedly tops the list of targets.

- Sandro Tonali has been valued at €55m and €60m by Brescia amid interest from Serie A champions Juventus and Inter, according to Calciomercato.

- Liverpool, United and Bayern Munich are eyeing Arsenal teenager Bukayo Saka, reports the Daily Mail.

- AS claims Real Valladolid defender Mohammed Salisu is at the centre of a transfer tug-of-war between Madrid, United and Atletico Madrid.

Barcelona expect Ousmane Dembele to be sidelined for six months, meaning a new signing could be imminent at Camp Nou.

Under LaLiga regulations, teams can look to the transfer market outside the window if they lose a player to injury for more than five months.

However, they can only sign individuals from the top two tiers in Spain, or those who are available as free agents.

With Luis Suarez also ruled out until May, we look at the options Barca could go for in order to bolster their attack.

 

Willian Jose (Real Sociedad)

The former Real Madrid striker was heavily linked with a move to Tottenham during the January transfer window but a move did not come to fruition. However, Barca reportedly only have a budget of €12million, which could prove to be insufficient to sign Willian Jose, who has fallen behind Alexander Isak in the pecking order at the Reale Arena.

Angel Rodriguez (Getafe)

A more realistic option appears to be Getafe's Rodriguez, who is believed to have €10m release clause. The 32-year-old has scored nine LaLiga goals for Jose Bordalas' Champions League-chasing side this season but has started just six top-flight matches.

Lucas Perez

After failing to make his mark in the Premier League at Arsenal and West Ham, at Deportivo Alaves Perez has rediscovered the sort of form that encouraged the Gunners to sign him from Deportivo La Coruna in 2016. He has scored nine LaLiga goals and laid on four more for Alaves this season and strike partner Joselu, formerly of Real Madrid, this week revealed he has urged Perez not to join Barca.

Loren Moron

Head coach Quique Setien coached Moron for two seasons at Real Betis and he is the club's leading goalscorer in LaLiga this season, finding the net eight times and supplying two assists. Betis president Angel Haro said at the weekend there has been no official contact from Barca, and Moron's release clause is understood to stand at €40m.

Frenkie de Jong said it is easy playing alongside Barcelona captain Lionel Messi after he guided the LaLiga champions past Real Betis.

Messi was instrumental with a hat-trick of assists as Barca twice came from behind to beat Betis 3-2 on Sunday.

After a turbulent week following a public row with director of football Eric Abidal, Messi was back doing what he does best – leading Barca to victory.

Messi teed up De Jong, Sergio Busquets and Clement Lenglet, who scored the 72nd-minute winner before he was sent off along with Betis star Nabil Fekir.

On six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi, Barca midfielder De Jong said: "It's easy to play by his side because he gives you balls into space, it's not that I have a special connection, but he gives you good balls in space."

It was the perfect response for Barca, who bounced back from their shock 1-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals on Thursday.

Barca's victory away to Betis kept the defending champions within three points of leaders and rivals Real Madrid.

"It was very important to win the game and that was not easy, although in the end we could have won by more goals, for the penalty they didn't give Messi. It was clear, he caught him and pushed him," De Jong said.

"It was hard to lose in the [Copa del Rey] because it was in the last minute and we had a good game. I think we deserved more but we have to look forward."

On his own performance, Netherlands international De Jong – who arrived from Eredivisie champions Ajax in the off-season – added: "I think that was one of my best games after suffering a bit in the last few. But it wasn't brilliant either."

Quique Setien praised Barcelona's resilience in Sunday's 3-2 win over Real Betis but said there is still room for improvement from the LaLiga champions.

Sergio Canales' early penalty for Betis was cancelled out by a wonderful goal from Frenkie de Jong, the Barcelona midfielder clinically dispatching Lionel Messi's sublime pass.

Nabil Fekir restored Betis' advantage with a fine finish, before Sergio Busquets scored a second equaliser on the stroke of half-time.

Clement Lenglet then headed home Messi's free-kick 18 minutes from time to seal all three points, although the Frenchman blotted his copybook by picking up a second yellow card soon after Fekir was also dismissed for Betis.

"I really liked the team," Barca head coach Setien said of his side, who are three points behind leaders Real Madrid. "There are things we could have done better, but I'm happy. We have come from behind twice.

"The team is improving in many things and I am very happy with the performance, the result and everything. We are still missing things, though.

"You have to enjoy the win because Betis are a great team, who were playing at home."

