Late strikes from Pedri and Ferran Torres gave Barcelona their first win of the 2023-24 La Liga campaign against Cadiz. The result was not undeserved but one for which the men in garnet and blue were made to work hard.
The Blaugranas were without the services of Raphinha and Ronald Araujo on the night at Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys through suspension and injury respectively. To rub salt into the wound, Xavi Hernandez was unavailable on the sidelines through suspension as well.
The Catalans recorded a staggering 23 shots on the night including 10 on target and six big chances. In the end, they took home all three points in thrilling fashion.
Barça Universal brings you three talking points from Barcelona 2-0 Cadiz.
A tale of toiling
Barcelona’s night out at Estadio Olimpic Lluis Companys was far from a straightforward affair, and not for the first time against Cadiz.
The men in yellow have earned the tag of being Barcelona’s menace in recent seasons and have lost just two of their last six meetings against the Blaugranas. Sunday night brought more of the same.
Sergio Gonzalez’s men stood their ground firmly on Matchday 2, sticking to a 4-4-2 setup that sat deep. It was a common sight to see even seven or eight yellow shirts defending in their area as they hoped to neutralise Barça’s threat through numbers.
The tactic worked like a charm in the first half, for Xavi’s men created barely any chances. Their passes were too slow to work around the Cadiz defence and often fizzled out to nothing.
The game took a new direction after the break when Barcelona stepped out with more intent and verticality. They pushed forward in numbers to overwhelm the visitors and created significantly more chances. Yet, Cadiz worked brilliantly to find defences and stay in the game.
A draw looked the most likely result with even ten minutes to go, but Pedri’s dart past the defence and sliding finish gave the team solace.
The Catalans were made to toil by Cadiz, and it is clear that something needs to change for the team to be more effective in the final third.
Where is Lewandowski?
Robert Lewandowski’s 23-goal haul last season was one of the driving forces behind Barcelona’s title-winning run. The Pole represented the individual genius Xavi needed in front of the goal and used to pick the back of the net from hopeless situations to fetch three points.
His form tapered as the season progressed, but many dismissed it as a routine fluctuation in form. With his purple patch extending into the new campaign as well, it is now getting concerning.
The veteran forward was the team’s most disappointing player by quite some distance last night. He struggled with his link-up play and passes and was the tombstone for so many Catalan possession spells.
Faced in front of the goal, Lewandowski took too long on the ball before pulling the trigger and thus gave defenders enough time to recover their position.
Xavi does not have any backup strikers in his arsenal and will have to wait until January at least before Vitor Roque arrives. The Blaugranas thus need their Polish finisher to return to form at the earliest.
The winger’s impact
While indeed Barcelona were struggling to open Cadiz’s defence on Sunday night, the game turned on its head when the manager made his first set of substitutions.
Xavi called on Ansu Fati and Ez Abde to make an impact in the final 20 minutes. The youngsters made a tangible difference on an individual level, but one must note that their arrival changed the system on the night.
Xavi started the game with five midfielders. Of them, Frenkie de Jong was deployed as a centre-back while Pedri played as a false left-winger.
The pseudo-winger profile worked well for the Catalans last season, but it now appears like teams have found the antidote. After all, yesterday was not the first time Barcelona’s play significantly improved after replacing a false winger with a true winger.
When Abde and Fati came on, the former occupied the left-wing role and stuck to the wing while Fati played a central role behind Robert Lewandowski. That combined with Lamine Yamal gave the team the required width to stretch Cadiz’s defence and open passing channels.
Xavi has no shortage of options in the final third. Abde has proven to be a difference maker in the final third while Ferran Torres and Fati have also been in good touch.
At some point, Xavi must thus consider phasing out the old system and moving to the traditional 4-3-3 that he advocated in his initial days as a manager.