Barcelona’s appointment of Quique Setien, a fervent disciple of Johan Cruyff, came the day after Zinedine Zidane won his ninth final from nine as director of Real Madrid.
Real Madrid, the team which defines itself by winning, against Barcelona, where winning is regarded as the consequence of something more profound, a fashion heralded by Cruyff that is now their footballing philosophy.
Atletico Madrid and Sevilla, both five points behind, remain connected but are playing catch-up.
Setien has the opportunity to resuscitate his older Cruyff ideals following two decades under Ernesto Valverde when pragmatism took a greater grip.
Barca’s new coach isn’t well-known outside of Spain and, at 61, he can be in the twilight years of his career.
His previous clubs aren’t illustrious. They comprise Lugo, Logrones, Las Palmas, Poli Ejido, Racing Santander, Real Betis and one match in control of Equatorial Guinea. His list of decorations starts and ends with a single Spanish Super Cup in 1985 with Atletico Madrid.
But his words and work up to this point could leave the impression of somebody that’s been preparing to coach Barcelona his whole life.
“When I was a participant, coaches tried to set guidelines for me,” Setien, a former Spanish international, told Marca at 2018. “But on the field, I tried to express myself and it was only when I saw Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona drama that I began to understand how things actually worked. Having the ball makes you a soccer player, not running after it.”
It remains to be seen how Setien’s appointment will influence La Liga’s title race. Can Real Madrid’s players believe their chances are fostered or damaged by Valverde’s elimination?
They are now up against a team with a mentor who hasn’t won or even competed for, a top-flight trophy. But they might feel cautious too, of the chance Barcelona might be published by Setien’s attacking beliefs and accelerate.
Yet, as Barca reflect on their individuality and style, Madrid could be comforted by the simplicity of their DNA.
Contrary to Setien, Zidane sets his strategies around his players, not the other way around.
After lifting their 11th Spanish Super Cup on Sunday, Zidane was asked to explain how he’s won all the nine finals he’s been in as trainer.
“First and foremost, we’ve got a fantastic team and then you need to believe. We have done that.”
If anything, Zidane has revealed in his four years in Madrid that liberty from complex messages, when coupled with motivation and hard work, can be sufficient to push a team to success.
“When you are working with talented and skilled players, the main thing is to keep them calm,” Zidane said in 2018, reflecting on his extraordinary record in the Champions League. “That is exactly what I wanted when I was a participant so that is the approach I try to embrace as coach.”
The secret to the way the Spanish Super Cup and Setien’s arrival might influence the trajectory of the title race could become clearer this weekend.
Sevilla should supply the sterner test, even if one win from their last four league matches suggests they could be battling for fourth place in May instead of first.
Atletico will be without England defender Kieran Trippier for their game at Eibar from the Basque Country.
Trippier, who played with the entire 120 minutes of regular and extra-time against Barca on Sunday, has picked up a groin strain and won’t play on Saturday.
Atletico will expect that Trippier can recover quickly, with the Madrid derby against Actual coming up on February 1.