Barca looked far from solid at the back in the first half but looked significantly more resilient after the break, much to Setien's pleasure.

"We have improved a lot [in defence]," he added. "There are always some imbalances in the way we play, but I am quite happy with the defensive attitude of the team.

"In the second half, I don't think we granted them a chance on goal."

Betis president Angel Haro, meanwhile, insisted Barca have not made an approach for Loren Moron.

The striker, who came on as a second-half substitute on Sunday, has been linked with a move to Camp Nou as the LaLiga champions look to replace injured duo Ousmane Dembele and Luis Suarez.

Barca are said to be confident of securing special dispensation from authorities to bring in a Spain-based reinforcement outside of the transfer window, but Haro said they have not made a move for 26-year-old Moron.

"They have been linked, but they haven't enquired or made a formal offer for him," he told Movistar.

"There is talk of the player, but not in a serious way. It would be if we had an offer for the player, which we don't."

He waited, and waited, and waited. And then Barcelona scored. And their world made sense again.

Lionel Messi might be without a goal of his own since January 30, but he showed in Sunday's enthralling win at Real Betis that he doesn't need to find the net himself to keep Barca's fate under his spell.

The champions' 3-2 LaLiga win at a raucous Benito Villamarin was a crucial tonic at the end of a miserable week in which exiting the Copa del Rey at the quarter-final stage to Athletic Bilbao was merely a footnote.

First came the latest setback to Ousmane Dembele, now likely to be out of action until the end of the season with a hamstring tendon injury. Then, technical secretary Eric Abidal was quoted accusing Barca players of downing tools during Ernesto Valverde's final weeks in charge.

Those incidents alone would have been enough to make this a troublesome week for Barca, especially since they failed to sign a Luis Suarez replacement in January and are now scrabbling around for emergency deals to compensate for Dembele's newest injury. Then Messi, as he has for his whole career as the world's finest footballer, took things to another level.

It was 'only' a social media post – but it was a social media post from Messi. The club captain, the greatest player in Barcelona history, the man who is esteemed for the limited off-field distractions he creates caused a storm as newsworthy as the weather front battering northern Europe this weekend.

Messi is no fool. He knew what sort of reaction he would provoke by calling out Abidal for "dirtying" Barca players. Said to have had enough of being accused of wielding ultimate power at Camp Nou, he dragged Barca into a full-blown crisis with a mere Instagram story. He will not need anyone to point out the irony.

It all meant Sunday's visit to Betis, where Barca boss Quique Setien won most of his acclaim as a coach, was a mere sideshow. And yet, because of Messi, a week that threatened to derail Barca's entire season ended in a victory that might just set them right back on track.

Messi, who can cancel his contract at the end of this season, has long been said to be keen to see Barca build a squad capable of winning LaLiga and the Champions League. He would be forgiven for having a few misgivings when the Catalans lined up in Seville with veteran midfielder Arturo Vidal as a false nine, long before Sergio Canales' opener from the penalty spot must have left him feeling fed up in the extreme.

So, he chose to change the landscape.

First, he gathered a pass from Frenkie de Jong, who had turned expertly into space under pressure in his own half before spreading the ball wide. And he waited, and waited, and waited – and then dropped a lofted pass right onto De Jong's chest, begging to be volleyed home. Barca were level, De Jong having suddenly morphed back into the midfield dynamo of Ajax last season, and all thanks to Messi's intervention.

After Nabil Fekir scored a fine second for Betis against the run of play, Barca were under pressure again. But Messi, with seconds to go before the break, looked through the chaos to the bigger picture. His clipped free-kick landed for Sergio Busquets to control and fire home.

With 18 minutes to go, Messi completed his hat-trick of assists. Another deep free-kick, another pinpoint delivery, and this time an emphatic header from Clement Lenglet made it 3-2.

Three goals from set-pieces is not the Setien way, not the Barca way, but it was just what the Catalans needed after this most unsettling of weeks – even if it reminded us all just how willingly they dance to Messi's tune.

Mind you, who else has his sense of timing?

Lionel Messi grabbed a hat-trick of assists as Barcelona ended a tumultuous week with a pulsating 3-2 LaLiga win over Real Betis at the Benito Villamarin on Sunday.

The Catalan giants were dumped out of the Copa del Rey by Athletic Bilbao in midweek, while Messi has been involved in a public spat with technical director Eric Abidal after he questioned the work ethic of some players under previous boss Ernesto Valverde.

