After four winless games against Cadiz, Barcelona registered a dominant 4-0 win on Saturday to break the curse. However, the game was not as one-sided as the scoreline reflects.
Xavi’s men struggled in the first half after the manager opted to change up his lineup. All four goals came in the second period and it was the substitutions that made the difference.
With this win, Barcelona provisionally to the top of the table with 13 points. However, Real Madrid could leapfrog them with a win over Mallorca later today. Barca Universal brings you three talking points from the win at Estadio Ramon de Carranza.
1. An understandable lack of cohesion
After the win over Cadiz, Xavi said that the quality of his team was such that one could not make out a difference even when he rotated the team. While the statement may be true on the surface, a deeper dive shows that it is inaccurate.
On Saturday, the manager made a number of changes to his starting lineup. No department was left untouched as Xavi looked to give a rest to all his stars ahead of the Bayern game.
Gerard Pique and Ronald Araujo started in central defence with Hector Bellerin making his debut at right-back. Alejandro Balde continued on the left of the defence.
Frenkie de Jong replaced Pedri in midfield and joined forces with Sergio Busquets and Gavi. In attack, the trio of Ferran Torres, Memphis Depay and Raphinha started the game.
In terms of individual talent, every player was replaced by a like-for-like profile with little reduction in quality. However, there was a clear difference in terms of the chemistry of the team.
Barcelona lacked cohesion in the first half and often seemed disjointed. They took the better part of 20 minutes to settle into the game and struggled to pull off quick sequences of passes to break down the opposition defence.
It was not surprising to see the free-flowing football return in an instant as soon as Pedri, Ousmane Dembele and Robert Lewandowski entered the field. Almost within seconds, players seemed to understand each other’s movements, make runs, exchange quick one-twos and crack open Cadiz’s back-line.
2. Alejandro Balde – the revelation of the season
It seems to be the norm in Barcelona to have one teen sensation every year. Three years ago, Ansu Fati made his name known and it was Pedri who owned the season after that. In 2021-22, Gavi took the world by storm making headlines week in and week out.
This season seems to be the year of Alejandro Balde’s rise. Not many young talents would fancy competing against Jordi Alba and Marcos Alonso for a starting spot. However, it is fair to say that Balde has been a league ahead of his competition this season.
In the first half against Cadiz, the 18-year-old was by far the best Blaugrana player on the field. He was the one piece knitting together the disjointed attack and creating threats in the final third.
His most significant contribution came in the 38th minute when he tried to take on a defender in the opponent’s box and was brought down by the defender. The offence clearly warranted a penalty but the referee decided otherwise.
In defence, Balde was rock-solid. He made one clearance, two tackles and won four duels on the night, thus shutting down the flank for Cadiz. Offensively, he completed three out of five attempted long passes and should have even registered an assist had Raphinha made better use of the cross.
3. Lewandowski leading from the front
The Polish striker started on the bench for Barcelona but was called on by the manager almost immediately after the team’s first goal. It was in the 57th minute that Lewandowski entered the field, and what followed was carnage.
In 33 minutes against Cadiz, the striker scored one goal and provided two assists. He completed three dribbles in as many attempts and made two key passes.
In the 65th minute of the game, Raphinha found himself in acres of space on the right flank and fired in a low cross. Frenkie de Jong rushed to it, but so did Ledesma and two defenders.
In the mayhem that followed, the ball momentarily slipped from the goalkeeper’s hand. That fraction of a second was all it took for Lewandowski to run goalward, slide and push the ball into the back of the net.
In the 86th minute, Dembele put the Pole through with a lovely pass. The striker darted straight into the box and shimmied it across to Fati at the last second. With the goal at his mercy, the Spaniard did not miss. Minutes later, it was again Lewandowski who found Dembele before his well-worked goal.
The veteran has settled well into his role at Barcelona and can often be seen giving instructions to players around him. The team desperately lacked a leader like him last season. It is not surprising that the Catalan attack is so formidable with his presence. On Tuesday, he will face a big test as he goes up against his former team at Allianz Arena.