Gerard Pique has had a horrible start to the new Barcelona season. The main man in defense was the direct culprit in most of the goals Blaugrana conceded in the last three games, and as such, is mostly responsible for acquiring only two of the total of nine points that were on the table for the (still) league leaders. The Catalan side is somehow still leading the charge with Real Madrid following closely but the difference in the schedule is enormous. This tactical analysis will hopefully shed some light on Pique’s decline in recent games with the provided statistics and examples.
Although VAR was definitely in the spotlight in the game against Girona, it is extremely difficult to escape the feeling that Pique was directly at fault for both of the goals the hosts conceded. The match did end in a draw, and Barcelona was close to winning with 10 men on the field but that was of little importance at the end of the day. Girona scored two past Marc-Andre ter Stegen but the German did not have much of a chance when his defense was non-existent for the most part. Messi led the charge with a nice goal in the 19th minute but the guests equalized by the end of the half. Stuani was the scorer but he did have some help from Pique himself.
Aday made the cross while the attacker was in a “sandwich” position between Pique and Busquets but still managed to get a hold of the ball. It was Pique’s bad touch that moved the ball in the space in front of the goalkeeper and put Stuani in a 1v1 position that resulted in a goal. We could argue that Busquets is equally to be blamed, and to a certain extent he is for not heading the ball away but it’s Pique’s first touch that made the “assist” to Stuani in the end.
The second goal that turned the game around came in the 51st minute by the same player, and once again, Pique was at the heart of everything. He misses a crucial sliding tackle after initially losing a foot race with Portu. At first, MAtS saves the shot but the ball deflects back to Stuani who blasts it in the top right corner effortlessly. Pique’s pace cannot really be changed and everyone knows he is not that fast but the mistimed tackle left Portu in a 1v1 situation, which is directly the defender’s fault and for the second time in that game.
He did score a header to secure Barcelona at least one point in a tough game but that has nothing to do with his defensive mistakes. Since his primary task is in the back line, the late goal was good but did not overall improve his impression from the game as a whole. From a defensive standpoint, he played an extremely bad game.
After having a really bad day at the office in the Catalan derby, Pique managed to provide an even worse performance against Leganes which was deemed a “disasterclass”. The Spanish defender was at fault for both of the goals Leganes scored in the span of less than a minute on the ball. It has to be noted, though, that the fault does not solely lie on Gerard but can also be pinned on the whole defensive line. The first goal arrived in the 52nd minute and was scored by El-Zhar. The attack starts on the left flank with Roberto following the ball, Umtiti marking two players, and Pique in the middle of nowhere without his man and only watching the ball instead of noting where the opposition players are at that moment. Vermaelen sprints back but not fast enough, and El-Zhar beats him in the air a couple of seconds later. Still, Pique was not even a part of the action and while the fault is also Vermaelen’s, the Belgian covered his man on the right flank as he was supposed to do.
Not a full minute after that Leganes was back on the scoresheet and Pique the direct culprit once again. Barcelona’s defender initially does well to intercept the pass that was heading for Oscar but instead of clearing the ball or just blasting it out of sights anywhere far from his goal, Pique passes the ball blindly to his left and straight into the feet of the oncoming attacker. Oscar then proceeds to take advantage of this gift to put his team in front with a strike that gave them three points and their first win of the season. It also has to be noted that Barca’s defense would have managed to set an offside trap but Pique failed to stay in line with Umtiti thus playing Ennesiry onside which eventually led to the goal itself.
The game against Ernesto Valverde’s former club was a weird one for Pique. He started pretty well and seemed to be back with full confidence. It looked like that was the only problem with his current form – confidence. The initial quarter of an hour went by extremely fast and Barcelona looked as sharp as ever, including Gerard himself. He was making forward passes, long runs, and timely tackles. Things were finally starting to click. Until they didn’t. As was the case in previous five games of the Catalan side, Barcelona conceded the first goal. It was de Marcos who scored it and gave the lead to the Basks and once again, the whole defense was to be blamed, alongside Pique.
Funnily enough, it was an another failed offside trap misjudged by Barca’s captain (at that time). Only Gerard Pique was left too deep which resulted in de Marcos being onside and Sergi Roberto being late to mark him properly. Still. there is more than just the question of Pique’s positioning to be analyzed here. First off, why is Roberto even having to mark Alba’s man, secondly, Lenglet is in no man’s land and covering no one, and then finally, Pique not doing much apart from breaking up the offside trap? You could say that they were trying the trap anyway but almost no one is assuming the right position at that moment which is a proof of a highly disorganized defense.
For some reason, Pique is still a part of those “untouchables” that Valverde never rotates. That decision is really questionable because the coach seems to be comfortable with rotating the likes of Messi and Busquets but not out of form Gerard Pique. With Leo moving to the bench for the first half of the Bilbao game, Pique (along with ter Stegen) is the only player from the gala 11 not to be rested – he played a total of 810 minutes so far this season in official games. There is no denying that Barca’s third captain has done a lot for the club, and at his peak, was one of the best defenders in the world. But his decline is now apparent more than ever before. A similar thing happened back in the treble winning season of 2015 when Luis Enrique first took over the squad. Pique was miles from what he used to be and was poor in most of his appearances. As a result, Lucho benched him immediately until he got back on his feet. That kind of resolution worked wonders for the Spaniard but Valverde seems to be too afraid or hesitant to pull the trigger, even though it might be the best move for his team. Pique has a rating below seven this season so far, and while his passing accuracy (92.9 %) is still impeccable, he sits on 3.7 aerials duels won on average which is pretty low for such a tall and strong defender. What is also alarming is that Pique only made two tackles in those three analyzed games with both of those coming in the last game against Bilbao.
Another problem could be the lack of real competition between the defenders. Pique is an undisputed starter alongside Samuel Umtiti, and he is fully aware of that fact. There is no one to push him to work harder because Lenglet is still adapting and/ or acquiring Valverde’s trust. Many times Umtiti was there to bail Pique out of a bad game but now that the Frenchmen is injured, Gerard still out of form and Barcelona entering their toughest month yet, there is a feeling that this might be a make or break situation for the man in charge, as well as many players within the club. Only time will tell.