Quique Setien's side got off to a terrible start against his former employers, with Sergio Canales' penalty putting the hosts ahead early on, but a wonderful goal from Frenkie de Jong pulled the champions level soon after.

Nabil Fekir - who was later dismissed for two bookable offences in quick succession - restored the hosts' advantage with a fine finish, before Sergio Busquets scored a second equaliser on the stroke of half-time.

Clement Lenglet then headed home Messi's free-kick 18 minutes from time to ensure Barca remain three points behind leaders Real Madrid after their 4-1 win at Osasuna earlier in the day, although the Frenchman blotted his copybook by picking up a second yellow card soon after Fekir's dismissal.

Betis opened the scoring in the sixth minute, Canales stroking home from the penalty spot after Lenglet had handled Fekir's strike inside the penalty area.

Their lead lasted just three minutes, though, as De Jong chested down Messi's superb ball over the top and volleyed past Joel Robles from six yards.

Fekir rounded off a swift counter-attacking move with a fine low strike from 18 yards past Marc-Andre ter Stegen to restore Betis' advantage just before the half-hour mark.

Messi was again the provider for Barca's equaliser in first-half stoppage time, his deep free-kick turned in by Busquets from eight yards.

Messi was twice denied by Robles after the interval but he was central to Barca's winner, floating in a free-kick that was headed home by a towering Lenglet.

Fekir saw red 14 minutes from time, picking up quickfire bookings for a foul on Lenglet and dissent, while Barca's French defender also received his marching orders three minutes later after catching Joaquin.

Manchester City are reportedly lining up a move for Lionel Messi in a free transfer amid the star's troubles at Barcelona.

Messi, 32, has been involved in a public disagreement with the club's technical secretary Eric Abidal, leading to immediate questions over his future at Camp Nou.

City, and former boss Pep Guardiola, look ready to make their move.

 

TOP STORY – MAN CITY EYE MESSI FOR FREE AMID BARCELONA TROUBLES

Manchester City will swoop for Messi for free if the star cannot resolve his problems at Barcelona, according to The Sun.

While Messi is contracted until 2021, Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu confirmed last year the Argentina international was free to leave after the 2019-20 season.

Messi worked with Guardiola at Barcelona, with the duo winning three LaLiga titles and two Champions League crowns among numerous other trophies at the club.

ROUND-UP

- There could be major changes coming at Arsenal. The Sun reports Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Mesut Ozil are at risk with Arsenal perhaps prepared to sell their stars to finance a spending spree.

- Manchester United and Chelsea are set to go head-to-head in a bid to sign Lyon forward Moussa Dembele at the end of the season, according to The Mirror. Dembele, 23, has scored 12 Ligue 1 goals in 22 matches this season and has been linked with a move to Old Trafford previously.

- Staying in Manchester and City must wait until April to resolve the future of Leroy Sane after the attacker's switch of agent, according to The Telegraph and Bild. Sane is a reported target for Bayern Munich and Manchester City will have to wait to discuss the Germany international's future due to a clause in his deal with his previous agency.

- With Ousmane Dembele facing a long spell on the sidelines, Barcelona are eyeing Girona forward Cristhian Stuani, according to Deportes Cuatro, which reports the 33-year-old Uruguayan has a €20million release clause. Barca would need approval to complete the deal outside the transfer window.

- Could Liverpool have to search for a new back-up goalkeeper? Estadio Deportivo reports Real Betis are considering a move for their former shot-stopper Adrian, who is contracted to the European champions until 2021, with the club holding an option for a further year.

Tottenham have completed the permanent signing of Giovani Lo Celso, who has signed a contract until 2025.

Spurs boss Jose Mourinho revealed on Saturday the club were poised to convert the 23-year-old's initial loan move from Real Betis into a full switch, saying the player's form had made it "an easy decision".

The move was completed on Tuesday, just as the sale of Christian Eriksen to Inter was officially confirmed.

"We are delighted to announce that we have exercised the option to convert the loan of Giovani Lo Celso from Real Betis to a permanent transfer," read Tottenham's statement.

"Gio has signed a contract with the club until 2025.

"The midfielder has produced impressive performances after establishing himself in the team following a hip injury which restricted his playing time in the early part of his loan."

A superb individual run from Lo Celso helped to set up Spurs' goal as Son Heung-min struck in the 1-1 FA Cup fourth-round draw against Southampton, a game in which he also had a goal disallowed.

