Primera Division

Brittle Barcelona have never been more fragile, and more beatable

Ronald Koeman's side lost away, again, to compound their worst league start for 33 years and the team has no answer to adversity

 
1:10pm on Sunday 6th December 2020
By
Paul Macdonald

Barcelona, at the moment, are a team without character.

A fourth loss of the season, and a fourth game on the road without victory. Another match where a loss of concentration led to another ridiculous concession. The song remains the same, and Ronald Koeman is sick of the tune.

The Barca boss was critical of the attitude of the team after the 2-1 defeat in Cadiz and he's absolutely right. The statistics around this display are nowhere near as bad as, say, the recent loss to Atletico, where everything about them was inept.

Here, they had 21 shots on goal, nine on target, with an xG of 1.8. They had 74% ball possession and were a little unfortunate not to take at least a point. But the problem is that this group of players regularly surrender the advantage and have little idea how to reverse the situation.

Cadiz 2-1 Barcelona: Player Ratings, Match Stats, Player Stats

Against Getafe, Atletico, Alaves and now Cadiz, Barcelona had at least 45 minutes - sometimes longer - to get back into the contest after conceding, and each time their response was laboured and lacking in inspiration.

The sight of Lionel Messi lumbering back to the halfway line to collect the ball, such was his dismay at the perceived lack of service, said much about the pattern of the game. With Messi drifting to wherever he likes, Sergino Dest spent much of the match isolated on the right with no overlap and no support.

On the other side, Jordi Alba had one of his most wasteful games in a Barcelona jersey, regularly giving away simple passes, and when Ousmane Dembele arrived the duo had no synergy whatsoever to open up Cadiz. And teams like this opposition know that by positioning themselves in a low block - and this one couldn't get much lower, with all 11 Cadiz players at times just 30 yards from their own goal - Barca don't have an answer.

The problems of playing through defences, which seemed to have been resolved in the last three outings, scoring 11 goals without reply, returned. And while there remain obvious concerns - the relentless circulation of the ball from left, to centre, to right, and back without any real idea as to how the defence can be breached, is infuriating. And particularly in the second half the worst parts of Antoine Griezmann re-emerged, virtually disappearing from the contest.

And Martin Braithwaite, who had been so effective since his recall, touched the ball just 16 times in a game where Cadiz were camped outside their own goal. Other than a chance in the first half that drew a good save, this was a bafflingly inept step backwards that must have Koeman tearing his hair out.

But the main difference between the wins of Ferencvaros, Dynamo Kyiv and Osasuna, versus here, is simply that Barca didn't have to worry about coming from behind.

It's been noted by the players, too, not least Frenkie De Jong, that they lack a response when they are in adversity and it was apparent here again. And after the game Sergio Busquets said bluntly: "If we had an answer to what is happening, then it wouldn't happen again."

All the worst elements of a team lacking in confidence came into view. It starts with erroneous passes; balls through either overhit of played in the opposite direction of where the run is being made.

It then regresses to safe passes, playing wide and to the side but never forward into dangerous positions. And it ends with desperation, shooting from angles that carry such a low chance of success. The fact that Messi tried to shoot with two corners gives you an indication on where he is at in relation to his team-mates.

Koeman is struggling for answers and the fact is that it's probably already too late. They are three points off the relegation positions and already a gigantic 12 points behind Atletico Madrid. The dysfunction taking place on the pitch reflects what's happening off it, and minor tweaks to tactics won't change that. This is a team that is heading for an era of decline, and it's painful to watch.

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