Quique Setien went out for a walk with the cows and a day later was in charge of Barcelona. A few more days like these and he will be back in his village sooner than he might have expected.
Barcelona crumbled under his command at a wired Mestalla on Saturday. Valencia won 2-0 but they might have hit six.
Sacking Ernesto Valverde midseason with the team top of La Liga and through to the Champions League last 16 looked a gamble at the time and could soon transform into a disaster.
Setien finished 10th place last season with Real Betis and his Barcelona are only a Lionel Messi and a Marc-Andre ter Stegen away from looking capable of the same.
Their opener against Granada was a mixed bag but fans were generally happy that the team wanted the ball again.
That was followed up by a cup shock at third-tier Ibiza where the hosts led for an hour before Antoine Griezmann’s double saved the day.
This third game was the worst, and Setien’s first defeat. Barcelona faced a Valencia side ravaged by absences; talisman Dani Parejo was injured, Rodrigo only fit enough for the bench, Denis Cheryshev, Jasper Cillessen, Goncalo Guedes and Cristiano Piccini injured.
Albert Celades’s side had one win in their last four games and were thumped 4-1 by relegation-battling Mallorca last weekend. They last beat Barcelona at home in La Liga in 2007. Of course playing at Mestalla is never easy, but these were favourable conditions.
Despite Barcelona hogging the ball, opponents have been able to forge dangerous chances against Setien’s Barca and this was no different.
Valencia should have taken the lead when Gerard Pique felled Jose Gaya in the area but Ter Stegen dived the right way to keep out Maxi Gomez’s penalty.
Curiously it is the first penalty that the German has kept out in La Liga, with Claudio Bravo the last to stop one for Barcelona in the top flight – also against Valencia in 2015.
Pique conceded that one too, missed by Dani Parejo, and Ter Stegen was called into action again soon after, keeping the ball out as the struggling defender bundled it towards his own goal.
The goalkeeper was Barcelona’s lifeguard in the first half, keeping their head above water as tension grew on Spain’s east coast with wave after wave of Valencia attack.
Ter Stegen made five saves in 31 minutes as Los Che exposed the cracks in Setien’s armour.
Barcelona were fortunate that referee Gil Manzano erred in blowing for a Samuel Umtiti foul when Ferran Torres was running through on goal. Valencia supporters let him know their intense disgust.
Gomez atoned for his penalty miss by firing Valencia ahead early in the second half with the help of a deflection off Jordi Alba, and it put Setien’s Barcelona in a corner.
Messi, as usual, stood up to try and fix things on his own.
The Argentine suffered in the first half, giving the ball away, being robbed by Francis Coquelin and seeing a free-kick fly over and another easily saved by Jaume Domenech.
He continued to personally turn the screw after the break, with Coquelin booked for rugby tackling him down as he tried to break through the centre.
Messi angled another effort narrowly wide, drafted a delicious lob fractionally over and saw Domenech beat away a third free-kick.
In that it was all down to the No 10, nothing has really changed. Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona were dependent on Messi and it seems Setien’s is too.
Given he’s the best player in the world, that’s not surprising, but he cannot do it alone every time. He could not do it here, at all.
With 11 shots, it was the joint most Messi has taken in a single game without scoring.
By contrast Gomez was lethal again at the other end, steering home with confidence to kill the game after 77 minutes.
Setien lurked in the shadows, biting his bottom lip as the noise levels in the stadium topped 100 decibels. When he arrived he was overjoyed and Barcelona fans celebrated. How quickly that has faded.
With Thursday’s Copa del Rey last-16 against Leganes and the Champions League knock-out tie with Napoli approaching too, Barcelona’s season will be on the line in the days and weeks to come. The Setien experiment could bring it crashing down.
The coach needs time to implement his ideas – a resource Barcelona do not have.