Where are the goals generated? Where do their sequences start? Who starts and finalises them? In this article, a deep analysis will be provided on the goals from Barcelona in the present campaign.
In the modern era of football, there are an abundance of stats used by managers, scouts and even supporters to evaluate certain players and teams. From the simplicity of goals scored, to chances created or top sprint speed, statistics now shape the way many footballers are perceived. Of course, for footballers and teams to be great, especially at Barcelona, qualities are needed that can’t be quantified or expressed through numbers. However, this does not mean that certain trends, strengths and weaknesses can’t be found by analysing the club’s play. In this article we attempt to find some of them.
The stats chosen to focus on all revolve around goals. This is so not just because goals win matches and can be the most exciting part of the game, but also due to the fact that creating goals is an essential part of the FC Barcelona culture. Whether it was Johan Cruyff or Pep Guardiola, the Barça style that has attracted so many involves finding the spaces, the gaps and the imbalances in the game to create chances to score as well as to entertain.
Clearly, there have been some issues with the club’s play in recent years, so in an attempt to find out why, let’s take a look back and analyse all of Barcelona’s La Liga goals from this 2019/20 season. This is what the data shows.
As mentioned earlier, the build-up has long been an essential part of Barcelona’s game. To analyse this aspect of the goals, we looked at the sequences leading up to them. A sequence is an uninterrupted period of possession that, in this case, ends with a goal being scored. This means that every time the ball goes out of play or a free-kick is awarded, a new sequence begins. Note: penalties were decided to not end a sequence as that would discount the play that got the ball into the box and the skill required to win a penalty.
It was found that in the sequences leading up to Barça’s open play goals, there was an average of just over six completed passes, and just over five players involved. While this may seem low, it is unrealistic and disadvantageous to think that every goal must be created by a long tiki-taka move in which everyone is involved. In reality, having half of the outfield players on the pitch touch the ball in the build-up to each goal is a solid ratio, and shows that Barcelona still at least attempts to play a short-passing, combination style.
When looking at the players who started – or had the ball at the beginning of – the most sequences, the Barcelona style of playing out from the back is apparent. Gerard Piqué leads the way with nine sequences started, while Jordi Alba, Marc-André ter Stegen and Sergio Busquets are joint-second with six each. With the top four being made up of a centre-back, a goalkeeper, a full-back and a defensive midfielder, a commitment to playing out of defence is highlighted, but also a lack of intense pressing higher up the pitch that would allow advanced players to win the ball in dangerous positions.
As expected, a big portion of Barcelona’s goals come through the boots of Lionel Messi | Photo by Imago
It should be no surprise to hear that Lionel Messi is the blaugrana player who was involved in the highest number of goal sequences, 26 to be exact, but it is still impressive nonetheless. With Messi missing much of the preseason preparation and early matches, as well as struggling with some fitness issues during the campaign, it is a further testament to his brilliance and importance that he ended up being the player most involved in the build-up to goals.
The next most involved player is far more surprising, as Antoine Griezmann was involved in 25 goal sequences, just one less than Messi. Despite this number saying that the Frenchman was more involved than many fans think, it is aided by the fact that he always plays in the front line and that he has played in 26 out of 27 La Liga matches, several more than Leo Messi and Luis Suárez. Griezmann at least gets on the ball constantly, but far too often he is not the one who provides the spark that actually creates a goal.
Just behind Messi and Griezmann is Sergio Busquets, who was involved in 24 goal sequences. In spite of acting as the pivot in midfield and usually one of the deepest players when Barça have possession, this tally for Busquets is only surpassed by forwards. This is just further confirmation, for those who need it, of how crucial Busquets is to the team as a source of line-breaking, defence-splitting passes that eventually lead to chances.
Assists and secondary assists
When examining the assists of Barcelona, a lot can be said about the creativity of Messi or Suárez, but that has been covered so much before. Instead, the goal was to find what the assists can say about the team. And in Barça’s case, they say a lot. Out of Barcelona’s 55 La Liga goals that were assisted, an astonishing 39, or about 70.9% of the assists were played from the centre third of the pitch. This leaves under 30% of the assists from the right and left thirds combined. It is true that it has never been the Barça style to play a multitude of crosses into the box, instead opting for through balls or quick central combinations, but this number does seem to reflect a lack of dynamic wide play in the squad.
