Let's rewind about 8 months, back to March 2015 as Barcelona prepared to host Real Madrid in the season's second El Clasico at the Camp Nou. After being humbled on their trip to the Santiago Bernabeu earlier in the year, the pressure was on the Blaugrana to gain revenge for that defeat and despite starting well and looking incisive in the opening stages of the match, Luis Enrique's side soon found themselves under threat.
Cristiano Ronaldo had hit the bar, and subsequently came close again with a header off a fine cross from Dani Carvajal. Were Real Madrid going to be the ones to break the deadlock? Nope, that honour would fall to...Jeremy Mathieu? Luis Suarez won the free kick after a poor challenge from Pepe, and a sumptuous delivery from Lionel Messi (duh) found Mathieu in space for a thumping header to score his first La Liga goal for his new club.
It was a perfect moment for the Frenchman, especially given his struggles after starting at left-back in the match at the Bernabeu, a game which will probably go down as one of his worst in a Blaugrana jersey.
Fast-forward back to the present day, and those two moments epitomise Mathieu's stint with the club; good, and occasionally great at centre-half, while absolutely abysmal on the left-flank. It's a trend that we've all noticed over time, but has anyone ever actually stopped and looked past the initial "sight test" and delved into the numbers behind this? Well, someone has now...
Courtesy of our good friends over at Sportsmatrix, we've crunched the numbers to compare Mathieu and Barcelona's performance with the ex-Valencia star in either defensive role and the results...well, let's just say they prove our hypothesis.
I mean, jeez, where do I start? These numbers don't just speak for themselves, they actually wail in anguish at the mere thought of Mathieu lining up on the left. I expected something bad, but this is just something else altogether. With Mathieu at centre-half, Barcelona are Barcelona. They score a lot of goals, concede far fewer and generally look like a better football team. They retain possession at a higher clip, defensively, they win a higher percentage of their challenges, and get beaten in fewer one-on-ones.
Then Mathieu moves to left-back and our hopes and dreams of winning titles, or even football matches in general, die a slow and painful death.
BARCELONA WITH A NEGATIVE GOAL DIFFERENTIAL???
Each of these statistics paint a depressing picture of just how ruinous Mathieu is at left-back and it only gets worse if stop looking at it from a macro level and instead look at it from the micro level and compare his own personal statistics. The highlights:
- Mathieu gets absolutely tortured in one-on-ones at left-back, losing approximately 1 in 3 vs a more respectable 1 in 6 at centre-half
- He recovers possession far less frequently at left-back
- Generally, he completes a lower percentage of his tackles at left-back
Lucho, if you're reading, please stop playing Mathieu at left-back. Everyone else, I propose we kidnap Jordi Alba and deliver him back to Catalunya so he can't injure himself against Belgium. Who's with me?