Barcelona came into the game against newly-promoted Cadiz in good form. Ronald Koeman seemed to have found the right balance in his team with rotations and his line-ups. The manager selected a strong starting 11, but they were stunned by a competitive home side who earned their win.
Lionel Messi tried to create and score for his team but was unlucky on several occasions. The finishing was questionable from the squad, but Cadiz goalkeeper Ledesma should be recognised for his performance. For all the possession and chances Barcelona had, it was an own goal that saw them level the score.
The Catalan side, not for the first time this season, were too fragile at the back. This has been a glaring problem for some time now and the defence completely crumbled in the second half. Strange substitutions from the manager left the team with no structure again. When Barcelona have been behind this season, there has been a lack of a game plan to fix the situation.
It leaves the Spanish giants in a worrying position in La Liga, sitting in 7th place but only three points above the relegation zone. Before the match, Koeman stressed how important it was for the club to win their remaining games of the year. With this latest loss, La Liga looks to be running away from Barça as they are already 12 points behind Atlético Madrid, who have only conceded two goals in the league this season.
1. The players must take responsibility too
It is easy to criticise the manager in situations like these. Culés have questioned Ronald Koeman’s line-ups and substitutions all season. Still, the players cannot just hide behind this. Looking at the statistics alone, Barcelona dominated, which suggests the team that was selected was strong enough to win. However, football is not just statistics, and Cadiz earned their luck. They took the few chances they had and gave everything to stop their opponents from scoring.
The Blaugrana players have to look at themselves after this defeat. There was a number of unacceptable performances from experienced players and criminal mistakes. Poor finishing, defensive errors and woeful passes are some of the aspects that the manger cannot control and it is down to the players.
The problems extend beyond the control of Ronald Koeman. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)
“We win together, we lose together.”Ronald Koeman | Post-game Presser
Lionel Messi was relied upon to save his team again. The Argentine worked hard and was unfortunate not to score, but there was a lack of responsibility being taken by others to seize the game. Over the last couple of seasons, there has only been a handful of occasions that a player not named Messi has won Barcelona the game. Now 33, Barça’s captain cannot always be looked at to rescue his team from difficult situations.
2. League out of sight
Barcelona have cruised through their UEFA Champions League group, winning all of their games so far. Ronald Koeman has used his full squad in this competition and given fringe players minutes here. However, in the league, the Dutchman seems to prefer the same regulars, and this is where the Catalan side are struggling the most.
The form in Europe has sometimes masked the problems that the Blaugrana are having domestically. La Liga is particularly tight this season and Barça have already suffered some difficult defeats. This should not be ignored anymore, and the manager should consider giving others a chance in La Liga.
Puig can solve a lot of mess for Barcelona. (Photo via Imago)
Players such as Carles Aleñá and Riqui Puig have impressed in the Champions League, but have rarely seen any game time in the league. Furthermore, some players are playing far below their best, but still, continue to feature regularly. This has been the case for several seasons now, and some of the veterans are becoming too comfortable.
Barcelona have also shown signs of mental weakness that has haunted them in recent seasons. Against Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, Sevilla, Getafe and Cadiz, the Blaugrana have let their heads drop. These have been the most challenging games of the season and each time the Catalans have failed. Though they have a perfect record in Europe, in the knockout rounds this mental weakness will cost them if it continues.
3. Defensive collaspe
Against Cadiz, Barcelona had one of their worst defensive performances of the season. Both goals that they conceded were easily preventable. The second goal was especially shocking and came from mistakes from Clément Lenglet and Marc-André ter Stegen. These two experienced players should know better than to give away a cheap goal like they did when the match was so precarious.
Amateur defending from some of the best players in the world. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)
“There is a lack of concentration, we can’t concede a second goal like that. We have to analyse how we lost today. We have to improve. We’ve lacked aggression without the ball.”Ronald Koeman
It was not just the mistakes that made the defending so poor, but the organisation. Each time Barcelona have been behind this season, the defence has been forgotten about as Ronald Koeman throws on too many attackers. Frenkie de Jong and Lenglet had no co-ordination and Sergiño Dest, Barça’s best defender on the night, was replaced by Francisco Trincão.
The game management from the Dutch manager needs to improve and he needs to trust the system. Barcelona were dominating the match and were threatening the opposition goal. Overcrowding the attack has proven not to work already this season and leaves the defence in disarray.
