Quique Setien had Lionel Messi to thank for ensuring he made a winning start as Barcelona’s new coach.
The club’s all-time leading scorer finally broke down a stubborn Granada after the visitors were reduced to 10 men to secure a 1-0 win at Camp Nou on Sunday.
Granada had kept Barcelona in check and hit the post in its best scoring chance moments before German Sanchez was sent off with 20 minutes to play after getting a second yellow card for fouling Messi.
A hole then appeared in the visitors’ defense which Messi exploited by passing to Antoine Griezmann inside the area. Griezmann quickly squared the ball for Arturo Vidal, who used his heel to roll it on for Messi to slot into the corner of the net for the 76th-minute winner.
Setien, who last coached at Real Betis, was hired by Barcelona on Monday after it fired Ernesto Valverde following a loss in the Spanish Super Cup semifinal to Atletico Madrid.
“I am happy. … We did many things well and I hope to go forward improving little by little,” Setien said.
“(Messi) did what he has been doing all his life. There are games like this when you are missing your finishing touch or are not inspired in attack, when he always appears. We know that when the ball reaches Messi’s feet there is a very high probability it is going in the net.”
Barcelona stayed ahead of Real Madrid on goal difference. Both teams are eight points ahead of third-place Atletico Madrid after 20 of 38 rounds.
Messi took his league-leading tally to 14 goals this campaign.
With Barcelona at the top of the league, the rare midseason coaching change was seen by many fans as an attempt to recover the attractive passing attack that had waned in recent seasons. Setien declares himself an admirer of soccer great Johan Cruyff, who established Barcelona’s style as a coach in the 1990s.
Granada, promoted at the end of last season, shocked Barcelona 2-0 at home in September.
At Camp Nou on Sunday, Barcelona dominated possession and weaved together long passing buildups from the start. Granada, however, showed discipline and patience in defense and was well positioned to limit scoring chances by the hosts until late on.
In the first half, Granada goalkeeper Rui Silva only had to save a seventh-minute shot from Ansu Fati, who started in place of injured Luis Suarez.
Messi, who made Granada’s defense scramble to keep up with his runs, came close before halftime after combining passes with Jordi Alba, but shot wide.
Granada mustered its only threat well into the second half when Yan Eteki almost surprised goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen after recovering the ball and hitting the post from distance in the 66th.
But Granada’s hopes for an upset took a blow four minutes late when Sanchez was sent off after earning a second booking for a tackle on Messi.