La Liga: Real Mallorca 0-2 FC Barcelona: Statistical Analysis

MALLORCA, SPAIN - MARCH 24: Alexis Sanchez of FC Barcelona (L) duels for the ball with Ivan Ramis of RCD Mallorca during the La Liga match between RCD Mallorca and FC Barcelona at Iberostar Stadium on March 24, 2012 in Mallorca, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Last night’s match win over Mallorca may have temporarily moved Barcelona to within three points of top spot, but Real Madrid’s 5-1 win immediately after restored that gap to six points. The Blaugrana were far from their best, but isn’t that a positive? Usually the side plays poorly away from home, leading to a couple of dropped points here and there, but in the last three away matches, Barcelona have triumphed 2-0 each time, never really performing at their best in any of the three. However, those three wins are far preferable to three 2-2 draws are they not? Like it or not, Barcelona are building momentum.

Notably, the away matches have been troublesome for Barcelona because the squad as a whole have settled for second best. Instead of keeping possession with a view to creating the best chance possible, over half of Barcelona’s shots away from home have been outside the box. Now, on a positive note, 59% of Barcelona’s shots last night came from inside the area. Quite obviously, shots from inside the area are more likely to result in a goal than long-range efforts, so this is great.

However, it does depend on why those shots are inside the box, is it through hard-work and smart play, or is it as a result of over-elaboration? Well, there was a couple of times when Barca over-elaborated (we’re looking at you Martin Montoya!), but ultimately, I think that isn’t an issue, as the over-elaboration was not in search of the "perfect goal" nor was it through cockiness, instead Montoya’s attempted passes when through on goal could be attributed to a lack of confidence. If you were a youth player alongside guys like Messi, wouldn’t you consider handing off the ball when faced with the responsibility of scoring? Montoya’s decision-making will get better with time, but it is testament to his ability that he was even in these situations.

On another positive note, the Barcelona defense did its job well. The 3-4-3 does leave gaps for the opposition to exploit, and on this occasion, it also served as an unwelcome distraction for Mallorca. Those familiar with the Art of War will know that one of Sun Tzu’s teachings is to "appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak". Seems that this applies not only to battle, but also on the football field, and Pep has been reading up on this subject.

Operating with three central defenders makes you vulnerable to attacks down the wing, and this makes the opposition attack down the flanks. Yesterday, a staggering 80% of Mallorca’s attacks were down either flank. However, in spite of this, Barcelona allowed just two shots on goal. It appears to me at least that the three man defense is supposed to be vulnerable to attacks down each line, when in actuality, this is easier to defend. Merely head the ball clear when the cross comes in, and get on with the match. This is further supported by the fact that Barcelona have been suspect when defending to attacks direct at the goal. Think of Ronaldo’s goal in the Copa del Rey, straight at goal through the heart of the defense. By playing with three at the back, Pep goaded Mallorca, and they fell straight into his trap. Kudos to Guardiola, and the defense for executing his plan perfectly.

Now the stats do show a couple of negatives to arise from the match last night, so let’s get to the elephant in the room: Andres Iniesta. Iniesta looked lost on the pitch without his midfield partner Xavi, and lost possession of the ball a game-high eight times. Then we have the media reaction...Was he trying to do too much? Was he merely messing up the few things he did do? Was he isolated in the middle of the field, did he lose his concentration? Has he caught Pique’s poor form? Was Pique in anyway contagious? Many questions can be asked, but few answers can and will be found. Just chalk it up to a bad day at the office, and let’s move on. Iniesta is a consistent fellow, and if anything, this match goes to show the high standards he has set. Look at how crazy some people have gone after an average 90 minutes. If that’s the case, just think of how well he must play normally for this to be an issue.

The only other issue in my eyes was Lionel Messi’s lack of accuracy in front of goal, but like Iniesta, that is only because of the high standards he has set himself. La Pulga had nine shots, and only registered two on target, and was lucky to get a goal credited to his name. Against Leverkusen, Messi scored five goals off seven overall shots. Should we be concerned? Is his majestic goal-scoring run coming to an end? Doubtful in my eyes, but it wouldn’t hurt Messi to be a little more clinical on Wednesday.

Key Stats:

Real Mallorca

Barcelona

Possession

37%

63%

Total Shots

10

18

Shots on Target

2

6

Pass Accuracy

73%

85%

Fouls

17

6

Offsides

5

4

Yellow Cards

2

1

Red Cards

0

1

Stat Quiz: Last season’s Pichichi was awarded to Cristiano Ronaldo, and there was controversy surrounding one of the goals being attributed to him by Marca. In lieu of Messi’s questionable goal yesterday, against which team did Ronaldo score "his" goal that deflected in off of Pepe? The answer to last week’s question was 2001, when Malaga drew 1-1 courtesy of a late goal from Fernando Sanz.

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