3 things we learnt from Barcelona 3-0 Elche — A one-man attacking unit
On the back of a two-game winless run, which saw Barcelona mauled at the hands of PSG as well as drop points against Cádiz in the Camp Nou, the Catalans recorded a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Elche in the Nou Camp. Thanks to a brace from Lionel Messi and two assists from Martin Braithwaite, third-placed Barça kept up the pressure on their rivals up top.
It was, in many ways, a game of two halves for the hosts. In the opening 45 minutes, they struggled to generate any real chances on goal, and if not for a mistimed effort from Lucas Boyé, they easily could have been a goal down. Overall, a poor showing from the hosts in the first period.
Following a few structural changes from Ronald Koeman, the team’s shape improved and thus too their propensity to win. Elche were far more open defensively than in they were in the first half, and searching for blood, Barcelona took advantage of the slightest of spaces to punish their opponents. Their second-half performance should serve as a confidence boost ahead of their crucial league tie away at Sevilla this weekend.
1. A weary Messi seals all 3 points
Despite having scored a brace and played a large part in the creation of the third goal, Lionel Messi was far from his usual best for a large chunk of the match. Either due to a lack of motivation or fatigue due to the tight fixture schedule, his passing was off, and he lost plenty more balls than he usually would.
Following Ronald Koeman’s tactical adjustments, most notably with the entry of Ousmane Dembélé following Miralem Pjanić’s exit, the Argentine was a far more liberated figure in attack. By partnering up with Martin Braithwaite centrally, he became much more involved in play as he had all of zone 14 to himself.
Two minutes after the restart, he opened, scoring off a phenomenal backheel assist from the Dane and sealed his brace with a moment of individual brilliance as he slots the ball home past a helpless Badía. As the cherry on the top of the cake, La Pulga played a delightful dink into the Barça number 9, who then set up Jordi Alba for the third and final goal.
Even at 75% capacity, Messi was the best player on the pitch. His presence on the pitch, as always, was invaluable to the side.
2. Pjanić seals his fate
Miralem Pjanić has often been the first to complain about a lack of game-time, perhaps under the impression that there is a supposed conspiracy against him by the Barcelona manager. Offered an opportunity to prove himself against one of them minnows of La Liga, he once again proved to the Dutch manager precisely why he sits out so many games.
His first half was one of his individual worst in a Barcelona shirt, and possibly his most lethargic performance in years too. Tasked with playing in the pivot role, the Bosnian was meant to act as an anchor from which the team could find balance, but rather than give it, he took it away.
Either due to a misplaced pass, poor positioning, slow and poor releases of the ball — or all of the above —, barely anything went right for the 30-year old. Despite having periods in which his influence was helpful, many other actions he made took their toll on the team, and so much so that he had himself withdrawn from the team at the break.
It is rather unfortunate that he played in such a woeful manner, as given the sheer magnitude of Barcelona’s next three or four games, a good performance here could have earned him a spot. He did seal one, though, on the dugouts rather than on the pitch.
3. Back to midfield dominance?
Despite a myriad of problems under Ronald Koeman, the midfield has gradually taken back the importance bestowed upon it by legendary managers from Johan Cruyff through to Pep Guardiola. While Miralem Pjanić was a far cry from what one would call exceptional, his replacement in Sergio Busquets with 30 minutes to go as well as the two interiors in Pedro González and Frenkie de Jong were absolutely sensational.
When it comes to this Pedri, next to anything seems possible. On the night, bar his usual creative duties, the 18-year old was all over the pitch. As an artist with a paintbrush, his actions were skin to streaks of acrylic on a canvas to form the most majestic artwork. He desired to get as involved as he could with as many individuals as possible, also making up for others whenever in need. His pressing game was through the roof, as despite being designated the right halfspace, he was more than open to helping out up forward and out wide too.
As for De Jong, he reverted to his new-usual self. Contrary to the old, more conservative yesteryear version, the Dutch midfielder was a constant threat to the Valencians’ defence through his unmatchable dribbling and in-game awareness. Through his differential dexterity in this particular trade, he attacked the holes that Elche would leave behind, and it was in this was that he quite brilliantly set up Messi for his second of the game. Quite a commendable performance from him.
While nothing more than a cameo performance, Sergio Busquets offered all that Pjanić couldn’t and more. It seems as though he is gradually returning to his former self, with yet another exemplary performance. With him, ball circulation was a notch faster, and with it at his feet, there was a prevalent sense of security that could be sensed with every pass to and from him.