When the whistle blew for full-time at the Camp Nou on Saturday night, there seemed to be more a sense of relief than ecstasy on the Barca bench. The scoreline read 3-1 in the last match on Spanish soil this season, with Barca progressing to the quarter-finals on the back of a 4-2 win on aggregate. Meanwhile, in Germany, Bayern Munich, Barca’s quarter-final opponents, thumped a toothless Chelsea 7-1 on aggregate to keep their hopes of a treble alive and sparkling.
For Barca, Clement Lenglet, Nelson Semedo, Frenkie de Jong and the ever-dependable Lionel Messi were all brilliant, while Ivan Rakitic, Luis Suarez and Jordi Alba largely underwhelmed. Quique Setien seemed to have worked out the tactics for the first half almost to perfection, but the second half saw the team take the all-too familiar tentative and conservative approach instead of one that went for the kill. Setien’s unwillingness to make substitutes in the second half was baffling as well as Barca looked to see out the game without expending too much energy and without much possession. With the new rules allowing five substitutes, it was rather shocking that Setien made only two changes, mostly to kill time well into the latter stages.
All this means Barca’s approach to high-voltage fixtures remains under multiple clouds of doubt as they travel to Portugal to face a high-flying Bayern. Here, we crunch some numbers from the two clubs’ seasons so far in the run-in to an exciting Champions League tie.
Comparing Bayern and Barca by their UCL Numbers
- Bayern have won all eight of their Champions League matches this term, scoring 31 goals in the process. Barca, while unbeaten, have won only five of their eight matches, scoring just 13 goals. To put the numbers into context, Bayern’s top-scorer, Robert Lewandowski alone has managed 13 goals in this season’s Champions League.
- Bayern have taken a staggering 184 shots in this Champions League edition, almost double that of Barca’s tally of 97. The Bavarians have also created 18 big chances in comparison to the Catalans’ seven. Barca, however, outnumber Bayern with respect to runs into the final third and runs into key areas, managing 151 and 140 respectively. Bayern have managed only 136 and 112 in those categories.
- Bayern have also been the fitter team, covering 906.7 km in the Champions League this season, an average of 113.3 km per match. Barca, on the other hand, have covered 850 km, a much lower average of 106.3 km per match.
- Defensively, the teams complement each other almost perfectly. Both have conceded six goals each, though Bayern have kept four clean sheets to Barca’s two. The Catalans have made more tackles (33 to Bayern’s 28) and more blocks (32 to Bayern’s 10). However, Bayern have made more recoveries (364 to Barca’s 342).
- Bayern have also accumulated only six yellow cards and zero red cards this season. This is a massive improvement on Barca’s record, with the Catalans collecting a whopping 22 yellow cards and one red card in this season’s Champions League.
- Barca have only committed a marginally larger number of fouls (89 to Bayern’s 81), but have suffered almost 40 fouls more than the German club (102 to Bayern’s 64).
From the stats, it is evident that Barca will be up against the odds when they take on Bayern in Portugal. The Bavarians’ strength stems predominantly from the multi-faceted squad depth they possess. Not only do they have multiple players for each position, they also have players who can play in multiple positions. For instance, the club lost their best centre-back, Niklas Sule early in the season to injury. But they hardly struggled because conventional full-backs David Alaba and Benjamin Pavard filled in admirably.
This is in stark contrast to Barca, who had to rely on the selection of nine B-team players to make up the numbers for the home leg against Napoli. Recurrent injury problems combined with a repeated mismanagement of resources and a lack of urgency in removing underperformers has left the Spanish giants short on quality in key areas and in alarming danger of going trophyless for the first time since the 2007-08 season.
Exploring League Stats
While the Champions League stats of both clubs provide us with one half of the picture, it is also worth exploring some key numbers from the clubs’ league seasons to gain a larger perspective. The averages and percentages largely favour Bayern here primarily due to the Bundesliga season concluding with 34 matches compared to La Liga’s 38 and to a lesser extent, due to the presence of better competition in the Spanish top-flight in comparison to its German counterpart. However, the raw numbers will still provide a reasonable account of both teams’ abilities.
- Bayern managed to score the first goal in 26 of their 34 league matches this term, while Barca could manage the same only 25 times in 38 matches.
- Bayern held a half-time lead in 21 out of their 34 matches, marginally better than Barca’s record of 19 times in 38 matches. Further evidence of Bayern’s ability to hold the lead comes from the fact that they have held a lead for an average of 48.6 minutes per match in the Bundesliga, much higher than Barca’s average of 39.8 minutes.
- Bayern have also been more prompt in their response to going behind. They have conceded the lead to the opponent 11 times in this league season, but have bounced back to equalize seven times, giving them an Equalizing Rate of 64%. On the other hand, Barca have conceded a lead 14 times but have responded only eight times, meaning their equalizing rate is at 57%.
- Across different stages in the Bundesliga season, Bayern have scored a goal to take the lead 34 times and have conceded an equalizer only 8 times. This means the opponents’ equalizing rate when playing against Bayern is a rather low 24%. Barca, meanwhile, have taken the lead 36 times, marginally more than the Bavarians, but have conceded an equalizer 11 times. Their opponents’ equalizing rate in La Liga is higher at 31%.
These numbers once again point towards the uphill task Barca will be facing when it takes on Bayern in the quarter-finals. However, there are a few stats that provide a beacon of hope. Barca have repeatedly displayed their ability to grab a lead. Given that the upcoming clash is a one-legged tie, this will be crucial. However, they have not been able to hold on to it for long enough. An improvement here will give them a substantial chance to cause an upset. If they do concede first, the Catalans are slower to respond than their German opponents. So, it will be vital for Setien to ensure Barca score the first goal. Apart from the statistical advantage it provides, it will also psychologically strengthen the team’s pursuit of a spot in the last four.
It is also worth noting that Bayern’s defensive stats, while admirable, also mean the club allows oppositions to create chances (affirmed by WhoScored.com’s analysis of the club’s strengths and weaknesses). The Bavarians maintain a high defensive line and press high, which means if Barca can break the line with a few incisive passes, they will have the chance to score. The likes of Semedo, de Jong and Messi will once again have key roles to play in creating these chances, while the return of box-to-box midfielder and ex-Bayern player, Arturo Vidal will mean an additional body in defence and an extra presence in the final third.
The current format of the Champions League will benefit both teams due to their failings in recent years in two-legged European ties. One-match knockouts are often decided by the side which can bring about sudden sparks of brilliance and both teams have enough players capable of the same. We are in for an absolute cracker of a contest as we head into the final weeks of an incredibly drawn out season.