Player Usage Chart
What is a Player Usage Chart? It is a very simple way method of displaying which players, in this case, Barcelona players, played the most minutes in a certain competition. I take the minutes played for each player, add in starts and sub appearances and these three pieces of information allow us to make a bubble chart - Player Usage Chart.
An example of four different teams from Week 26 of the Premier league can be found here.
Which competitions does this chart look at? Only la Liga. The Copa del Rey sees a lot of rotation and the CL is a relatively small sample size.
What can the Player Usage Chart tell us about a team? It naturally shows us which players played the most minutes, it tells us who were the trusted starters (low sub appearances) and which players may have been over used. It also tells us which players may have been under used.
As I have factored in each players position we can see which positions had the most solid core of starters and which positions may need strengthening due to lack of a core starting group.
There are quite a few unique things happening in Barcelona's PUC. If you had clicked the link of example player usage charts you would see they look an awful lot different to Barcelona's.
Barcelona had a really solid core of players and deviated very little from that core regardless of quality of opposition.4 defenders, 4 midfielders, 1 wide player and 1 superhuman playing up front. These ten players all played, or very nearly in Mascherano's case, over 2000 minutes in la Liga.
It is an absolutely brilliant core of players, but questions abound of Barcelona's lack of rotation and the lack of trust placed in the 'fringe' players.
This is a tricky question, but for me Barcelona's PUC looks so different to any other teams chart that I have looked at that I am going to conclude that Barccelona do overwork their core players. La Liga is a good league, it contains may excellent passing sides but there is such a big gap in quality between the big teams and the rest that Barcelona, at times, could have afforded to rest core players against the weaker sides in the division. Rotation on a bigger scale should have taken place in games against weak sides at home and thus allowed the Messi's and Iniesta's and Xavi's to get vital rest time.
This didn't really happen, the core group of players began to break down with injuries and niggles, the players that didn't break down looked dead on their feet in the last 2 months of the season in games against high quality competition (Champions league).
Messi is the biggest example of his body breaking down toward the seasons end. Why does Messi play so much? He is the best player in the world, Barca's attacking scheme, whilst still excellent, is not quite the same without without him and then there is the Pichichi. Messi wants to be the top goalscorer, the more he plays the more likely he is to record ludicrous goal scoring numbers. I strongly believe Messi needs to be rested more in games at home against weaker opposition in order for Messi to be fresh and at full power for the crucial months of April and May when the big Champions League games roll around.
The Fringe Players
Part of the reason for Barcelona's lack of rotation is a relatively small squad. By my count Barcelona have 17 senior outfield players, the rest are youth team players in the process of graduation and adaption. Of those 17 players there exists a core of 10 regularly trusted players. That leaves us with 7 'senior' squad players:
Abidal and Pique were not in that core due to serious illness and injury, respectively.
Song and Adriano are plug-in players who are versatile and can fit into a number of positions on the field.
Sanchez, who suffered a few minor injuries, was a disappointment. Villa is just not the same player after his leg break which was far worse than publicized and then there is Thiago.
Thiago is a player who is ready and able to play a big role as a member of a starting XI, his problem: he cannot get into Barcelona's starting XI due to some of the best players in the world residing in that engine room. Thiago needed to play 60% of Barcelona's league minutes in order not to have a release clause in his contract activated, Thiago got nowhere near to playing 60%.
The question is should Thiago have played more? I believe there was scope for Barcelona to rest Iniesta, and Xavi far more than they actually did. More rotation in the midfield would have kept the senior, and superior, players fresh for the CL and also allowed Thiago to get to 60% minutes.Instead, there was little midfield rotation, Iniesta looked dead on his feet and Thiago will, in all likelihood, leave Barcelona in the summer having fallen about 700 minutes short of his 60% of minutes target.
Time On Pitch Percentage
This table not only highlights just how far off Thiago was his 60%, it also highlights just how heavy some of the workloads were for that Barcelona 'core' of ten players. If a player played over 60% (far right column) that equated to ~67 minutes played in all 38 league fixtures.
Clearly that is far too much for that core of ten when we consider that players do miss the odd game due to injury, they do sit out and rest here and there. Maybe you disagree with me and consider those minutes totals to be acceptable and that is fine, but I still think that Barca, having been so far ahead in the league for so long, should have been smarter in the amount of rotation they employed. Thiago, Song and Villa could all have been used more and this may have had the benefit of keeping players fresher.
What can the Player Usage Chart tell us about next season?
We have touched on where rotation should have taken place, which players played too often or too little. Let's now break it down by position:
There was an ultra core of 3 defenders for Barcelona in 2012/13: Alba, Alves and Pique. Mascherano plugged in where required, but he is not a long term solution and with Puyol in the twilight of his warrior days a long term replacement probably needs to be found. Some more rest for Alves, and thus, more game time for the excellent Montoya would be welcome also.
Solutions A high level center back to pair with Pique
Probably the best midfield I have ever seen. Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets and Fabregas if he plays deeper is an incredible quartet. The problem is the over reliance on an aging Xavi and the the lack of sharpness/injury in Iniesta and Busquets. Barcelona need to rediscover their blitz pressing game and player sharpness will go a long way in aiding that resurgence of the blitz press.
Solutions Rotation. Pray that Thiago can be convinced to stay. If Thiago stays that leads to Song, Thiago and Fabregas being able to fill the positions of Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta against the weaker opposition
It's all about Messi really. he is the best player in the world but even the best need to be razor sharp at the seasons climax. Villa looks likely to leave. Sanchez is in a precarious situation due to the arrival of the 'next one' - Neymar. It will be really interesting to see who loses their place in the first XI to accommodate Neymar, and what tactical setup Barcelona employ to get the best out of both Messi and Neymar. Neymar's signing gives Barcelona long overdue options in the forward department.
Solutions They have already signed a solution. Neymar's signing may well allow Messi to skip the odd game here or there in an attempt to keep him fresh and super human. It's a very exciting combination but the burden on Messi need to be lightened and Neymar may enable this to happen.
Thanks for reading. I write for BitterandBlue.com and live in Barcelona.