After the impressive performance, Mourinho had said: "It's not an obligation [to sign him], it's an option, but I think the boy is earning the decision. 

"He's making an easy decision for the club to execute the option. Incredible evolution since I arrived.

"Barely played a game [before I arrived], I think he played against Red Star Belgrade and with me it was a little bit difficult to come in the first few weeks.

"But he understood what we wanted. Good learner, good kid and I think by himself he made the decision that the club is going to execute the option. That's normal, he earned it."

Jose Mourinho says the form of Giovani Lo Celso is giving Tottenham "an easy decision" to sign him on a permanent basis.

A superb individual run from Lo Celso helped to set up Spurs' goal as Son Heung-min struck in the 1-1 FA Cup fourth-round draw against Southampton on Saturday.

The 23-year-old also had a goal disallowed and Mourinho is sure he has done enough to earn a permanent place at Spurs, having initially joined on a season-long loan from Real Betis, with an option to buy.

Mourinho said: "It's not an obligation, it's an option. I think the boy is earning the decision. 

"He's making an easy decision for the club to execute the option. Incredible evolution since I arrived.

"Barely played a game [before I arrived], I think he played against Red Star Belgrade and with me it was a little bit difficult to come in the first few weeks.

"But he understood what we wanted. Good learner, good kid and I think by himself he made the decision that the club is going to execute the option. That's normal, he earned it."

Son, meanwhile, has netted in back-to-back matches at a time where star striker Harry Kane is out injured.

Mourinho, whose side will now play an FA Cup replay against Saints, added of Son: "All of the attacking players need this happiness of scoring goals. 

"In the first half he had one easier than the goal he scored, facing the keeper the angle was good, the shot was good but for inches he missed. 

"It is a good goal, an important goal, so it is good for him.

"Playing a replay will affect [our mid-season break] a little bit. There is one more match we have to play. It is not a personal situation, Ralph Hasenhuttl was telling me the same, we don't need one more match. 

"But I think both me and him prefer to play again than to be out. No drama, let's go."

Those inside Camp Nou on November 11, 2018 where treated to a true spectacle. Regardless of whether or not Barcelona fans were angered by the end result, a 4-3 defeat, they were almost certainly entertained.

It was Barca's first loss at home in any competition since September 2016 and the manner of the defeat was truly impressive.

Real Betis battered Barca for much of the match and finished with a commendable 48 per cent possession, a feat few clubs can match at Camp Nou. At no point did Betis trail.

Fourteen months on, that remains the last time Barca were defeated at Camp Nou, in any competition. But now, the man who masterminded Betis' win is in charge of the champions.

Quique Setien was announced as the successor to Ernesto Valverde following his unceremonious sacking on Monday, with the 61-year-old seemingly hired due to his football ideologies being closely aligned to those of Barca.

Despite being held in high regard by many for his philosophy and championing of Barca icon Johan Cruyff, there remain massive reservations about his adaptability and whether he truly is the right man for the club in the long-term.

If he is to be the perfect fit, there are a few things he needs to address at a clun that some feel has lost its identity.

Adapt his system to Messi and determine future of aging stars

A non-negotiable condition of the job that even the most vociferous cirtics of Valverde will accept he more than met during his two-and-a-half years in charge - get the best from Messi. In theory, Setien's possession-based football should make him the ideal fit for Barca, and therefore Messi. But his teams – namely Las Palmas and Betis – had as much of a reputation for a chaotic approach that bordered on all-out attack as they did for dominating possession. Betis in particular played some rip-roaring football at a blistering pace, but playing at break-neck speed won't always been the case for Barca, who often have to be more methodical to break down deep-sitting opponents. Messi should still be expected to thrive, but where Setien opts to utilise the 32-year-old and the other stars of an aging team will be crucial. Can Gerard Pique, Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets and the others over the age of 30 still keep up?

Look to La Masia, promote Puig

During the 2016-17 LaLiga season, Setien's Las Palmas squad had 14 'cantera' products in it. While that might be more readily expected of a club with a significantly smaller budget than Barca, he continued to make the most of the academy when at Betis. Francis, Fabian Ruiz, Loren Moron and Junior Firpo – with whom he has reunited – were all prominent figures under Setien at the Benito Villamarin. Barca's famed La Masia has been less successful in recent years, but there are certainly talents coming through with the likes of Ansu Fati. An easy early win for Setien would be promoting Riqui Puig to the first-team, with the silky – albeit diminutive – midfielder ready for the step up. Don't be surprised to see teenager Pedri also link up with the senior squad when he officially joins from Las Palmas at the end of the season.

