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Three questions and three answers from Cadiz 0-1 Barcelona

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Photo by JORGE GUERRERO/AFP via Getty Images

A Joao Felix overhead kick gifted Barcelona three points at Nuevo Mirandilla last night when the team took on Cadiz on Matchday 31 of La Liga.

The Portuguese star dished up the iconic goal eight minutes before the half-time whistle, and the team held on resiliently for close to an hour to take home the win.

Xavi’s side are now eight points behind leaders Real Madrid with seven games to go. Their next game in the league is against Los Blancos, and they will have the chance to cut the deficit to five on the night.

The manager does not have many negatives to take away from last night’s game, especially considering that their decisive UCL clash is just under three days away.

Barça Universal brings you three questions and three answers from Cadiz 0-1 Barcelona.

Three answers

Would Xavi shuffle his deck?

Barcelona’s primary focus at this point in the season is on the UEFA Champions League, for the European competition gives them the best chance of lifting silverware.

With the quarterfinal second leg against Paris Saint-Germain just around the corner and just a narrow one-goal lead on aggregate, Xavi rightly opted to rotate his squad almost entirely and give his starters a rest.

Barcelona thus showed wholesale changes on the night, right from defence, where Andreas Christensen replaced Ronald Araujo beside Pau Cubarsi. Hector Fort took Jules Kounde’s place at right-back while Marcos Alonso started at left-back.

The midfield was entirely rotated as well, with Sergi Roberto, Oriol Romeu and Fermin Lopez starting on the night. Notably, it was the first game of the season where Ilkay Gundogan did not participate.

In attack, Xavi deployed Joao Felix and Ferran Torres on the left and right wings respectively while Vitor Roque took Robert Lewandowski’s place in the centre.

Could Barcelona hold on with a makeshift defence?

The single most important department behind Barcelona’s subpar first half of the season was their compromised defence.

Despite boasting of names like Araujo, Kounde, Christensen and Inigo Martinez, the Catalans struggled to maintain a clean sheet and conceded with ease.

Barcelona secured another clean sheet vs Cadiz. (Photo by Fran Santiago/Getty Images)

Cubarsi’s introduction in recent months and a general improvement in the form of the other centre-backs have helped the Catalans turn their situation around. With Xavi’s rotations in the defence last night, however, there was concern that the problem would flare up once more.

Throughout the ninety minutes last night, however, Barcelona’s defence stayed rock solid. Christensen shone in his former position, while Cubarsi dished out another monstrous display.

Even the full-backs, Fort and Alonso, did well to hold the fort to their credit. Needless to say, it is a massive improvement to see Barça’s rotated defensive line keep a clean sheet just months after the team’s crisis at the back.

Was it finally Vitor Roque’s time to shine?

A lot has been said about Xavi’s under-utilisation of Vitor Roque, and last night was thus the Brazilian’s chance to make a mark from the start.

Starting his first game in La Liga, however, Roque’s full debut did not go to plan. The Brazilian was barely involved on the night, and it often appeared that the Catalans were playing with ten men.

Roque could not capitalise on the long balls being fed to him and appeared lost on the field. In just over an hour, he recorded just one shot off-target and made just three accurate passes.

Further, he had just 14 touches of the ball all night and never really offered any threat in the final third. Needless to say, the youngster has a lot to imbibe before he starts at the highest level.

Three questions

Is Pedri ready to start?

Looking ahead to the midweek clash against PSG, Xavi will be without Andreas Christensen. The void can be filled in two promising ways, but it is clear that the plan will depend on Pedri’s fitness.

The Canary Islander returned from injury under a week ago, and while he has played well in his limited minutes, there is doubt over whether he is ready to play a Champions League clash from the start.

Last night, Pedri came on for the final 30 minutes and automatically helped improve Barcelona’s control of the ball and the proceedings. However, he was visibly far from his best version.

Pedri ready to start? (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

It thus remains to be seen how Xavi manages the prodigy’s minutes on the night. Given the stakes, however, it would not be surprising if he did take the risk with Pedri.

Why did Xavi opt for unconventional substitutions?

There was something queer about Xavi’s substitutions last night, purely from a positional and tactical point of view, for he forced several players to play out of the niche they have been adapted to.

For starters, he called on Jules Kounde to replace Andreas Christensen in defence and not at right-back, where the Frenchman has currently stamped his authority.

Further, he brought on Lamine Yamal for Vitor Roque, and while the La Masia starlet did play on the wings, it forced Ferran Torres to play as the centre-forward.

Meanwhile, Pedri came on for right-back Hector Fort in a move that left the team with a vague setup tactically that had just three defenders.

The substitutions only got more bizarre when Raphinha came on for Fermin Lopez to take over in attacking midfield, a role the Brazilian is not generally adapted to. The final change saw Marc Casado, a midfielder, come on for Joao Felix in attack.

While the substitutions did not compromise Barcelona’s structure in any way, it was queer to see the handling of the same. Nevertheless, Xavi got the result required home and has earned the right to throw around players as he pleases.

Do Barcelona have the momentum?

Coming freshly off a special 3-2 win over PSG in Paris, the real objective Barcelona had for Saturday night was to maintain the momentum on their side. After all, the midweek reverse fixture is the big game in mind.

After the 90 minutes that unfolded at Nuevo Mirandilla, it is safe to say that the Catalans did successfully maintain the required steam last night. The result may appear to be a 1-0 struggle, but Barcelona boasted of reasonable dominance on the night despite fielding a rotated side.

In the second half, once Xavi brought some of the first-choice starting options back, the team had multiple chances to double the lead and kill the game off. They were, however, frustrated by the woodwork, goal-line clearances and narrow misses that ensured the scoreboard stayed at 1-0.

The manager thus only has positives to take away from the night, be it the clear sheet or the three points well-taken.

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