Background and Season Expectations
A tourist’s regular itinerary through Andalusia involves Granada, Córdoba, or Sevilla, but on the southwest corner of the region lies the beautiful and ancient port city of Cádiz. The late Michael Robinson, a legendary British commentator of Spanish football, was in love with this city and its fun-loving inhabitants. In his own words, Cadiz “is a place that doesn’t exist. When everyone else is concerned about capitalism, they are enjoying life with a beer and prawns“.
And this festive city gets to enjoy their football club in La Liga for the first time in 14 years. Before 2020, Cádiz had been promoted to La Liga five times throughout their history (1977, 1981, 1983, 1985, 2005), but only once have they managed to remain in the first division for more than a year (1985-1993). This most successful period in Cadiz’s history resulted from the leadership of the legendary Salvadorian playmaker Jorge “El Mágico“ Gónzalez, a man whose talent even earned the respect and admiration of Maradona, even though his work ethic arguably made El Diego look like a model pro.
After their 2006 relegation, Cádiz descended to the seemingly bottomless pit of Segunda B, with its 80 teams, lack of resources, and multiple torturous rounds of promotion playoffs. Thanks to the leadership of coach Álvaro Cervera, Cádiz managed to escape Segunda B in 2016, and finally move up to La Liga this year. Given how short-lived their La Liga stays usually are, Cadiz’s challenge for this 2020-21 is simply to remain in the division. This is already a steep challenge for a club with the lowest budget in the league and one of the less talented squads in the competition. So how does coach coach Cervera and his team plan to overcome this?
The Usual Lineup And Game Plan
Cervera has designed a Cádiz team that plays with an unglamorous but highly consistent 4-4-2 deep block, which quickly counterattacks in a 4-2-3-1 in the offensive phase. As journalist Miguel Quintana pointed out, Cadiz averaged a super stable 10 losses per 42-game season in their four years in Segunda, always ranking among the hardest 5 teams to beat in the division.
While high pressing 4-4-2 styles are becoming popular in Spain, Cádiz are a more old-school defensive 4-4-2. They will sit deep, press very little, and allow the opponent to play out of the back. Once the opponent moves into Cádiz’s half, the double pivot—usually composed of José Mari and Jens Jønsson—moves to recover the ball quickly and pass it even more quickly to the fullbacks and wingers who will start the counterattack. The left back—the Uruguayan Alfonso “Pacha“ Espino—tends to be more conservative while the right back—Iza Carcelén—tends to be the more aggressive one. As of this season, the usual wingers are Salvador “Salvi” Sánchez on the right and an in-form Jorge Pombo on the left.
Up front we find one of the Cádiz’s most recent signings as their striker: the veteran globetrotter and former Castilla player Álvaro Negredo. Negredo returns to La Liga after a few years playing in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. On a first look, it’s hard to believe that Negredo can provide the 10-15 goals per season that a team like Cádiz so urgently need. His first three starts in the season have seen a very positive total of 1 goal and 1 assist, so the jury is still out on whether he’ll be able to deliver the goods. His substitute, my Honduran countryman Anthony “Choco“ Lozano, is even less likely to deliver on the goal scoring side but compensates with smoother link-up play. This can empower Cadiz’s wingers and even more importantly, the soul of the team’s offense: Alex Férnandez, the midfielder who plays in the hole of Cádiz’s 4-2-3-1 formation.
Fernández is usually the player with the most freedom in Cádiz’s attack. He can drop deep to get the ball from his double pivot and decide the speed and direction at which his team will attack. He can also shift to either wing to combine with his wingers, or he can show up by surprise in the opposition box to score. Despite all these offensive functions and freedom of movement, Fernández does not compromise on defensive duties and always makes sure to track back.
In terms of volume, Cádiz’s offense was nothing spectacular even for Segunda standards. Last season they scored the 8th most goals in the division, but those goals came from the 6th fewest shots per game in the league (10.43 shots). In other words, Cádiz are a team who, even in Segunda, aimed to produce only a few good chances and be efficient at taking them. That...does not give much confidence in their ability to produce goals in the top tier of Spanish football.
