There was no shortage of poignant reminders of Barcelona’s remarkable fall from grace during their limp draw against Granada.
Perhaps it was the sense of relief at the full-time whistle that a last-minute equaliser had avoided a home defeat against a side who are yet to win this season and who rested several players for their trip to the Catalan capital.
Perhaps it was the fact that this was against Granada, who prior to April had lost all 24 of their previous visits to the Camp Nou but were minutes away from a second victory at the stadium in five months.
Perhaps it was because just 27,000 fans turned up for the encounter despite 40,000 tickets being available.
Perhaps it was the absence of any meaningful element of control or sustained threat from Ronald Koeman’s side.
Perhaps it was the fact that Barca were reduced to playing 54 crosses into Granada’s penalty area – the club’s highest amount in over five years.
Perhaps it was the attacking line-up of the last 20 minutes of the match: when central defenders Gerard Pique and Ronald Araujo – who scored the equaliser – joined former Newcastle loanee Luuk de Jong in an attacking trio.
Barca, moreso than any other elite club in Europe, prioritise the maintenance of a certain style of playing – one that is intrinsic to the club’s identity.
Monday night saw an abandonment of the club’s self-styled principles; casting aside the slick, passing style that was built by Johan Cruyff and developed by Pep Guardiola and later built around Lionel Messi.
The Argentine’s exit in the summer has not only left Barca shorn of their star player but also of any attacking coherence, without any attacking talisman or clarity of plan.
Marca’s headline asked: “What Barcelona is this?” Their Madrid-based counterpart Diario AS claimed Koeman’s side were “dull and lacklustre” while Catalan outlet Diario Sport lamented the side’s “impotence and lack of resources.”
Barca boss Koeman defended his style of play in his post-match press conference: “It depends on what we have available.
“How are we going to play tiki taki [sic – a reference to the ‘tiki taka’ style of play promoted by Guardiola] if there is no space? Look at the squad. We did what we have to do. With a bit more time, we would have won.
“Today’s Barcelona is not the Barca of eight years ago. We play the Barca way, but we don’t have players to play one-on-one or with pace. You can’t be unhappy with the team’s attitude.
“We played 4-3-3, but we didn’t have pace out wide. Neither Coutinho nor Demir are that player. They’re not Ansu [Fati] or [Ousmane] Dembele, so we have to look for another way.”
Koeman does have a valid point, Barca’s absentee list includes Jordi Alba, Pedri, Ansu Fati, Martin Braithwaite, Ousmane Dembele and Sergio Aguero, compounding the summer exits of Messi, Antoine Griezmann, Emerson Royal and Miralem Pjanic.
Sacking Koeman would cost Barca in the region of £10million – another unwelcome financial hit for a club steeped in economic concerns and with Koeman out of contract this coming summer, Barca may be minded to wait.
Yet the nature of Monday’s draw and last week’s three-goal home defeat to Bayern Munich – when Barca did not register a shot on target – have prompted the club to pursue a contingency plan.
Jordi Cruyff – the son of Johan, who was appointed in a vague sporting advisor role at the Camp Nou this summer – has been asked if he would consider taking the reins from Koeman for the remainder of the campaign.
Cruyff’s management experience is limited to football in Israel and China and is said to be reluctant to move into such a high-profile position.
The latest suggestion is an approach for Belgium boss Roberto Martinez – formerly of Wigan and Everton – due to his style of play and apparent openness to the move.
Appointing the Spaniard would mean being forced to pay compensation to the Belgian FA which, coupled with Koeman’s severance package, may not be feasible.