Last night’s 2-0 win over Racing Santander was FC Barcelona’s sixth successive victory in all competitions, and after much inconsistency the Blaugrana are finally beginning to find their feet. Of course, by "feet" I mean "best form" since a run of eight consecutive wins that started at the end of November and continued into the New Year. Ah, what great times they were! In fact, I remember how Barcelona were properly in the title race back then. How times have changed for the Catalan club.
Back in those heady days, we expected, scrap that, we demanded wins away from home, whereas last night I was celebrating partly because Barcelona had won and partly because it was an away game that passed without any significant problems. Really, that is a little sad; it’s not as if our club has suffered as severe a downturn in form as say Villarreal, but relatively speaking, this league campaign has been pretty disastrous at times. Losing to Getafe was a particular low point, while being played off the park by Valencia was hardly a highlight either. Point is, Culés as a group needed those lows to really appreciate the highs, and more than that, they/we needed those lows to truly appreciate the normal matches like last night.
Statistically speaking, it was a normal night for the Blaugrana, but the recent lows have altered our perspective just a little so last night’s performance is being viewed as a master-class. Perhaps I missed some vital aspects, or more likely I am too demanding, but the 2-0 win shows me that Barcelona still have vast room for improvement in their game.
The stats indicate that Barcelona were in total control of the match yesterday, and I cannot argue with that. 74% possession is a little above average for the Blaugrana, while 804 passes and 89% pass accuracy seems about average as well. I could go through all the stats in the world, like how Barcelona won six corners and were caught offside twice, and all it would tell me is that last night’s game was just an average match by Barcelona’s high standards, when in my opinion; the match was typified by excellent defensive work, superb chance creation and sub-par finishing.
For those of you unfamiliar with the simply astounding WhoScored.com, they analyze each La Liga match in detail before compiling a number of strengths and weaknesses for each team in that given match. I didn’t plan on copy and pasting them into my analysis, but these really caught my eye. Here are Barcelona’s strengths from the match, according to the guys at WhoScored.com:
· Created a high number of chances relative to their possession
· Stole the ball often from the opposition
· Were effective at creating goalscoring opportunities from through balls
· Were effective at creating goalscoring opportunities from long shot situations
· Were effective at creating goalscoring opportunities from counter attacks
· Were effective at creating goalscoring opportunities from set-pieces
In essence, they came to the conclusion that Barcelona were exceptionally dangerous from pretty much any given situation. Who cares whether it was a corner kick, through ball or counter attack, apparently Barcelona looked likely to score at any given moment. The stats agree with that conclusion, Barcelona created 23 shots during the course of the game, which brings me to my next point, or rather WhoScored.com’s next point: the Barca weaknesses. Be warned, it is pretty brief.
(Team showed no significant weaknesses)
Hang on, are they really being serious? The team showed no significant weaknesses in the 5-0 humiliation of Real Madrid. The team showed no significant weaknesses when they destroyed Santos 4-0 or when they out-classed Manchester United in two separate UEFA Champions League finals. Last night was excellent, but there are plenty of weaknesses.
For example, Barcelona created 23 shots but only scored twice. One of those was a penalty. That’s hardly clinical finishing is it? Could that be a weakness? Over-elaboration and lackadaisical finishing? In fact, why can’t Barcelona’s weakness be that they motivated Mario to play at a level he has never before reached in his career? If Barcelona want to win the Champions League this year, then they will need to be at their clinical best, but fortunately, we know from that 7-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen (who lost again at the weekend for those interested) that they tend to raise their game when that anthem sounds.
There were a lot of positives from the match as well, including the first clean sheet in eight matches for Victor Valdes and his defense. Of that three man backline, there was particular pressure on Dani Alves to deliver, and the Brazilian responded by recovering the ball 16 times, a game high. Dani made eight successful tackles on the right-hand side – also a game high – and was second only to Carles Puyol in interceptions with eight. Curiously, the three-man backline made 25 interceptions, while Racing only managed 33 between them, even though Barcelona attempted over two and a half times more passes.
This is no doubt down to the superior tactical knowledge of the Barcelona defense, although equal credit must go to Pep Guardiola who no doubt trawled through hours of footage to ensure that his defense would know exactly how Racing like to operate. Oh, and for all those criticising Valdes for his concentration or lack thereof, it must be hard to stay focused when you touch the ball a total of 13 times in 90 minutes!
Stat Quiz: Victor Valdes is on course for his fourth consecutive Zamora trophy, and his fifth overall. Question is: which other Barcelona keeper has lifted the prestigious award on five occasions?
The answer to last matches question wasn’t guessed correctly, although Luis Rodrigo M was pretty close with 13. Ronaldo actually needed 14 shots (and an error from Gomes) to score against Tottenham last year. Leave your answers to this week’s question in the comments below!