So, all in all, Cádiz’s ability to remain in Primera will depend heavily on their defensive performance. While more proactive defenses like Osasuna, Getafe, or Eibar want to press and create a higher-tempo game, Cádiz wants to slow down games, force the opponent to pass the ball endlessly in the middle third of the pitch, and find counterattack opportunities. Sounds like a boring setup, but several low-mid tier La Liga teams have gotten good results with similar tactics and 4-4-2 defenses, such as Alavés or Real Valladolid. In terms of style, these are probably the teams most similar to Cádiz.
Cádiz’s Current Form
For a team of Cádiz’s expectations, the beginning of the season has been quite positive, with some very respectable mid-table numbers: 2 wins, 1 draw, 2 losses, 5 goals for, and 6 goals against. It’s way too early in the season to get any meaningful conclusions from expected goals (xG), but it doesn’t hurt to mention that Cádiz’s results are also backed by xG. According to FBREF numbers, their 5 goals for come from 4.9 xG while their 6 goals against come from 5.3 xGA. So no signs of xG over- or underperformance up to now.
Cádiz’s first game of the season, a 0-2 defeat vs Osasuna, proved to be a rough reminder of the pains of being a newly promoted team. While Cádiz outshot their opponents 12 vs 7, Osasuna enjoyed (and scored) the two biggest chances of the game, which came due to a turnover from Cádiz’s midfield and some subpar defending during a throw in. Fortunately for Cádiz, the next game against Huesca—another newly promoted side and a direct rival in the relegation battle—turned out to be a 2-0 victory. From Cádiz’s first five games, this is surely the one where they succeeded the most at implementing their game plan, with their defense slowing down the match into a boring, low-tempo affair. On the other end of the pitch, Cádiz’s attacks through the wings ended up with some good crosses that—aided by some subpar Huesca goalkeeping and defending—turned into goals. Jorge Pombo put in a particularly good performance from the left wing with some sharp movements into the opposition box.
Afterwards, Cádiz were defeated by a clearly superior Sevilla team, and then enjoyed a rather curious away victory against Athletic Bilbao. Despite Cádiz having a man sent off at the beginning of the 2nd half, they managed to nab the winning goal. A good 1v1 action and low cross from striker Lozano ultimately turned into an Athletic own goal. Not even a second red card at the 70th minute—this time to Negredo—allowed a desperate Athletic to draw the game. Right before the international break, the Andalusian duel between Cádiz and Granada turned out to be a rather fun affair with a lot of come-and-go attacking and yet another good performance from Lozano.
So, how do they match up against Real Madrid?
No doubt Real are the clear favorites here, but let’s talk a bit about the matchup and key players.
Cádiz are conditioned by the absences of right back Carcelén and right center back Marcos Mauro. On the other hand, Real have the long-term injury to Carvajal and Hazard, many players coming back from international break, a midweek Champions League game and a Clásico next weekend. There is a significant incentive for Zidane to choose a plan B and rest players like Modrić, Kroos, Varane, Ramos or Mendy, who all played throughout the international break. In their stead, we could see names like Marcelo, Isco, Militão, Nacho, or Lucas Vázquez in the starting lineup.
Zidane’s choice of midfielders would condition how Real approaches this game. If Zidane decides to start Fede Valverde, the team might be more aggressive in pressing and generate situations like the one of this Osasuna goal vs Cádiz. And to be honest, the current version of Zidane’s Real is at their best when generating chances from such pressing situations.
If the rumors of Isco playing in midfield are true, then Real will be less aggressive about the pressing and will aim to break down the Cádiz deep block via possession and passing combinations. The team has looked somewhat disoriented and confused when having the ball for extended periods of time, but a good game by Real’s wingers could turn things around.
Key players for Real Madrid: Vinicius and Asensio. Breaking down the Cádiz deep block will require aggressive movements into the box and some good dribbling, and this is exactly what Vinicius provides. A good performance from the Brazilian starlet could resolve this game rather quickly.
On the opposite wing, Asensio has been lacking a bit in aggressive movement off-the-ball but his controls, passing, and dribbling look as sharp as they ever have. If he builds on an already good performance vs Levante—where his passing combos and through balls helped break down Levante’s defense—he could become decisive against Cádiz too.
Key player for Cádiz: Left winger Jorge Pombo. If the rumors are true and Zidane finally goes for Lucas Vázquez as a right back and Nacho in central defense, there is a chance that Pombo—who as of late has been sharp in his movements into the box—could do some damage coming in from the left wing.