In a ridiculous afternoon of football, Barcelona somehow drew 1-1 with Cadiz in La Liga.
The Blaugrana missed the chance to go second in the table and will go through the entire season having picked up just a single point against Cadiz (having lost away from home to them). This means Barcelona have won just one of their last four games across all competitions.
What on earth is going on? Well it would be easy to look at their defensive weaknesses, particularly those revolving around Clement Lenglet who is playing as poorly as he ever has in La Liga for Barcelona and Sevilla. The Frenchman was brutally exposed for three of the four PSG goals and today inexplicably lost his nerve in the 88th minute against Cadiz, swinging his boot wildly at the ball to concede a penalty.
And sure, if you want to look at it that way then Lenglet is the problem. But what of the loss to Sevilla in the Copa del Rey? Well there you can point to Samuel Umtiti and say, hey, both goals were his fault. So maybe the problem Barcelona face right now is that they have two error-prone centre-backs that for some reason start over the solid Oscar Mingueza.
Short answer, yes. Long answer, it’s complicated.
But the short answer is yes. Barcelona’s ridiculous centre-backs are a huge problem and the fact that 34-year-old Gerard Piqué can return from a months-long injury lay-off and instantly be Barcelona’s best defender again is damning in the extreme. Ronald Koeman will be hoping that Ronald Araujo returns to fitness asap so that he doesn’t have to worry about his error-prone centre-backs.
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What about the long story, though? Is there more to it than just the error-prone centre-backs? Well Sergio Busquets is often a liability in transition, as PSG and Sevilla both exposed, but that wasn’t a problem against Cadiz because they weren’t really counter-attacking until Busquets had already gone off. So what was the deal? Antoine Griezmann, that’s the deal.
More generally the forward line, but specifically it’s Antoine Griezmann. He is the problem.
Barcelona’s style of play, a passing attack that relies on positional play and sharp off-the-ball movement and a high defensive line, needs to be able to score goals consistently. It needs that goal threat because it creates in the opponent a fear of attacking, a fear of committing bodies forward, because you know you’re opening yourself up more for their passing attack to slice through you.
However when a passing attack like Barcelona’s doesn’t possess a realistic goal threat, if their lead striker (Antoine Griezmann this season) then teams don’t fear you and thus are more open to bombarding you with big attacks. PSG did this to great effect after Griezmann missed two superb chances to extend Barcelona’s lead in the first-half. And Cadiz did it today.
Barcelona drop points in LaLiga for the first time in 2021 thanks to an 89th minute penalty from Cadiz. 😳 pic.twitter.com/vrmcY3t0JK
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 21, 2021
Griezmann today had just one shot, and it was blocked. He was also the reason Pedri’s superb goal was disallowed for offside. Every time he got the ball in or around the box, he faffed around. He delayed shooting or didn’t make any sort of strikerly run across the near-post, and so half-chances never became chances and didn’t become goals.
Worse still, when Griezmann does get shots, he wastes them. Only Karim Benzema (14) has missed more big chances this season than Griezmann (10) and the Real Madrid man has scored more (7) compared to Barcelona’s no. 7 (4). He was subbed off today to be replaced by Martin Braithwaite, a €120m striker replaced by a €18m emergency signing. Guess who played better? It only took Braithwaite 20 seconds to be more consequential to the match than Griezmann had been in the preceding 64 minutes.
Given how outrageously talented the Frenchman is, you’d expect things to improve over time as he becomes more settled into the side. But they’re not improving, if anything they’re getting worse. Antoine Griezmann simply doesn’t have the ruthless streak needed to be Barcelona’s lead forward, to give them the reliable goalscoring power they need to play the kind of football they want to.
Barcelona want to be better, but as long as Griezmann is their guy they will be mired in misery and failure.