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Back under 2.5 goals when Barcelona visit the south of Spain on Thursday. Cadiz will look to make life difficult for their illustrious opponents, who are struggling to adapt to the post-Lionel Messi era.
There are few better feelings in soccer than watching your team score a last-minute equalizer. Yet when Barcelona fans witnessed their side doing exactly that on Monday, the burst of joy represented only a fleeting escape from wider feelings of frustration. Sure, a 1-1 draw at home to Granada is better than a 1-0 defeat, but it is still a case of two points dropped in a match Barcelona should be winning. While it is far too early to rule Ronald Koeman’s men out of the title race, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid are not looking at the Camp Nou with any sense of fear.
Barcelona have taken eight points from their first four matches. If they beat Sevilla in their game in hand, they will be just two points off top spot – and level with Atletico in second. Koeman could justifiably argue that his team is likely to grow stronger as the campaign goes on, with Barcelona still adapting to significant changes of personnel. This has not been as disastrous a start to the season as that made by Juventus in Serie A, for instance.
Yet while Barcelona were not immune to dropping points against mid-table sides even in their heyday, Monday’s draw with Granada was concerning. Domingos Duarte put the visitors ahead in just the second minute, and Jorge Molina could have doubled their lead soon after.
It is true that Barcelona created chances to equalize long before Ronald Araujo’s 90th-minute effort, but few came from discernible patterns of play that suggest a team moving in the right direction. Their possession was sterile, and their passing lacked incision and invention. Barcelona resorted to firing crosses into the box, with Gerard Pique and Luuk de Jong together up front in the closing stages. Total Football this was not – and Koeman remains under severe scrutiny.
Cadiz exceeded expectations by finishing 12th last season. They were promoted to La Liga in 2019/20 and tipped to struggle in their first campaign at the top table after a 14-year absence, but instead steered clear of the bottom three for most of the year. A famous 2-1 victory over Barcelona in early December lifted them as high as fifth, before a poor run of form saw them plummet down the table. They drew 1-1 with Barcelona in the return fixture, though, and that kick-started an upturn which ultimately saw them finish in mid-table.
Cadiz are hoping for more of the same this time around. Alvaro Cervera has largely kept faith with the group of players that did so well last season, with Varazdat Haroyan, Jeremias Ledesma, and Tomas Alarcon the only additions in the summer transfer market. Cadiz drew their first two games of the season, but then lost back-to-back meetings with Osasuna and Real Sociedad. However, a 2-1 win at Celta Vigo on Friday means this has been a solid start to the season for Los Piratas.
Cadiz showed last season that they are capable of frustrating Barcelona, and we can expect Cervera to enact a similar game plan on Thursday. This time his side will benefit from supporters being present at the Estadio Nuevo Mirandilla, even if it will not be a full house. The veteran striker Alvaro Negredo is capable of causing Barcelona’s backline problems, and Cadiz demonstrated last term that they can be obdurate, dogged opponents.
That is one reason why goals could be at a premium on Thursday. Another is Barcelona’s attacking problems. Koeman’s side scored four on the opening weekend of the campaign, but they have not been at all convincing going forward since then. According to data from FBref, Barcelona sit 12th in the La Liga xG table – an indication of their struggles in the final third. The fact they have played one game fewer than most teams in the division is a factor, but the Blaugrana are only seventh on an xG per game basis.
Memphis Depay is a guaranteed starter but the two slots on either side of him are up for grabs. Philippe Coutinho and Yusuf Demir started against Granada but both players were substituted as Barcelona chased a goal. Against Bayern Munich last week, Koeman used a 3-4-1-2 formation but the Catalan club failed to land a single shot on target, with Depay and Luuk de Jong showing few signs of a burgeoning partnership.
For all their woes Barcelona still has some top-class players and are capable of beating any team in La Liga on their day. Even if they are below par, Barca are good enough to get past Cadiz. But with pressure building on Koeman, an away win is far from guaranteed on Thursday. Expect a tight, tense game with fewer than 2.5 goals.
|Cadiz vs Barcelona Information|
|Teams||Cadiz vs Barcelona|
|Location||Estadio Nuevo Mirandilla, Cadiz, Spain|
|Time||Thursday, 23 September 2021, 16.00 PM EDT|
|How to watch||ESPN|
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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