‘Priority is La Liga, Europe a bonus’

Gerard Pique has explained Barcelona’s weight towards La Liga this season and cleared up the context of recent comments on the team’s style of play.

The Catalans are preparing to start their Champions League campaign this midweek with Group H’s opening match at home to Ajax.

For their centre-back, though, expectation should not be on the team to win the competition.

“The team is really looking forward to the competition. The Champions League is the most prestigious one there is, at a European level, it is the most important,” Pique told reporters at today’s pre-match Press conference.

“Barca always push to win, but we must go step by step. We have to start by winning at home to make things easier.

“The main objective of the club is to win the League, whilst the Champions League is a bonus that means you have had a tremendously good season.

“If you base everything on winning the Champions League, things can look bad if you don’t end up doing so – that’s why the league is more important.

“Against Bayern [in the semi-finals last season] we weren’t comfortable, they were better than us, and that’s it. The semi-finals, the finals, they are single games and can be affected by many variants.

“La Liga measures if a team is doing things well or not. We won the league last season in a tremendous fashion and that is valuable.”

Statistics in the early season have indicated that the defenders at Barcelona are covering more ground under Tata Martino, prompting Pique to consider changes made under the new Coach.

“I feel good. Yes it is true that in the way we are playing more is demanded of the centre-backs. There are parts of the game in which there is considerable running up and down.

“We have never run so much as centre-backs as I have seen in the statistics.

“We have spoken to Martino about changes and we have a team with very offensive players. When we're 3-0 up, we carry on attacking when other clubs would sit on that result – we don't know how to do that.

“This club can't consider that option. Sometimes it looks easy to do, but on the pitch it's tough to do. We could play better.

“But after four League games we have 12 points and we won the Spanish Super Cup. We're learning more about what the Coach wants as every day goes by.

“I think we need some more time. We have played for years now in the same way and Tata wants to make some changes which the players are willing to do.

“We have to find the right balance of playing more vertically and when not to. So the team needs time to adjust. We can improve of course.”

Pique’s regular partner at centre-back Carles Puyol has not made the squad for this midweek, but has continued the final stages of his recovery from surgery in the summer to remove a cyst from his knee.

“Carles Puyol is feeling much better, he is training with the group and he is happy because he's been injured for a long time.

“He needs time though, time to get back in to the team and the rhythm of training, so when he feels at 100 per cent, I am sure he will say so and Martino will take the decision of fielding him.”

Pique recently gave an interview to the Gazzetta dello Sport, with quotes released in two batches. Today’s set spoke of the player’s disquiet at Real Madrid spending as much as they have in recent years on players, supported by national bank Bankia.

“We’re lucky we have had a unique generation that's come through the youth team at zero cost. If we didn't have those players, we wouldn't be able to compete with Real Madrid.

“But that's always been the case in the history of Spanish football. We play with what we have. I am happy with our individual decisions and the results this season are immaculate with four wins in the league and one title.

“Of course we have to improve, but we’re in a very good and comfortable position at the moment.”

Pique last week was quoted by the Italian publication as calling Barca ‘slaves to tiki-taka’ in recent seasons.

“It is taken out of context and even said that I was critical. I was just saying that we became a little predictable as a team. Our style of play is non-negotiable, it is our style always, through the age groups.

“But in recent years, opponents have gotten to know us. We need alternatives, to be more vertical and steal back possession closer to the opponents’ penalty area to provide a pass and score a goal.

“The goals are all the same, sometimes it seems that we have to get into the area. A shot from outside the box may also be a goal.”

Pique’s comments to the Gazzetta dello Sport followed on from teammate Xavi Hernandez’s assertion earlier this season that the team worked little on tactics last year during Tito Vilanova’s absence.

“Everything we have won, with Pep [Guardiola] or Tito [Villanova], is there to see. We have played great football, put on a great show for football lovers and we will try to carry on winning.

“Xavi was honest and expressed himself when he said we didn't work some aspects of our game. It affects us not to have your Coach through illness, we missed Eric Abidal too, but ended up winning a league with 100 points.”

Tags Pique Puyol Xavi