Barcelona have been rampant in the UEFA Champions League. Having grabbed five out of a possible five wins so far, they are the only side in the competition to do so. And now, the focus turns back to La Liga, where the Catalans have indeed had a shaky start.
A dominant win against Osasuna has seen Koeman’s side climb up to seventh. They are currently three points behind Real Madrid, with a game in hand. Yet, in the bigger picture, Barcelona are still ten points behind the League Leaders Reaal Sociedad.
Undoubtedly, Barcelona cannot afford to let the gap grow any wider, and nothing less than a win will suffice on Saturday night. The test against Cadiz is one much more difficult than one imagined it to be, as Barcelona take on a side tailor-made to exploit their weaknesses.
What to expect from Cadiz?
With every new season come newly promoted sides riding high on confidence and belief. More often than not, these sides with the underdog tag, driven by their sheer confidence produce results that even the Primera division mainstays would be proud of. That is exactly the kind of season Cadiz have enjoyed so far.
The newly-promoted side sits sixth in the La Liga standings, a point clear of Barcelona. However, one must note that they have played two games more than the Catalans. Enroute to their 15 points so far, they have produced some monumental results including the taming of Real Madrid away and the victory over Athletic Bilbao despite being two men down.
Cadiz, being the versatile side they are can be extremely unpredictable. As a side that relishes the underdog tag, they mould their tactics as per the opposition. Alvaro Cervera has made his preference for the 4-4-2 system evident. Nevertheless, he does not hesitate from playing a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-1-1 as and when required.
Cervera’s side is not known for their high press, inviting the opposition into their territory. The mid-block seals off passing channels, especially in the centre which often forces poopsitions to switch play wide. Nevertheless, the compact lines make it difficult for teams to find a way through.
Carvera knows exactly what will work against Barcelona — counter-attacks coupled with a low block. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)
Cadiz’s go to weapon has been their ruthless counters that usually stem off of the smallest of slip ups. There is usually a small window in terms of second where the opponents have to transition back to defence, failing which Cervera’s men are terrifying. Given Barcelona’s high line of defense and jeopardy in general concerning the centre-back position, Cadiz would be impatient to get this game going.
If there is one aspect that Koeman must look to capitalize on, it is to counter against the Counter attacks. Though it seems to be an odd strategy, the tendency of the hosts to commit men forward fearlessly leaves acres of space ready to be expolited. Clearly. choosing the right line-up will be althomore important on Saturday night.
How should Barcelona Line-up?
Following his exclusion against Ferencvaros, a fresh Marc Andre ter Stegen will start for the Catalans in goal.
As mentioned, the composition of Defence will be crucial in a game against a deadly opposition. Ronald Araujo has received the medical all-clear, yet one does not expect him to start right away. On the night, Clement Lenglet could lead the defence as young Oscar Mingueza could get another start for the first team. Ronald Koeman has been convinced and impressed by the La Masia talent, and consistent game-time would provide Mingueza with the right environment to show why he is here to stay.
Sergino Dest will continue to toy with the opposition on the right-wing, whilst maintaining his defensive discipline on the counter. The Ajax starlet seems to be confident in all departments. This all-rounded version of a right-back is exactly what a system like Barcelona’s requires.
Dest has been a sensational inclusion for Barcelona. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Jordi Alba who only saw 45 minutes at Budapest could return to make a start again. It will be crucial for the Spaniard to be at the top of his game when Barcelona take-on Juventus later in the week.
In midfield, Frenkie de Jong will be a clear starter in the pivot. Deputed alongside him will be Sergio Busquets, who has been used in the last few games. The Pivot will be essential in controlling Cadiz’s threats, in addition to breaking the lines when in possession.
Antoine Greizmann has seemed relieved of a burden ever since his interview last week. The Frenchman looks to be back at his best and most importantly enjoying football again. He will look to continue playing as the attacking midfielder, behind the no. 9.
On the left-wing, one could expect Phillipe Coutinho to feature after his exclusion mid-week. He will likely be complimented on the right-wing by Lionel Messi. The Argentine too, was not called up for the game against Ferencvaros. The duo will be essential in breaking down the disciplined defence. It will be interesting to see if the trio of Messi, Griezmann and Coutinho can work in symphony.
Messi is now just two goals away from breaking Pelé's record of most goals for a single club. pic.twitter.com/AcvBwLBAOA— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) December 5, 2020
After the recent games, Koeman has showered praises on Martin Braithwaite, and rightfully so. The Danish striker provides the team with a spark that it so direly misses. His ability to function as a poacher has not just lifted the team, but helped players like Antoine Griezmann find their niche on the pitch. After scoring in his last three appearances, Barcelona’s No.9 will be eyeing another impactful performance.
