Barcelona have begun the season in uncertain fashion. One win in three games with the latest of those results a draw away at Osasuna, the champions have begun their title defence with a stutter.
One of the factors that have caused this is the team. Injuries to key players have halted their progress. Another factor is the formation or to be more specific, the middle of the park.
The team that is being picked could be better than it is already – even with the injured players – and the growing feeling is that Valverde does not know the right combination for his team.
Rafinha’s move to Celta after a good start to his season further illustrates that point.
In Barcelona’s midfield, there are six players competing for regular playing time. It is really fierce and it takes more of hard work than talent to get into the team but we will be using stats to figure out what their best combination is.
One player who is a definite shoo-in in Sergio Busquets. Nobody is better at doing what he does and he is still indispensable to the team.
That leaves five players vying for two spots. Tough.
The talented Brazilian would start in a lot of sides across Europe. He proved that with the solid Copa America he had.
Last season was his break out year in Catalunya and he drew lots of praise from players and fans alike.
His injury mid-season put a halt in his progress and his place in the starting line up but he is definitely one for the future.
Last season, he averaged a passing success rate of 93% on 47 average passes per game with an 0.5 key passes on average and just one assist to his name overall.
Arthur’s presence was more offensive than defensive with an average of 0.6 tackles and 0.3 interceptions per 90.
He had a Whoscored rating of 6.49 last campaign.
Arthur came off the bench to score away to Osasuna with some other midfielders on the bench which will be a huge boost to his confidence.
Frenkie De Jong
Among the players who are vying for that spit, De Jong might just be the most complete midfielder.
He can do basically everything asked of him in the middle of the park and that was why Barcelona paid the huge fee they did to bring the 21-year-old to the Camp Nou.
Last season De Jong scored three goals and assisted on three occasions for his then Dutch team Ajax.
He had a 91% passing accuracy on 79 average passes a game with 1.5 key passes played each contest.
Defensively, he averaged 1.7 tackles and 1.4 interceptions per contest with 1.1 headers won.
He had a rating of 7.54.
The hardworking Chilean was a regular feature in the starting eleven last season.
He was key to Barcelona’s success with his ability to play the team’s style as well as bring in a dynamism other midfielders at the club do not have.
His pass success rate was 89%, he averaged 45 passes a game with 0.7 key passes and 7 assists provided.
He also scored thrice during the campaign last season.
Defensively, he averaged 2.4 tackles and 0.9 interceptions a game as he was strong and combative in that department.
He had an overall rating of 6.89.
One of the headline makers of the summer who refused a move away from Barcelona for Neymar to return.
He has been a model of consistency and durability for the club but his pull and influence is beginning to diminish a bit.
Now that the transfer window is closed, he will need to battle his way into the team again.
He has passed the ball at a rate of 91% each game on 74 average passes last season.
He had a 0.5 key pass game average which is surprising but he did assist on five occasions last season.
His 1.5 interceptions and 0.9 tackles were decent last season as well per match.
He had a rating of 7.06.
The midfielder turned right back turned midfielder again has mixed feelings and is indifferent towards Barcelona this season. It is a start to the season that follows the inconsistent run that his team is on currently.
Last season, he averaged a 90.5% pass success rate per contest on 61 average passes a game. He also played one key pass a game and assisted seven times.
He played as a right-back for most of last season as well so his defensive stats are actually not so good playing in that position.
He averaged one tackle and 1.5 interceptions per game with one aerial duel won per contest as well.
His overall rating was 6.91.
This season he has played all his games in midfield and has looked good in one of them. He had two assists against Real Betis and it shows that he can be a force in that position if he is right.
These are real quality players that occupy the midfield and it’s no wonder Ernesto Valverde has been having a hard time picking his strongest midfield three.
The best three we could think of though is Sergio Busquets behind Ivan Rakitic and Frenkie De Jong.
It was a close call between Vidal and Rakitic but De Jong is already a player who can run for days in midfield. It suits him better than just being in a position and spraying passes.
Defensively, both compliment each other also. Not to mention the fact that De Jong is an expensive buy for the club.
The season is a long and hard one and all the players will have their chances to impress. Stats don’t say everything in football but at least it gives insight to the end product of players.
Only time will tell how long it will take for Valverde to find his favoured midfield combinations.