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Clean Sheet Sweep: Barcelona’s High-Flying Defence

The case for the defence

FC Barcelona v Olympique Lyonnais - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images

Despite Barcelona’s dominance of La Liga this season, one concern has been the sense of vulnerability at the back. It was poor defending that lead to disappointing results such as the 2-1 loss to Leganes, in which the victors scored two goals within the space of a minute and only managed 22% possession. Soon after, Barca endured yet another humiliating defeat at the hands of Real Betis, this time conceding a massive four goals at home and missing out on the win despite racking up more opportunities on goal.

While further defeats have not arrived, this suspect defensive form has been seen again in frustrating draws against the likes of Girona, as well as home and away draws against Athletic Bilbao and Valencia.

Real Betis Balompie v FC Barcelona - La Liga Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

However, as the season has progressed the Blaugranes defence has seemed to completely revamp their playing style and appear to be fresher, stronger and more alert on the pitch.

After what seemed like an eternity, the Catalonian giants have finally rediscovered their ability to keep clean sheets and have done so impressively, earning themselves six clean sheets in the last seven matches in all competitions. To add to this impressive feat, a number of these clean sheets came against top-tier opposition such as Atletico Madrid and Manchester United, the latter of whom they secured clean sheets against in both legs of the Champions League clash.

FC Barcelona v Club Atletico de Madrid - La Liga Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Looking at the performances of each individual in the Barca defence, it’s not hard to see why they make such a solid unit. Marc-Andre ter Stegen has been a superb number one choice between the posts, keeping every one of Barca’s aforementioned clean sheets, and conceding just under a goal per game on average. Furthermore, he has kept a very respectable 16 clean sheets in his 35 La Liga matches this season.

Gerard Pique has yet again proven why he is world-class act and has shown no signs of slowing down in his centre-back role. Like Ter Stegen, each one of Barca’s La Liga clean sheets came about with him on the field, and his brawny performances against Manchester United and Atletico Madrid truly showcased his aggressive man-marking, swift clearances and remarkable heading ability, which lead to him netting four league goals this season.

Deportivo Alaves v FC Barcelona - La Liga Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

At left-back, Jordi Alba undoubtedly remains Barca’s first choice and arguably the best in his position in Europe. His speed down the flank is unwavering, he continues to drill his crosses into the box with deadly precision and consequently has one of the leading assists records in La Liga with 10, which includes an assist in Barca’s recent 2-0 victory over Atletico as well as an assist against Real Madrid earlier in the season. Even more impressively, he has made four assists and scored once in just nine Champions League matches, including an unbelievable three assists away at Tottenham Hotspur in the group stage and a recent assist against Manchester United at the Camp Nou.

Manchester United v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final: First Leg Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

The right flank also remains well protected, with both Sergi Roberto and Nelson Semedo up for the challenge. Semedo has proven to be a tough tackler and physically imposing defender, particularly when it comes to jockeying for possession. With the Portuguese youngster on the field, Barca have only conceded 14 goals in 24 matches and and kept an impressive 12 clean sheets.

Sergi Roberto, on the other hand, has proven incredibly useful in a supporting role for the Barca attack, and has a knack for mobilising an effective Barcelona counterrevolution attack. He has appeared in 27 La Liga matches, but has provided a very respectable seven assists from the right side of defence.

Also noteworthy to mention is Clement Lenglet’s record at centre-back, particularly his 11 clean sheets in only 22 La Liga games, as well as Samuel Umtiti’s return to action from long-term injury, in which he has already maintained clean sheets against Alaves and Huesca.

Barca are spoiled for choice with an array of reliable defensive options as of late, each of whom have proven their worth in recent results. With loose ends as the back finally being tied up and an ever-formidable Barca offence, the Blaugranes look in good shape ahead of what should be a stiff test against Liverpool in the Champions League next.

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