With four rounds of Champions League group play behind us we are starting to see the knockout stage scenarios begin to come into focus. For FC Barcelona, group D is sitting there for the taking. Barca lead the group with eight points, FC Copenhagen have seven, FK Rubin Kazan have three, and Panathinaikos have two. Realistically speaking, it's going to be Barca and Copenhagen reaching the knockout round, although it is up in the air at this point as to which team will win the group. They have already played each other twice and whichever team can take the most points from remaining matches against Rubin Kazan and Panathinaikos should take the group.
I thought it would be interesting to take a deeper look into the Champions League statistics and see how Barca's players are stacking up against the other 31 teams in group play.
Barcelona have scored nine goals in four games, an average of 2.25 goals per game. That places them in the top seven teams in scoring. So far Barca have two players who have scored more than once in the competition. Lionel Messi has five goals scored thus far, second only to Inter Milan's Samuel Eto'o who has seven. Messi has been brilliant in the CL and we would expect nothing less from la pulga. Messi is second in the competition with 20 shots taken, behind only Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo who has 25. David Villa has scored twice and I am not sure what to think about that. Averaging a goal every other game in such a prestigious competition is certainly not terrible but when you consider Eto'o could still be playing for Barca it leaves much to be desired. The competition Barca have faced have not been terribly difficult either, although as many of you know I am very high on Copenhagen. Pedro Rodriguez and Dani Alves have one goal apiece.
Barca have a few players who have tallied an assist in CL play including Eric Abidal, Pedro, Xavi Hernandez, Messi, Andres Iniesta, and Sergio Busquets. It's interesting that not a single player has more than one assist. Perhaps this speaks to the quality in the Barca side, that many players are capable of creating scoring chances. If one of two players are creating all the chances it makes it easier for the defense to adjust.
This statistic can be very important or completely meaningless, depending specifics of the game. Barca have by far the best possession statistics of the 32 teams in the tournament, claiming the ball 69% of the time. Further analysis however tells us that teams like Rubin Kazan are content to play for a draw and are more than happy to see Xavi and Iniesta pass back and forth from 40 yards out all day long. They have no intention of coming forward to attempt to take the ball for fear of being broken down and scored on, and rightfully so! While I love that Barca has a tendency to dominate possession you certainly can't look at that number on its own, especially when opposing teams don't always want the ball.
Barcelona have taken a total of 61 shots in four games, an average of just over 15 shots a game, and have nine goals to show for it. That means 14.7% of Barca shots turn into goals. The leaders in this category include: Tottenham 32.4%, Arsenal 31.3%, Chelsea 21.4%, Bayern Munich 20%, Inter Milan 19.6%, Lyon 16.9%, Basel 16.6%, AC MIlan 16.6%, and Shakhtar Donetsk 16.6%. It's great to see that Barca are getting lots of chances but this is clearly, especially for those of you who have watched the games like me, an area where Barca are struggling.
It's great to get lots of shots. Against teams like Rubin Kazan and Panathinaikos you can even get away with not finishing well because you will still usually get the result. It's important to note however that only two games remain the group stage and after that the competition gets much more difficult. Having twice as many shots attempted as Tottenham will not matter if they are twice as likely for their shot to be converted into a goal.
I think Barca coach Pep Guardiola needs to get his team focused on finishing prior to the two remaining CL matches. There is no reason for Barca not to score 3-4 goals each on Rubin Kazan and Panathinaikos. If Barca continue to be wasteful in front of goal it will cost them dearly early in the knockout round. Lionel Messi is the best player in the world but he can't do it alone. David Villa needs to take the recent form he has found in La Liga and carry it over to the CL. Villa has been successful in international competitions such as the European Championships and World Cup. He has shown he can score on the big stage internationally, it's time for him to establish himself as an elite player in the Champions League.