It was another sleep-inducing two hours of really bad attacking football and two more points dropped for Barcelona against Cádiz, and Ronald Koeman managed to get himself sent off in what was almost a poetic way to cap off a night where Koeman’s mediocrity was at its full display.
Cádiz started the game in a 4-4-1-1 defensive shape, marking mostly in a low block for most of the match and for the most part not pressing Barça in their buildup. There was a mix of zone and man-marking depending on which Barça player had the ball — Memphis Depay, Frenkie De Jong and Gavi were always closely followed by whichever Cádiz player was nearest to them — and Rubén Sobrino was tasked with shadowing Sergio Busquets so he wouldn’t receive the ball in the buildup phase.
Busquets’ answer was to drop in between the center-backs, and because of Yusuf Demir natural tendency to drift inside Barça’s shape became more of a 3-5-2 during the attacking phase.
Demir was clearly given the freedom to roam around the final third whenever Barça had the ball, and the Blaugrana concentrated almost all of their attacks on the left side.
When Demir came inside, Memphis kept width on the left and was always an option to combine with Sergiño Dest. That’s where the very few good moments came from Barça, but with Luuk De Jong on the pitch all of those good moments turned into crosses that the Cádiz defense easily dealt with.
That was Barça’s issue in the first half: Luuk De Jong conditions the team to play a certain way, and the problem is he’s not performing well enough to warrant a complete shift in attacking philosophy. You can see in the picture above that he’s running away from the ball and into the box looking for a cross, and that’s now how a Barcelona striker is supposed to play.
De Jong has been a giant disappointment even compared to the tiny expectations he arrived with, and I honestly do not see a lot of playing time for him when the new manager comes unless injuries continue to make him the only attacking option available. But you could see the team instantly improve when he went off, even after the absolutely bogus red card to Frenkie De Jong.
Philippe Coutinho came on for Luuk, partnering with Memphis up front in the 4-3-2 shape that Barça eventually settled into for the final 20 minutes.
Coutinho was always available to receive a pass, and Memphis did the one thing you’d expect Luuk De Jong to be good at: shield the defenders and give the team an option to go long. De Jong never did that in the game, but Depay was a huge relief whenever Barça were short on numbers at the back and Marc-André ter Stegen needed to punt the ball forward.
Barça had one truly good period in the game, the final 10 minutes of regulation and the six minutes of injury time. The fact that Riqui Puig was on the pitch for that good period was not a coincidence. It continues to baffle me that Koeman simply refuses to see just how much extra juice Puig adds: his two-touch passing style that keeps the ball moving quickly, the constant popping into space to provide an option for a teammate in trouble, and the intelligence to see and make passes no one else can.
Barça’s best chance in the game came in the 94th minute, and the only reason it happened was Riqui Puig. He’s the one on the ball in the picture below, and the easiest option is Coutinho right in front of him. Most midfielders would make that pass, which isn’t a bad idea given Coutinho is a threat running with the ball and would be able to potentially find Memphis up front.
But Riqui is not most midfielders, and he can see that there’s a Cádiz defender on the left ready to close down Coutinho. He also sees Gerard Piqué on the right wing all alone, so Puig delays just a bit to allow that defender to get closer to Coutinho and fires an absolute beauty to release Piqué:
Piqué eventually finds Memphis for a one-on-one with the keeper, but Depay somehow missed. There are lots of people who don’t understand all the love Barça fans give Riqui Puig, but his cameo on Thursday is exactly the reason why. He doesn’t need a lot of time to make a big impact on Barça’s attack, and his size and lack of strength defensively is not a good enough reason to leave him out of the team. You can coach around that to allow his strengths to benefit the team, but apparently that’s too much to ask of Koeman.
It is really hard to defend Koeman even in a game where Barça got a point on the road with 10 men. His team selection was poor, Sergi Roberto’s substitution for Demir at halftime made absolutely zero sense, and waiting until the 80th minute to bring on Puig was also a bad decision considering Riqui’s immediate impact. Everything is too safe, too results driven, almost done on purpose to provide good excuses for his post-match press conferences.
The best players on this team are clearly upset and losing their patience on the pitch in front of everyone. Frenkie De Jong and Memphis Depay look resigned, knowing that things should be much better but can’t be right now. It’s all very infuriating, but it also got a point on the road with 10 men. Mediocre. Peak Koeman.
With the current state of affairs at Camp Nou, you have to look for small positives. Gavi was a positive: he was confident and assured on the ball, and while he can be a bit too eager with his pressing and leave space in behind trying to win the ball back in unrealistic scenarios, there’s clearly something very good there.
Ronald Araujo was a positive, again: just an absolute defensive monster who continues to improve his play on the ball with every game. Nico González can misplace easy passes at times, but he’s an excellent holding midfielder already. I’d love to see a Nico-Frenkie-Puig midfield, and the only hope is that the next manager will have the courage to try that trio. There’s just so much potential for creativity and dynamism with those three players together, but that seems like a pipe dream right now.
Ronald Koeman will be gone soon, and his mediocrity was at its peak against Cádiz. But if you look hard enough, you can see the building blocks for something special when a new boss comes. You just hope the new boss is good.
The current one is not.