Barcelona prides itself on judging their players on their style as well as their results, but coach Ronald Koeman is failing to deliver on both fronts, and his position is under renewed scrutiny following Monday’s 1-1 draw at home with Granada.
The Catalans only managed a point thanks to Ronald Araujo’s 90th-minute header, but the most striking aspect of the game was Barca’s direct style, which saw them abandon their trademark passing game in favor of pumping crosses into the box.
Barca made 54 crosses into the area against Granada, 45 of which came from open play, more than any other team in Europe’s top five leagues in a single game this season.
Burnley, who share Barca’s claret and blue colors but whose direct style of play contrasts with the ideals espoused by the Catalan club’s two greatest coaches, Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola, is the second team on the list of biggest crossers.
The front cover of the Spanish newspaper Marca asked, “What Barca is this?” describing the team’s performance as “abysmal” and adding that the team had “renounced their style.”
If Barcelona’s 3-0 Champions League loss to Bayern Munich last week demonstrated that they can no longer compete with Europe’s elite, the scrappy draw against winless Granada was even more concerning, indicating that they no longer have the tools to break down even ordinary domestic opponents.
Koeman defended his tactics, which included bringing on defender Gerard Pique to play up front and finishing the game with four centre backs and two centre forwards, claiming that he had no choice due to the team’s personnel and Granada’s deep defending.
“If there aren’t any spaces, we can’t play tiki-taka,” Koeman said, referring to the popular description for the style of play the team perfected under Guardiola, in which they routinely passed their opponents into oblivion.
Barca was missing six players due to injury, including Pedri, the club’s most technically gifted player following Lionel Messi’s departure.
“We know it isn’t Barcelona’s football, but this Barcelona isn’t the Barcelona of eight years ago,” Koeman continued.
President Joan Laporta publicly expressed his reservations about the Dutchman at the end of last season before deciding to keep him on.
Barca’s financial difficulties currently play into Koeman’s hands, as they would struggle to pay his severance fee if he were fired and find a replacement.
However, the situation of a coach who is delivering poor results while playing a style of football that the president and supporters despise — only 27,000 fans bought tickets out of 40,000 available on Monday — appears unsustainable.
Former Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez, a disciple of Cruyff and the puppet master of the glorious era under Guardiola, would be the fans’ favorite to take over, but he is still in the early stages of his coaching career, having signed a new contract with Qatari side Al Sadd until 2023 this year.