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September 22, 2021

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Identity crisis for Koeman’s Barca

Barcelona prides itself on judging its team on style as well as results but coach Ronald Koeman is struggling to deliver on either front, with his position under renewed scrutiny following Monday’s 1-1 home draw with Granada.

The Catalans only salvaged a point thanks to a 90th-minute header from Ronald Araujo but the most striking thing was Barca’s direct style as the team eschewed its trademark passing game and resorted to pumping crosses into the box.

Barca made 54 crosses into the area against Granada, 45 from open play, more than any other team in one game in Europe’s top five leagues this season.

The second team on the list of biggest crossers is England’s Burnley, which shares Barca’s claret and blue colors but whose direct style of play contrasts with the ideals espoused by Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola, the Catalan club’s two greatest coaches.

“What Barca is this?,” asked the front cover of Spanish newspaper Marca, describing the team’s performance as “abysmal” while adding the team had “renounced its style.”

If last week’s 0-3 drubbing by Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League indicated that Barca can no longer compete with Europe’s elite, the scrappy draw against winless Granada was more worrying, a sign Barca no longer possess the tools to break down even ordinary domestic sides.

Koeman defended his tactics, such as bringing on defender Gerard Pique to play up front and ending the game with four center backs and two center forwards, saying the team’s personnel and Granada’s deep defending left him with little choice.

“We can’t play tiki-taka if there aren’t any spaces,” Koeman said, referring to the popular description for the style of play the team perfected under Guardiola, when it would routinely pass its opponents into oblivion.

Barca was missing six players through injury, including teenager Pedri, the most technical player left at the club following the departure of Lionel Messi, who joined Paris Saint-Germain.

“We know it’s maybe not Barcelona’s football, but this Barcelona is not that of eight years ago,” Koeman added.

The coach has been walking a tightrope and has an uneasy relationship with president Joan Laporta, who publicly revealed his reservations about the Dutchman at the end of last season before deciding to keep him on.

Barca’s financial problems for now play into Koeman’s hands as the club would struggle to pay his severance fee if it sacked him and find the money for a successor.

But the situation of a coach playing a style of football the president and supporters dislike — only 27,000 fans took up the 40,000 available tickets on Monday — while getting poor results seems unsustainable.

Former Barca midfielder Xavi Hernandez, the puppet master of the glorious era under Guardiola and a disciple of Cruyff, would be the fans’ most popular choice to take over but he is still in the early stages of his coaching career and this year signed a new contract with Qatari side al-Sadd until 2023.


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