Two products from La Masía that, at such a young age, are the solution to the tactical and intensity problems Barça are facing. For the Catalans to win La Liga, many things are needed, but Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig are one of them.
Barcelona has been filled with problems this season. The accumulation of all of them has led to, in the league, being behind leaders Real Madrid. Nevertheless, with both sides tied in points and with Los Blancos holding the head-to-head advantage, there is still hope for culés. In particular, some hope that is brought by the countless stars in such a gifted squad, but also by the promise of several gems that get fans excited. Among others, it is two La Masía youngsters who could turn the title race upside down during these upcoming weeks.
On the one hand, there is 17-year-old Ansu Fati, operating in the winger role. A position that is currently in decline in Barcelona, with Ousmane Dembélé injured. And, although many can play there, few can interpret the spaces properly and stay in such a wide area other than the sensation Ansu himself.
“Ansu and Riqui are increasing the chances of having more minutes in the future”
On the other hand, Riqui Puig adds verticality and energy to the team from midfield. The one similarity between him and Fati is that both offer something that the club is currently lacking: a spark of imagination, personality and intensity. Ansu Fati already showed it against Leganés, where he scored the opener, and as a substitute against Athletic Club. Puig shone in both games as well, but only coming off the bench. If Barça wants to have a better chance of winning the rest of the clashes, though, both Riqui Puig and Ansu Fati must be essential.
Ansu Fati: the only natural winger available
Winger, a position that seems simple but which requires a lot of tactical work and patience. With Ousmane Dembélé’s injury, Barcelona have been left depleted of options in that zone. Players like Martin Braithwaite, Antoine Griezmann or even Arturo Vidal have been utilised in that area, but for more individual quality that they have, it takes something else to be functional in that position. Maybe Braithwaite is more productive there than his other two teammates, but the one winger that is ideal there has name and surname: Anssumane Fati.
The role of the winger is too important for Quique Setién’s tactics. A creative winger, with vision, good with the ball at his feet, with the ability to read and generate spaces, with energetic movements with and without a ball, measuring distances well, and constantly making runs in behind to destabilise the opposing defence and open up gaps. All this while staying close to the touchline. Ansu Fati is the only player in the squad suitable to acting as a winger, given his characteristics as he is capable of fulfilling all these tasks.
Young but ready | Photo by Aitor Alcalde via Getty Images
Against Leganés, he did not participate much in the build-ups because he was always covered by many defenders. Even so, when he had the ball he participated in a positive way and, when he did not have the ball, he positioned himself very well to provide width and stretch the compact defence of Lega. In a complicated duel and without enjoying many opportunities, Fati had his first chance, in which he made a magnificent control surrounded by several defenders and, in a matter of seconds, found the net to open the scoring.
Against Athletic Club, he was subbed on in the second half and gave life to Barça’s attack, as he almost always does. He had a big opportunity in the final minutes, unfortunately hitting the post.
Riqui Puig, the artist that Barça needs to make poetry on the pitch
The blaugranas have several issues in midfield. Frenkie de Jong is injured, Arthur Melo is out of form and focus with the rumours linking him to Juventus, and Arturo Vidal is not at the level that is expected from him. By contrast, Riqui Puig is ready to shine. Intentional, he is always looking for key passes to his partners. Off the ball, he moves very quickly from one side to the other to offer a passing lane and continue circulating the ball. In defence, he presses with great intensity and intelligence, despite not seeming much physical. And, unlike the other midfielders, Puig offers the verticality that no one else is giving at the moment.
A week ago Riqui Puig played 20 minutes against Leganés and was very involved. In spite of the few minutes he enjoyed, he had two dangerous chances in which he almost scored, as well as generating a couple more for his teammates. Against Sevilla, he played roughly eight minutes and logically had no time to demonstrate anything. However, in the last fixture against Athletic Club, Riqui was handed most of the minutes in the second half, being the player who made a difference during the game.
“Im very happy that I’ve gained the confidence of the coach. It was a match in strange conditions; you could hear the firecrackers…It was a good result and I can’t complain”
after the win against Athletic Club
The meeting with Los Leones separated into two. Before Puig and After Puig. Before Puig, the play was slow and conservative, without creativity or much threat. After Puig, it was the opposite. The Catalan has a privileged mind and physique, having an admirable agility and pressing as if it were the 90th minute of the most important final of any player’s career.
Riqui sent lethal passes to his teammates, solving the problems in attack that the team was having. A 20-year-old changed Barcelona’s game in a side with great names such as Arturo Vidal, Antoine Griezmann, Jordi Alba and Luis Suárez, among others. And, although Puig is not better than most of these individuals, he is the one who impacted the match the most.
What do Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig need from Barça?
Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig already offer many things to Barça. But now, what should the blaugranas offer both La Masía products? Simple: minutes and confidence.
We are all aware of what they are capable of. We meaning fans, teammates, the board, Quique Setién and even the two players themselves. There is no doubt that the air breathed when both are playing is full of purity and life. That said, there is always hesitation when it comes to giving them minutes. Why?
The two prospects are already doing their job, and now it is Barcelona that must do its. The problems are multiple: injuries, poor performances at the centre of the pitch, absence of width, problems to deliver the final ball, lack of imagination and vitality…Numerous troubles for the Catalans, yet the two academy graduates can be the key to unlocking the lock that has the club stuck and is preventing it from moving forward.