Dest · Mingueza · Lenglet · Alba
Busquets · De Jong
Messi · Griezmann · Coutinho
The psychology at Barcelona: A leaf out of Jurgen Klopp’s book
Guest Contributor: Darren Looney
“When I came here, the size of the club was a burden. Now it’s our safety net, it’s our trampoline, it’s our home, it’s our basis, it’s everything to us. Now we are Liverpool before the club was Liverpool and we were just the guys who were trying to be good enough”.
In Melissa Reddy’s book ‘Believe Us’, Jurgen Klopp, the man who led Liverpool to become champions of England, Europe and the world, details how a change in psychology from having the clubs past success being used as a noose around their necks to becoming fully confident individuals, helped the club end their 30-year wait for a league title.
FC Barcelona has a noose of its own hanging over the Camp Nou at present. It has been placed there by former president Josep Maria Bartomeu, having left the club in a state that is unable to match the success seen over the last two decades.
The incoming president and manager will be the ones left to cut it free, and with limited economic resources to do this, a change in the mindsets of the lads could play a part in helping the club get the most out of what they already have.
Barcelona’s current state
The Josep Maria Bartomeu’s presidency oversaw a circus rather than a football club. In this timeframe, Barcelona lost the respect of its fellow European giants through humiliating performances in the Champions League, selling Neymar Jr. to Paris Saint Germain, poor recruitment, and a squad constantly breaking under pressure.
Players such as Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Lionel Messi, and Ousmane Dembele, of those that started in the latest Champions League match, have all been through the most of these embarrassing moments, which has no doubt left some trauma.
Others in the squad have laid witness to Bartomeu disregarding the club’s motto ‘MÉS QUE UN CLUB’ with his handling of club legends Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi’s transfer situations in the summer. That could not have inspired the non-senior members of the squad with any confidence.
Adding to that, players like Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho, Junior Firpo, and Antoine Griezmann have had their names constantly attached to rumoured player plus cash deals, such as the Neymar offers, which can lead to them questioning if they are good enough. This is the sort of psychology you do not want around a club trying to compete.
When asked about whether a sports psychologist would benefit FC Barcelona back in December, Barça manager Ronald Koeman stated, “I don’t believe in psychologists and mental [issues]. If you play for Barca, pressure exists, you know that, and you have to overcome it”.
This answer shows the Dutchman’s ignorance of the importance of a player’s psychological state. Additionally, it also shows arrogance about the club and the stress that comes binding with it. Ignorance that is evident in the pictures of Lenglet, as he left the Camp Nou after Sunday’s match in tears, most likely due to a lack of support. The kind of lack of support that eventually leads to careers dissolving.
In the same press conference, Koeman stated that “this team has enough personality and experience” to get through bad moments. This “experience” is also susceptible to being psychologically overwhelmed, the dressing room at halftime at Anfield is evidence of this.
Whether it is Koeman or the next president’s manager, one will have to get a hold of this problem. Luckily for them, the blueprint of how much power the manager can have over this can be seen in the place Jordi Alba shed his tears.
The Jurgen Klopp effect
When Jurgen Klopp arrived in Liverpool, one of the first things he addressed was a change in psychology from the supporters. He wanted the fans to believe in the process, and in his first press conference, he enforced this by saying, “we need to feel the confidence and trust of the people”.
In ‘Believe Us’, Klopp speaks about the psychological state he found the players in when he first arrived. He claims that “The players were obviously listening to all the voices saying they are not good enough for the club or that I can’t wait to get rid of them.” A situation some Barca players find themselves in now, as mentioned earlier.
One of the German’s first instructions was for the players to pay no attention to comments outside of him and his coaching staff, a message that took longer than expected to resonate, as the team collapsed in the title race halfway through the next season.
Klopp explains that the collapse was down to the players not complying with this request. The German explained how the players were focused on people saying, “they don’t have a plan B for deep-defending sides, they can only play one way”. A criticism that Cúlers this season know too well.
Klopp emphasises the importance a strong mentality within games had on the Red’s fortunes and claims new players alone would not have been enough. This is a note worth taking for those looking at Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe to change Barcelona’s fortunes.
It took Klopp years to convince some players that they were good enough to play for a club as big as Liverpool. New players added to the quality of the squad but that psychological attitude to keep going for the full 90 minutes, no matter the score, is what led the club to their recent success. This was visible countless times over last season as well, as Pool continued to take hits at teams till the last minute till they eventually broke. Barcelona, too, have been on the receiving end of their incredible mentality.
Koeman might be right in that the players do not need a sports psychologist. However, Lenglet’s incident exhibits that the psychological state of his players is something that he must take control of and not ignore.
Next season has the potential to be an important one for Barcelona’s near future. With a new president at the helm and a potential new manager. The Catalan side needs to banish the psychological doubts leftover by Bartomeu’s reign and move forward as one unit.
The fans and players need to get behind the project put in place, as Jurgen Klopp puts it “when you agree on a common idea and work towards it together, you can create something special”.