It wasn’t easy, and the performance left much to be desired, but Barcelona were able to get back to winning ways against Athletic Club with a goal from Iván Rakitić. A crucial match-winner that will now be analysed.
The pressure was truly on Barcelona to get all three points against Athletic Club on Tuesday, and they just barely delivered. After being held scoreless for the first time since the restart against Sevilla, this time the blaugranas were able to break the deadlock through Iván Rakitić. While it was far from a brilliant goal, and far from a brilliant performance, looking deeper into this important score can reveal some positives.
Barcelona 1–0 Athletic Club
For the first sixty or so minutes of the match, Barcelona failed time and time again to unlock the Athletic defence. For much of this period, the Catalans lacked the creativity and ability to penetrate in order to create chances. However, after substitute Riqui Puig had some time to settle into the match, Barça’s play improved. In fact, it was a brilliant piece of skill by Puig that started the attack leading up to the goal.
After receiving the ball from Clément Lenglet, Riqui took a few touches while scanning the field. Then, instead of playing a simple back pass, the La Masía graduate played a superb line-breaking ball to Arturo Vidal. The pass directly split four Athletic Club defenders and found the Chilean perfectly in a pocket of space. It was a stroke of genius from Puig to start the attack, and it was very reminiscent of the way Sergio Busquets often opens up his body one way to disguise a pass in another direction.
Unfortunately, what followed this pass wasn’t a silky smooth passage of combination play leading to a goal. Instead, multiple Barcelona passes and shots were blocked by the visiting defence, but they could not get the ball all the way clear. Eventually, the ball found its way to Lionel Messi on the right side of the box. The Argentine cut inside past two defenders before a third arrived and, once again, blocked his shot. This set the ball bouncing just outside of the box.
Quick to react, Iván Rakitić stepped up and surged forward to win the loose ball. The Croatian has faced some criticism for looking lethargic and off the pace in recent years, but that was definitely not the case here. Rakitić was able to beat the much younger Oihan Sancet – 20 years old – to gain possession.
After arriving to the ball, Rakitić used one touch to tap it ahead to Messi. La Pulga let the ball roll across his body, seemingly setting himself up for a signature curled shot on his left foot. By doing so, Messi attracted the attention of the whole Athletic defence, as he often seems to do.
Clearly, there was a massive area of open space which Rakitić knew he could exploit. With all eyes on Leo, the Croatian smartly continued his run into this area. Then, instead of striking the ball towards goal with his left foot, Messi quickly cut it back to the right of him. Timing his run well, Rakitić arrived to the short ball that the Argentine had played. With a left-footed first touch, Iván set himself up and remained composed before firing his shot across the goal and into the back of the net.
With the goal coming after a blocked Lionel Messi shot, there were only two connected passes between two players – Messi and Rakitić – leading up to it. It was far from a long sequence of one-twos and combinations to break the opposition down. As a result, it represents Barcelona’s overall performance pretty well: flawed and not the most entertaining, but with just enough quality to get the job done. Iván Rakitić can be especially proud of this goal, as he was the one who won the ball to start the sequence, played the secondary assist, and provided the finish.
The initial pass by Riqui Puig that started this attack has to make Barça fans optimistic. The creativity, bravery, and technique required to make that ball are the mark of a truly special player. The team’s performance clearly improved after Puig’s introduction, and it is no surprise that he provided the spark for the only goal. He is certainly looking worthy of more minutes.
In addition to the young and vibrant Riqui, the more experienced Iván Rakitić once again performed well. Undoubtedly, he has been one of Barça’s most improved players since the return of La Liga, and his confidence should continue to grow with this match-winner.
In the end, Barcelona gained a crucial three points. The performance still has to improve, but there were some more positives. After failing to make the right adjustments against Sevilla, Quique Setién seemed to bring on the right players with Riqui Puig, Iván Rakitić and Ansu Fati making a difference. Looking ahead, more changes will have to be made to fix the issues in Barcelona’s attack. Because with difficult games coming, there may be a need for more goals.
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.