Sign a Suarez substitute

Luis Suarez is set to miss most – if not the rest – of the season after having knee surgery, leaving Barca with a significant hole to fill. It's likely Antoine Griezmann will be asked to take up a central position, but beyond him their options are more or less limited to Carles Perez. As such, Barca are reportedly considering bringing in another forward, with Girona's Cristhian Stuani seemingly among the most likely arrivals. But the burly Uruguayan is not an archetypal Setien striker – Chimy Avila of Osasuna is. The Rosario-born forward is said to be being monitored by Barca, as the Argentinian is enjoying a fine season. A feisty competitor, Avila's nickname 'Chimy' comes from his father's conclusion that he is "spicy like chimichurri", a popular South American sauce. Small, quick, agile and relentless, comparisons with Sergio Aguero are understandable, and his release clause is a fairly modest €25m.

Win LaLiga

To be fair, achieving league success in isolation may not be good enough to keep Setien in a job for long – just ask back-to-back LaLiga winner Valverde. No, Setien will have to do more. He'll essentially have to win LaLiga while playing exciting football and win the Champions League to earn an extension to his contract, which ties him to the club until 2022. But, as was made abundantly clear by Josep Maria Bartomeu in Setien's presentation, the length of a contract can be irrelevant if certain expectations aren't met. "Setien has signed until 2022, but there's also a caveat that there can be a change," the president said on Tuesday. "Valverde had a contract until 2021 [until 2020 with the option for another year] and we saw there's a change."

Avoid a Champions League collapse

Perhaps the biggest issue the fans had with Valverde was humiliating collapses in successive Champions League campaigns. In Valverde's first season, Barca took a 4-1 lead into their quarter-final clash with Roma, only to be eliminated by virtue of a 3-0 loss in the return leg. The next year they did go a step further, but the result was much the same – a 3-0 defeat of Liverpool at Camp Nou was following by a 4-0 Anfield annihilation by the eventual champions. The concerns some might have of Setien relate to his teams' defensive capabilities, as such an emphasis on attacking left Las Palmas and Betis vulnerable at the back. While he will have a greater calibre of player at Barca, if this side of his team is to be exploited, it'll likely be in the latter stages of the Champions League.

Barcelona midfielder Carles Alena has suggested he would be open to joining Real Madrid.

The 22-year-old agreed a deal last month to move to Real Betis for the rest of the season, having struggled for regular football under Ernesto Valverde at Camp Nou.

Alena will return to Barca at the end of 2019-20 but his long-term future remains in doubt.

And, while he accepts it would be a difficult decision to make, the player has refused to discount the idea of moving to arch-rivals Madrid.

"Football has many turns," he told Cadena SER when asked if he would ever play for Los Blancos. I've been a Barca fan all my life. It would be tough, but they've always taught me 'never say never'. But, for me, they are a rival team."

Alena started the LaLiga defeat to Athletic Bilbao on the opening day of the LaLiga season and played just four more times for Barca before joining Betis.

However, despite being frustrated with his lack of game time, he insists there is no bad blood with Barca boss Valverde.

"He never told me why he didn't call me up," Alena said. "But I had a very good relationship because of everything he has done for me. I hope that we meet in the future.

"I called him to say goodbye. He knew that I wanted to go. At the start of December, I was pretty sure. He knew that my decision was almost taken.

"They were complicated months, but in no moment was there a bad relationship with the coach. He decided that and he rules. I tried to get back as soon as possible, and it took a few months. It surprises you, annoys you and p***** you off a bit."

Barcelona have sent young midfielder Carles Alena on loan to fellow LaLiga club Real Betis until the end of the season.

Spain Under-21 international Alena started Barca's first league game of the campaign but has struggled for playing time since, featuring just three more times in the top flight.

Speaking this month, head coach Ernesto Valverde admitted he would have liked to have used Alena more often this term given his impressive display against Inter in the Champions League.

The 21-year-old, who worked his way through the academy ranks and has made 39 first-team appearances, will now link up with Betis for the second half of 2019-20.

The six-month loan deal, confirmed on Barcelona's official website on Saturday, does not include any purchase option.

Alena is in line to make his debut for 13th-place Betis away at Deportivo Alaves on January 5.

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