On the back of yet another dismal performance against Levante, the Barcelona backline looks to be a shambles. In 11 La Liga matches, the defence has conceded a whopping 14 goals, putting them level with bottom half sides such as Celta Vigo and Alaves.
Yet again, this defeat came at a time when center-back Samuel Umtiti was unavailable through injury. Umtiti was an absolute rock for Barca in his first two seasons with the club but has struggled with injury since. Is peak Umtiti a necessary success factor for Barca’s backline, or do their defensive woes go beyond the absence of one player?
To answer this question, let’s analyze Umtiti’s performances in each of his seasons at Barca since signing for the club in July 2016.
Umtiti’s first season for the club was an eventful one, as the new signing from Lyon featured in 25 of the Blaugranes’ La Liga matches. Throughout these games, Barca kept 10 clean sheets with Umtiti on the field compared to just three in 13 without him. This means that while the team kept clean sheets in 40% of games with Umtiti, that rate dropped to around 23% without him.
In terms of goals conceded, Barca conceded 21 with Umtiti in the side, a rate of 0.84 per game. Yet when they had to make do without the Frenchman that rate increased to 1.23 goals per game.
The 2017/18 season saw the French defender make yet another 25 appearances in La Liga. This time, Umtiti improved on his already impressive defensive record by keeping 12 clean sheets, or to put it another way Barca did not concede in 48% of his appearances. Interestingly, Barca (statistically) did better without Umtiti, keeping seven clean sheets in 13 matches.
Yet the statistics also show how Barca conceded fewer goals per game when Umtiti was in the team. The Catalan giants let in 17 goals (a rate of 0.68 goals per game) when the Frenchman played and 12 in 13 (a significantly higher rate of 0.92 per game) without him.
While the statistics are useful they don’t show everything. Umtiti formed a superb partnership with Gerard Pique and was arguably the best defender in La Liga at his peak. Barca knew that too and handed him a new five-year deal in June 2018 with a buyout clause set at €500 million. A clear hands-off warning from the Catalans if ever there was one.
Fast forward to last season, and this is when Umtiti’s injury struggles came into play. A long-term knee injury saw the French center-back restricted to just 14 appearances in La Liga and one Champions League outing. This tumultuous phase of his career saw Umtiti manage just five clean sheets in 14 La Liga outings. Yet Barcelona statistically coped well without Umtiti, 12 clean sheets in 24 games results in a proportion of 50% of their games ending in clean sheets.
The arrival of Clement Lenglet from Sevilla also had an impact. The Frenchman capitalised on Umtiti’s injury problems and cemented his place in the first team alongside Pique. He also took his team-mate’s spot in the national team.
Reflecting on what has happened so far in the current season, Barca have clearly struggled in defense. To concede 14 goals in 11 games results in a rate of 1.27 goals conceded a game which is completely unacceptable for a club of Barca’s stature. The club have only kept two La Liga clean sheets this season, and it would have been less if not for the heroics of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Umtiti’s sole appearance of the season came in Barcelona’s 3-0 win over Eibar when Lenglet was suspended. It was a promising performance too from Umtiti after so long out but then injury struck again and he hasn’t been seen since after injuring a knee in training.
Marca have noted how Umtiti has now featured in just 56 of the 190 matches Barca have played since his arrival.
Since Umtiti’s arrival at the Camp Nou, the Blaugranes have typically fared better with him on the field, and the statistics prove it. Yet his injury problems are a real concern, and there is no guarantee Barca will be able to get Umtiti back to his best on a consistent basis.
While it is clear that Umtiti is a huge asset to the Blaugranes’ defense, the arrival of Lenglet and the team’s defensive showings last season proved that they have the potential to impress at the back but need to improve consistency. The club have a big decision to make over Umtiti going forward, and it may be that they turn their attentions to defenders come the next transfer window.