Josep Maria Bartomeu and Co aren’t exactly shrewd operators in the transfer market. They often overspend on unnecessary players, and are known to neglect the advanced data infrastructure in place at Barcelona. However, every now and again, they do get it right. The signing of Clément Lenglet is one of those instances.
On the 12th of July 2018, Barça triggered his €35 million release clause, and brought him in to compete with Samuel Umtiti. However, long-term injuries to the former allowed Lenglet to become an integral member of the Barcelona defence, and he hasn’t looked back since. In nearly 77 total 90s played, the Frenchman has established himself as an able deputy to the more adventurous Gerard Piqué. Yet, even within these two seasons, Lenglet has eradicated wasteful tendencies and has honed in on his strengths.
In 2018/19, Lenglet’s distribution was stellar as usual, but he was prone to erratic defending. He would often rush into duels and would immediately disadvantage himself in 1v1’s. This was especially evident in “close encounter” duels, where Lenglet’s knee-jerk reactions would result in swathes of open space behind the defensive line. Moreover, Clément was prone to hoofing the ball in unnecessary situations, thereby forcing turnovers. It was overly instinctual defending, and didn’t fit in with the passive status-quo at Barça.
As a result, Lenglet has had to work on his game considerably. And he has. This season, Lenglet’s game was much improved. His erratic nature was curbed to a large extent, and he moved to a blueprint of more easily repeatable actions. For instance, he took considerably more time before jumping into duels. His 1v1’s, therefore, were far less risky than before. There wasn’t space left behind, and the payoff was higher. Moreover, his passing and distribution has ascended to even higher levels. Statistically, Lenglet is now Barça’s best defender in terms of passing. He averages the highest xGBuildup of all the centre-backs, and leads the backline in terms of progressive passes and passes into the final third.
Lenglet has, in short, allowed the Barcelona board to rest easy. Their frantic search for centre-backs can be postponed, and once again short-term signings can be pursued (wink). On a serious note, however, with Lenglet’s coming of age, Barça have an excellent left centre-back, and one who at 25 is getting better with every passing year. In a season of misfortune, this remains a bright spot for Barcelona, and sadly, for Bartomeu’s clueless regime.