Quique Setién has to start both Riqui Puig and Ansu Fati in most of the remaining seven games in La Liga. Or, at least, one of them. Not to necessarily win La Liga, as for that to happen Real Madrid has to drop points. Notwithstanding, Barça will definitely have a better chance of lifting the trophy with both gems on the pitch.
Using Machine Learning to predict Barcelona’s 2021/22 league season
Johan Cruyff famously said, “I’ve never seen a bag of money score a goal.” It is indisputable that money is not the only deciding factor behind a football club’s success. Time and time again, we have seen that football is chaotic and absurd. Anything can happen.
That being said, it is evident that statistically, the clubs with more money are usually the more successful ones. While one cannot predict the unpredictability that is engraved within football, an outcome that is statistically probable can be predicted. This article will explore the relationship between the points a club accumulates in a league season and the total value of the club’s squad. Then, Python will be used to build a linear regression model in order to predict the number of points Barcelona will obtain in the 21/22 season based on the club’s hypothetical squad.
Let us begin with visualizing the relationship between the total league points obtained by a club and the club’s total squad value. Since the amount of money spent on transfers has increased tremendously over the course of the last decade, in this article, only seasons 2014/15 – 2019/20 will be considered. Upon plotting the total points against the total squad value, it is evident that there is a positive correlation between the two. Granted, the correlation is not extremely strong, but it exists nonetheless.
A line of regression has been generated. The line’s gradient is approximately 0.05138986, and its y-intercept is approximately 44.5470726. There is only one dependant variable in question, club value/total value of squad, and so our line of regression can be modelled by the equation:
P = (0.05138986 )V + 44.5470726 where P is the points and V is the total squad value.
club_values = np.array(df['Values']).reshape(89,1) club_points = np.array(df['Point']).reshape(89,1) from sklearn.linear_model import LinearRegression linear_model = LinearRegression() linear_model.fit(club_values,club_points)
In order to predict the points accumulated based on Barcelona’s squad value next season, the squad value won’t directly be inputted into our equation above. The coefficient and the y-intercept have been rounded up after a certain number of decimal places, and so, to preserve the precision of the prediction, Python’s LinearRegression predict method will be utilized.
Now comes another challenging part of coming up with Barcelona’s hypothetical squad next season. Based on reports, it can be assumed that Samuel Umtiti, Miralem Pjanic, Martin Braithwaite and Phillipe Coutinho will be some of the notable players to leave. To compensate for the outgoing players, it can be assumed that Barcelona will sign Eric Garcia, David Alaba, Georginio Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay. Here is a table that contains all the players in Barcelona’s hypothetical 21/22 squad and their corresponding market values:
|PLAYER NAME||MARKET VALUE (MILLION POUNDS)|
|MARC ANDRE TER STEGEN||79.34|
|FRENKIE DE JONG||84.63|
|KONRAD DE LA FUENTE||2.64|
The club’s total value comes up to be £786.60 million. It is important to note that a player’s value is volatile. Transfermarkt updates player values every few months, and so it is extremely probable that this squad’s market value will be drastically different next season.
It is also important to understand that Transfermarkt’s market values are not official and so they are not always an accurate representation of a player’s true market value. Moreover, a player’s value is not always an accurate representation of their quality. Age is a key factor in determining market value, and so while a young player might have a high market value indicating that they are a bright prospect for the future, they might not necessarily be an excellent player at the time when the value is assigned.
Now that all of this has been established, the only thing left is making the prediction.
The machine learning model predicts that Barcelona will obtain 85 points in the 21/22 La Liga season. In the 19/20 season, Real Madrid won the league with 87 points, and in the 18/19 season, Barcelona won the league with 87 points as well. The difference between the points accumulated by the last two winning La Liga squads and the predicted points that Barcelona’s 21/22 squad will obtain is a mere 2 points. This shows that it is possible for Barcelona to win the league next season.
Since the correlation between the two variables, as observed from the data from the last 6 seasons, is not even close to being extremely strong, Barcelona’s 21/22 league points tally may be drastically different from what was predicted by the machine learning model. However, at the end of the day, the model can only work with the data it is exposed to.
Erling Haaland can change the course of Barcelona’s season. It would take forever to make predictions based on Barcelona’s hypothetical squads that include all of the club’s potential transfer targets, however, due to Haaland’s influence, an exception can be made for him. Laporta’s interest in signing Haaland has been widely reported.
However, he will cost a fortune this summer, and with Barcelona’s debt situation, it is unlikely that the Catalan club will pursue him in the upcoming transfer window. That being said like mentioned previously in the article, football is chaotic, and anything can happen.
Assuming that Barcelona does end up signing Haaland in the summer, Antoine Griezmann will most definitely have to leave (due to wages and the money that can be generated from his sale). Haaland’s current value is £99 million, and so Barcelona’s total squad value for next season, after being corrected for Griezmann’s exit and Haaland’s arrival is £831.60 million.
Haaland’s addition can put 21/22 Barcelona on level with the previous two Spanish champions in terms of total points won. The difference in points between a squad containing Haaland and one not containing him is only two. However, an argument about whether signing Haaland is worth it, is not in the scope of this article.
“Transition seasons do not exist at Barcelona.”Joan Laporta | Presidential campaign
A club of Barcelona’s stature will always compete for titles. The machine learning model shows that Barcelona is in contention for the 2021/22 La Liga title. Ronald Koeman has done a splendid job at the Blaugrana club this season, and there is no logical reason for him to not do an even better job next season after getting fresh players in the summer.
While football at its core is unpredictable, statistically, it would not hurt to trust Barcelona to win the 2021/22 La Liga title.