The win over Getafe on Saturday kept Barcelona within touching distance of Real Madrid at 52 points, with Los Blancos having a game in hand. It was a hard-fought victory, especially after Jordi Alba's injury-enforced withdrawal. Getafe are in third place on the table, 2 points clear of Atlético Madrid.
With El Clasico coming up on March 1, Barça have their fate in their own hands. Having historically performed well at the Santiago Bernabéu, La Liga is well within reach. Let's look at some of the reasons why Barça are the favourites for the title.
One of the biggest reasons why Ernesto Valverde's reign ended was stagnation of the team as a whole. There was no discernible style of play and a partly-justified over-reliance on Lionel Messi to create something out of the ordinary. In 2017, Neymar's departure after his appointment had left things in disarray. He moved away from the traditional 4-3-3 formation and did remarkably well in moving to a 4-4-2 to provide a solid base for Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez to damage upfront.
It worked as Barça won the title, almost going undefeated the whole league season. However, after that season, the more tools he had at his disposal, the worse he did. In January 2020, the board decided that it was time for a change as Valverde became the first Barça manager to be sacked mid-season since Louis van Gaal in 2003.
Enter Quique Setién. In his last season as Real Betis manager, he beat the Catalans and Real Madrid away from home, also beating Atlético in the same season. That is an astounding feat considering Betis dominated all 3 clubs, imposing their style on the games. On paper, one can see that Setién has lost twice already against Valencia and Athletic Club. However, look closely and his mark on the team is already apparent.
There has been a well-defined structure which was lacking in the latter half of Valverde's reign as Setién wants the players to go back to playing the way they're supposed to; juego de posicion, the model which has brought so much success in the past and more recently under Guardiola. This can be seen with the increased involvement of the centre-backs and ter Stegen in the build-up. Clement Lenglet's pass to Frenkie de Jong in the build-up for the latter's goal is a great example.
In midfield, Sergio Busquets looks close to his old self again. A test of how the team is playing is to see if the counters of the opposition stop at Busquets' feet. It means that the team is well-positioned in transition and the Barça no. 5 can use his anticipation to intercept balls rather than sprint back to make a last-ditch tackle. Since the play flows through him, Frenkie's form has picked up too. It's a style of play he's clearly more comfortable with as it brings out the best in him. If Arthur nails down the final midfield spot, Setién can do wonders with this trio.
In attack, Ansu Fati has been given more responsibility on the left while Antoine Griezmann and Messi are more central with Leo having the freedom to move around. Under Valverde, Griezmann was wrongly utilised as almost a left-winger with his contribution being more notable in defence as he tracked back willingly. The attack looks fluid even with the absences of Suarez and Ousmane Dembélé. This is in stark contrast to the past couple of seasons when Messi kept Barça afloat in attack with his ridiculous performances, as he produced consistently and masked over structural deficiencies. As the season progresses, it's likely that they will only get better.