As shown in the Bundesliga in recent weeks, the percentage of home wins has decreased primarily as a consequence of the empty stadiums. Will this impact the La Liga race between Barcelona and Real Madrid too?
On Sunday, La Liga released the dates for the opening games of the return of the Spanish competition. The league will restart with the historic Seville derby between Sevilla and Betis, at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán on Thursday 11 June at 22:00 CET. However, while any type of top-flight football is a great consolation, each fan will be eager to watch its respective team back on the field. Culés and madridistas, in particular, will have their sights set on the fierce title race that will expected take place in the remaining (11) games.
While Real Madrid took the top spot of the table with a 2–0 win over Barcelona in the Clásico on March 1, they lost their lead with a subsequent 2–1 loss away against Betis. Currently Barça have a two-point advantage over their historic rivals. Quique Setién was appointed as the Catalans’ coach on 13 January 2020, replacing Ernesto Valverde after a shaky opening months to the campaign. Arriving in midseason, Setién did not have enough time to implement all his concepts, and circumstances are not ideal now either for the players to perform at their full potential. Nevertheless, the Blaugrana will look to get back to their top form as soon as possible as they search for their third consecutive LaLiga title.
Barcelona will have their first post-pandemic clash away at Mallorca, on Saturday 13 June at 22:00 CET. The return to the team’s full capacity is expected to be very progressive and cautious. Still, after three months of inactivity without football, Barça will have to wait only 72 hours to play their second consecutive match. On Tuesday 16 June, also at 22:00 CET, they will host Leganés at the Camp Nou. An empty Camp Nou. Despite the immensity of the stadium, it being empty will be less of a frightening sight for rivals. In fact, the Bundesliga has already been suffering the effects of the so-called Geisterspiele, or ghost games.
It will be complete restart for the 20 La Liga teams | Photo by Imago
In the 36 matches since the return of the Bundesliga, there have only been eight home victories. This means that home teams have only won 22% of duels, which compares to an average of 43% of success on home soil when there were fans in this Bundesliga term. A significant slump that further highlights how supporters always present a massive home advantage, but not so much anymore. Without fans, the motivation and pressure are significantly lower, which results in footballers being more prone to lapses of concentration.
There are many factors that can influence the percentages of home or away triumphs. For instance, the smaller teams seem to be much more hurt by the absence of fans than the giants, like Bayern Munich. With their lower individual quality, roaring crowds often reduce the differences when a small side is hosting a big fish. More time will be needed to really determine whether the ratio of home wins stabilises or not, but this already hints at the impact of no fans in results.
Barça will have one more game on the road than Real Madrid, which in theory should be a disadvantage for the azulgranas. But nothing can be predicted anymore with this new normality. As Lionel Messi expressed, “neither football nor life in general will ever be the same again”. Barcelona’s visits to the Sánchez Pizjuán, or Madrid’s departures to San Mamés or the Nuevo Los Cármenes, may not be as frightening as they would have been with full stands. Furthermore, with this in mind, and to diminish the feeling of emptiness, Real Madrid have decided that they will play their remaining six home clashes at the 6,000-capacity Alfredo di Stefáno stadium, at their training ground.
Only eleven matches are remaining in this La Liga season, but who will benefit the most from this new situation? Per Sports Betting Dime, Barça is a 1.61 favorite to hold off Real Madrid (2.35) at the top of the table when La Liga returns for its final 11 matchdays of the season. While just two points separate them and Barcelona has six away matches to Madrid’s five, the prospect of empty stadiums may erase much home-field advantage. Will the league winner be different from the team that would have been crowned champion if there had never been the coronavirus pandemic? We will never know.
Trincão, Griezmann or Dembélé: Who should start for Barcelona?
From having to field center-mids such as Arturo Vidal on the flanks to now owning the likes of Dembélé, Trincão and Griezmann, it’s probably safe to assume that Barcelona’s wing play finally seems to have adequate profiles, individuals worthy of starting out wide. But, while healthy competition is always welcomed at the club, it’s apparent that Koeman must quickly find his “go-to player” and analyse whom he must bet on to consistently start games. With Barça successfully concluding their pre-season and looking ever so dominant in the opening game of La Liga, let’s take a look at what each player brings to the table.
Currently, it looks as if Antoine Griezmann has been reserved as a starter, which doesn’t come as a surprise given his immense status and the weightage his name carries in the squad list. However, Ronald Koeman’s intricate 4-2-3-1 system hasn’t truly allowed the Frenchman to fully express himself yet. Against Villarreal and even in the matches Antoine previously featured in, Griezmann was deprived of a fixated role and alternating occasionally with Messi as a direct number 9 or as a somewhat number 10 often left the right-hand side vulnerable, where Sergi Roberto would be tasked to produce most of the output upfield. Although Griezmann was seen making some well-timed runs, his link-up play was far from satisfactory, and as Messi would occupy the number 9 role, the former Atletico man would fail to operate effectively behind Leo or out wide.
In Barcelona’s La Liga opener, the left flank ticked every box the club seemed to have left unanswered and neglected last season. Jordi Alba’s runs from deep, Coutinho’s additional support as a mediapunta, and Ansu Fati’s exhilarating flare on the touchline proved too much to handle for Emery’s side since diverging attention from even a single player would lead to the visitors getting battered in the final third. Even so, while the Catalans eliminated their narrow and horizontal football to a somewhat acceptable extent, Ronald has only managed to refurbish one side of the pitch, with Griezmann and Messi’s natural tendency to operate centrally leaving the right flank vacant.
Therefore, to truly make the most of Barça’s offensive yield, it is vital to rely on natural wingers such as Trincão or Dembélé, players that can be considered ruthless on the counter and unforgiving in transitions. Whilst both players may eventually qualify as classic wingers, these two individuals propound different options, proving to be ideal in their respective departments. For example, in contrast to Dembouz, Trincão is likely to excel far more against a team with a low-block, given he is an exceedingly refined dribbler and considerably polished in his movement on/off the ball. Dembélé, on the other hand, could bring maximum results against a team with a higher line or a side that prefers to apply a suffocating press, mainly due to the fact that the winger is a space dominant player, and his unparalleled pace and chaotic style of play tends to add a sense of unpredictability on the flanks. Nonetheless, despite the slight differences in gameplay, they are ideal contenders to start for Barça, and must be prioritized in line-ups.
Spectators saw Lionel Messi function as a pure false 9 in the closing minutes of the game against Elche a few days ago as the Argentine partnered up with the likes of Dembélé and Trincão on each side of the pitch. Although Ansu Fati is probable to own the left flank for the upcoming games, it was refreshing to witness the Blaugranas look so imposing with two explosive wingers by Lionel’s side. As it turns out, Koeman’s experiment worked out even against the Yellow Submarine with him applying the same method in the second half. Barça saw their most promising football after proceedings just as Griezmann came off the bench for Trincão, who went on to form a trio with Lionel and Ousmane. Such flare and aggression was not seen previously considering most of Barça’s harvest came solely from the left-hand side of the field.
At this very moment, Barcelona has ample options to choose from, but for the newly adopted 4-2-3-1 formation to continue working at the highest level, it’s important to make the most of such diverse profiles in the squad. Ronald Koeman still has a backlog of work to do and must completely eliminate Barcelona’s horizontal structure if the club truly intends to compete in Europe. With Ousmane and Fransico looking immensely promising in their recent outings, the Dutch coach should take the bold decision of starting either one of them and pursue enhancing the front four’s capabilities.