Each member of the main front three this season, in Messi, Suárez and Griezmann, is either accustomed to a central role or tends to drift towards the centre. With Ousmane Dembélé injured, La Masía youngster Carles Pérez sold, and 17-year-old Ansu Fati playing well but not ready for consistent starts, Barcelona have been operating without a single true winger on the pitch very often this campaign. Even full-backs Jordi Alba and Nélson Semedo, who one might think could take up the wide areas, have combined for a lacklustre three assists in the league this term.
Sergio Busquets gets the team ticking | Photo by Imago
The issue of width is present again when looking at Barcelona’s secondary assist numbers. A secondary assist being a pass that was made to the player who then assisted a goal. Out of the squad’s 46 total secondary assists, 24 of them were played from the centre third, a rate of 52%. While this is lower than the rate of assists played from the centre, it shows that most often, the ball was not even played or carried down the wide areas before a goal.
Maybe the one positive that can be taken from the secondary assist numbers is, again, the quality of Busquets. From the pivot role, Sergio racked up a team-leading nine secondary assists, almost double the next best tally of five. This is a truly remarkable number for a player whose quality is almost always unrepresented in stats. Busquets is not the guy who usually makes the final pass, but he is always involved, and his quality on the ball opens the game up for the likes of Messi to go create chances.
The final piece of the puzzle, the goal itself, can’t be analysed as deeply as it mainly depends on the events leading up to it. Although some more basic conclusions can be drawn, including the fact that Barcelona’s scoring is very evenly distributed throughout the match. The Catalans scored 32 of their La Liga goals in the first half of matches, and 31 in the second half, almost a perfect split. Additionally, Barça scored 10 early goals – first 15 minutes – and 14 late goals – last 15 minutes –, so a difference of just a few goals there.
In terms of the type of goal, Barcelona scored 49 from open play, which makes up just under 78% of the total 63. A high rate, yes, but it would be expected for any big club to not rely on set pieces for their chances. While set-piece goals can be a great asset, it has never been the Barcelona way to even have a particularly tall team, nonetheless play for set pieces so balls can be lumped into the box for headers.
Unfortunately, it must also be noted that Barcelona’s four top goalscorers in the league, Messi, Suárez, Griezmann and Arturo Vidal, are each 29 years old or older. Furthermore, Griezmann is the only one under 32. Being older should not prevent anyone from playing – nobody is saying bench or sell Messi. But the fact that almost 70% of Barça’s league goals were scored by this ageing foursome is a clear testament to how poorly this club has been run in recent years.
How Barcelona can ease its financial situation through different revenue streams
It is no secret that at the moment, FC Barcelona is under monumental debt. The fans are aware of it, the presidential candidates are basing their campaigns around it, and every club in Europe is attentive to it. When the king is bleeding, – everyone is awake.
According to reports, the total debt is a staggering €1.2 billion, with €730 million being due short term, while €266 million has to be paid by June 30. Additionally, the club has spent a bizarre €1 billion in the last five seasons.
Most major clubs that are not backed by owners are under debt, however, a debt as monumental as this is neither normal nor sustainable. The reasons behind this huge void are numerous – a colossal wage bill, loans taken to facilitate transfers, the Espai Barça project, and of course, the pandemic.
This article will discuss different methods that can help Barcelona pay off the debt and progressively work towards becoming financially healthy.
Player sales and altered contracts
Transfers have always been a big part of football. Not just because of the shuffling of top players, but because of the money involved. Transferring players out of the club can help generate revenue from both the transfer fee received from the purchasing club and the elimination of the salary that needs to be paid to the exiting player.
Barcelona has the biggest wage bill for any sports team globally – a staggering €270 million are paid every year to the first team members. There is no doubt that while some players are deserving of the wage they receive, like Lionel Messi, who not only elevates Barcelona on a sporting level but also has generated nearly €600 million in revenue during the last years, There are other players who are extremely overpaid.
It is in the best interest of the club to transfer out Samuel Umtiti, Philippe Coutinho, and Miralem Pjanic while renegotiating the contracts of Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, Sergi Roberto, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, and Antoine Griezmann.
Umtiti and Coutinho are both shadows of their former selves, and continuing to place faith in them would be very counterproductive. Both of them are ageing, and with every passing month, their market value is decreasing.
While Pjanic was only brought in this summer, he is also not as excellent as he used to be, and with a squad filled with talented, young midfielders, it would seem imprudent to keep the Bosnian in the squad. The three of them could be sold for a total of just under €100 million and would free approximately €30 million in wages per year.
Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique are club legends, however, it is no secret that they are both on the decline. While they are still quality players and can offer quite a lot to the club, giving them €15 million per year and €13 million per year in wages respectively, is unsustainable.
Similarly, while Sergi Roberto is a versatile player who offers quite a lot to the team in terms of utility, a salary of €10 million per year is a prime example of overpayment. Marc-Andre ter Stegen is set to become the highest-paid goalkeeper in the world, earning €18 million per year. While ter Stegen is an excellent goalkeeper, he does not deserve being the highest-paid goalkeeper in the world. Barcelona’s management should push for a 30% wage cut from these players.
This is a straightforward method to generate money in order to tackle the club’s debt.
In June 2020, Barcelona launched its premium streaming service called Barca TV+. The service gave paying members access to exclusive content in the form of videos. There are different programs such as Discover Barcelona and What’s Next?, that are available to members to view. An OTT platform such as this is an excellent way of generating revenue.
Barcelona has the biggest digital following for a sports team, with 350 million followers across different digital platforms. At the moment, Barca TV+ costs €2.50 per month. If even half of Barcelona’s followers were to subscribe, that’s around €430 million in revenue.
Of course, it is easier said than done, but with the right amount of effort, and enough time, it is possible. The club needs to work towards creating more content, and better market the service. The exposure it has received so far has been excellent, but there is more room to grow. A series similar to Amazon’s All or Nothing, would do wonders for attracting more customers.
Barcelona members, also known as socis are people who own the club. Currently, there are about 144,000 socis. These members have an influence on the functioning of the club and are able to vote on different matters such as elections, votes of no confidence and other referendums.
Becoming a Barcelona member is no easy task, though. While it does cost money, the major issue is that you have to be present in Barcelona to be a member. You do not have to be a Spanish citizen, but you do have to regularly visit Barcelona in order to preserve your membership status. These restrictions limit the soci candidates.
As a result, Barcelona should work on uplifting the proximity constraint and should allow fans worldwide to become members. Doing this will not only generate more revenue for the club but will also allow more fans to have an influence on the functioning of the club. Barcelona has a digital following of 350 million, even if 10% of the 350 million – 35 million, become socis, that is €6 billion in revenue per year.
Of course, this system will be hard to implement and comes with a few issues. Becoming a soci becomes accessible to rival fans, who can make decisions that hurt the club. Regardless, with more thought behind it, this is a stream that can help Barcelona generate a lot of revenue.
Camp Nou naming rights
Camp Nou is the biggest football stadium in Europe, and also arguably the most famous one. Naming stadiums after sponsors has become a widely used source of revenue in the footballing world today. By licensing the naming rights of Camp Nou, Barcelona can open up a stable stream of revenue. While it is unideal, since the Camp Nou name carries a lot of history, prevention of the liquidation of the club takes precedence.
According to ESPN, the price for the naming rights for a 20-year-period is €300 million. While this sum will not be paid upfront, it is still a continuous stream of revenue that can help the Catalan club tackle the debt issues.
In April 2014, 72% of the socis approved of the Espai Barça project with a budget of €700 million. The original plan consisted of remodelling the Camp Nou, constructing the Palau Blaugrana for 10,000 spectators, and making the Barça Campus. The project was supposed to be completed in 2021, and the objective was to gain an increment of €55 million per year from the project. The project has not been completed, and the budget has soared to a reported €900 million. However, it is also estimated that the increment in annual revenue will be a gigantic €150 million.
While Espai Barca is an ambitious project that will make Barcelona’s facilities the best in the world, it is not sustainable to continue working on it with the debt looming over the club. A lot more loans will have to be taken, adding to the debt, and a lot of the club’s financial resources will have to be directed towards this project instead of paying the debt. Therefore, one way to tackle the debt situation is not to increase it and to use all available resources towards fulfilling it.
The situation is dire. While the pandemic was heavily responsible for the reduction of income (no fans being present in the stadiums), the debt menacing over Barcelona serves as a wake-up call for not irrationally borrowing and spending money. When Barcelona sold Neymar for €200 million in 2017, it seemed like the club’s financial future was secured, however, that money was spent on all the wrong players, and even more, money was borrowed, in order to compensate for the lacklustre signings made from the original €200 million.
Barcelona still is one of, if not the biggest, club in the world. It has valuable assets such as properties, facilities and players – which, if managed correctly, can help the club navigate past this situation. Doing so will be the main objective of the board that is elected in March. While this debt could not have come at a worse time, with a massive squad overhaul pending, this situation should teach the future management to be responsible with spending money.