Barcelona need to learn lessons from that night in Liverpool

Photo by cchana    CC BY-SA 2.0

History will tell us that the 2018/2019 season was a moderately successful one for Barça. They won La Liga by 11 points, finishing 19 points ahead of a Real side in third place. The two league games with their main rivals garnered a full six points, with an aggregate score of 6-1. They also knocked them out of the Copa del Ray semi-final, going through in Madrid to three unanswered goals. The elephant in the room, however, is the Champions League. That game at Anfield, especially coming off the back of an all too similar one in Rome less than 12 months earlier, means there will always be an asterisk to this season’s success, a troubled look behind the fans’ celebratory smiles.

After that game in Rome, there were brows furrowed, heads scratched and a few questions asked. Mainly, however, after the dust had settled, it was put down to almost a freak event, that one game in a hundred where the footballing gods pulled the rug from under their feet. Something that simply would not happen again. Barça are certain to be favourites for La Liga next season, and will be there or thereabouts for the Champions League as well at Fox Bet this fall. The club cannot just put last season’s events out of their collective minds, however. Things need to change. Here we take a look at the statistics behind this season, to see where those changes need to be.

Progress in 2018/2019?

Let’s start with a very low-level look at the last two league campaigns to see if there was any progress made last season compared to the previous one.

  Won Drawn Lost Points Goals Scored Goals Conceded
2017/2018 28 9 1 93 99 29
2018/2019 26 9 3 87 90 36

 

Every single one of those stats, with the exception of games drawn which is the same, shows a decline. Statistics can be misleading, and they certainly do not show the whole story, but even so, in a season when they needed to improve they did not do. In fact, in every part of the field they went in the opposite direction. That would be ok if they had managed to combine it with Champions League success, but as we all saw, that remained the same. Almost exactly the same.

Comparison with Champions League Rivals

To improve, it would be useful to look at how Barça’s performances and statistics match up to the other three semi-finalists, and in particular the two finalists from last season.

Offensively

  Goals Scored Attempts On Target Crosses Attempted Crosses Completed (%) Attacks Big Chances
Barcelona 26 199 77 135 21 (16) 581 13
Liverpool 24 186 57 255 63 (25) 657 20
Tottenham 20 199 73 255 71 (28) 632 10
Ajax 22 185 70 163 43 (26) 536 13

 

Defensively

  Goals Conceded Clean Sheets Saves Made Tackles Blocks Clearances
Barcelona 10 6 35 44 42 162
Liverpool 12 6 46 39 26 181
Tottenham 19 4 36 46 54 199
Ajax 13 4 40 47 36 196

 

General Play

  Passing Accuracy% Possession% Distance Covered km Yellow Cards Red Cards
Barcelona 89 58 1270.2 21 1
Liverpool 80 50 1434.8 21 0
Tottenham 84 51 1466.6 23 1
Ajax 82 53 1346.8 28 1

 

Taking the attacking figures first, the one thing that jumps out is Liverpool – who, let’s face it, are the club others should be emulating as they were the ultimate victors and, of course, the ones who knocked Barcelona out. They had far more attacks and created more big chances. They also attempted three times the number of crosses that Valverde’s side did, and were over a third more accurate with them. Different clubs play different styles, but if something is not working it needs to be addressed and changed to something that does.

Defensively everything looks OK, and possession and passing is always going to be fine, however, where that possession is, and how incisive the passes, is open for debate. Distance covered is another point that needs addressing. Liverpool, Spurs and Ajax are all known for their high energy, high pressing game. A game that requires incredibly high levels of fitness.

Barcelona need to stop relying on just one or two players

Photo by    Дмитрий Садовников  CC BY 3.0

Some other interesting stats from the Champions League show that Messi was top goal scorer (Liverpool, Spurs and Ajax do not have a player in the top 5); Suarez and Jordi Alba were joint top of the assist table (Liverpool and Spurs do not feature in the top 5); Messi had the most attempts on target (Liverpool do not have a player in the top 5). Football is a team game. If an opposing coach can target one or two players who will cause you problems, no matter how good they are, it is easier than if the potential threat is from five, six or seven players.

Conclusions

The performances on the pitch, and the stats discussed above point to several areas that need addressing. There will, of course, be existing star players who will need to be replaced, but that is a debate for another day. Barça need to increase the players that can harm the opposition. They need to have plans B, C and D. They need players who can run for 95 minutes, players that are leaders on the pitch. When heads are dropping, they need people who can give them that arm round the shoulder or kick up the backside. Those are the fundamental areas that are plainly lacking, and if they are ignored once again in this transfer window, we will be having the exact same debate this time next year.