Football

Koeman defends direct style, with Pique as makeshift striker

Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman said his depleted side did not have the players for their trademark tiki-taka passing game, as he defended his side's direct style in their 1-1 La Liga draw with Granada yesterday morning (Singapore time).

Ronald Araujo's last-minute header rescued a point for the Catalan giants at the Nou Camp as they limped to their second draw in four league games.

The stalemate has left Barca in seventh place on eight points, five behind leaders Real Madrid, who have played a game more.

With attackers Ousmane Dembele, Sergio Aguero, Ansu Fati and Martin Braithwaite unavailable due to injuries, Koeman was left with few options.

He even resorted to deploying veteran defender Gerard Pique, 34, up front in the last 15 minutes, with crosses aimed at the 1.94m Spaniard, who came on as a substitute for teenage forward Yusuf Demir.

"We had to sacrifice our style of play a little bit to try and get the result, by putting crosses in rather than playing down the middle," said Koeman.

"If you look at the squad list for the game, it's the only thing we could do.

"We can't play tiki-taka if there aren't any spaces. So that means we have to try and find another way to play. For me, that's what has to be talked about, the fact that we tried everything to get a point.

"We know it's maybe not Barcelona's football, but this Barcelona is not that of eight years ago."

With only 27,000 out of a possible 40,000 fans inside the Nou Camp, those in attendance were stunned after just 85 seconds as Granada's Domingos Duarte rose at the back post to head in Sergio Escudero's centre.

Sergi Roberto struck the post with a volley midway through the first half as Barca resorted to hoofing the ball into the box, racking up 54 crosses in total during the 90 minutes.

Koeman introduced striker Luuk de Jong at the break to act as target man and he was joined up front by Pique 15 minutes from time as the hosts grew increasingly desperate.

De Jong somehow contrived to miss from close range as it appeared it was going to be another frustrating outing for Barca. But Araujo rescued a point with a last-minute header from 17-year-old substitute Gavi's cross. - REUTERS

Football