A second straight 2–2 draw for Barça, and another two points dropped. The goals against Atlético de Madrid once again involved controversy, poor defending, and heartbreak for Barcelona, which will now be discussed in greater detail.
From a neutral perspective, the clash between Barcelona and Atlético de Madrid was a wild and entertaining match packed with goals between two of La Liga’s biggest sides. Both teams started well, and it looked set to be a fight until the end, as most games between both are.
What followed was a lot of luck going both ways, very questionable refereeing, and some individual brilliance. In the end, though, neither side could overcome the other, and it was more disappointment for the culés. More defensive breakdowns leading to goals conceded, and even the goals scored were far from brilliant.
Barcelona 1–0 Atlético de Madrid
The opening goal of the match, and the one that started the trend of bizarre scoring, came for Barça off of a corner. This corner was won after a Lionel Messi free-kick was blocked out of bounds by Atlético striker Diego Costa. The attempt was from the right side of the pitch, just outside the box, at a very tight angle, and Costa had it covered. However, the experienced forward would not be able to handle what was coming next.
From the right corner flag, Messi whipped in a ball to the near post, seemingly aimed at Sergio Busquets. It was a very dangerous delivery, but Busquets could not jump up to meet the ball and head it in.
Instead, with Atleti midfielder Thomas Partey providing quite an obstruction, the ball traveled over Busquets. Standing right behind Busi and Partey was Diego Costa. But unlike Messi’s free-kick, the former Chelsea star could not clear this one.
Instead, Costa completely misjudged the flight of the ball. Perhaps he was anticipating a deflection or his view was obstructed, but either way he completely fluffed his lines. The number nineteen tried to head the ball when it was actually travelling, down just through his legs. Fortunately for Barça, it clipped right off Costa’s right thigh and past a helpless Jan Oblak at the near post.
The goal came from a brilliant Messi cross into a dangerous area, but the main contributor for Barcelona was still undeniably luck. Additionally, a set piece goal that wasn’t even scored by a Barça player is far from the quality expected of the blaugranas. Regardless, they had the lead and seemed to be in control of the match.
Barcelona 1–1 Atlético de Madrid
That lead lasted less than ten minutes for Barcelona, as Atlético got there equalizer in the nineteenth minute. It was shambolic defending all around for Barça combined with some brilliance from Yannick Ferreira Carrasco that created this goal.
The sequence leading up to it actually started all the way at the back for Atleti, with Jan Oblak gathering a failed through ball. The keeper started the move by throwing the ball out to his left back, Renan Lodi. The Brazilian then played the ball up the left side of the left side of the pitch to Carrasco, who received it just inside Barça’s half.
The move should have been ended there, as Carrasco was immediately surrounded by Gerard Piqué and Arturo Vidal. Nevertheless, they could not prevent the Belgian winger from turning. This allowed Carrasco to exploit the massive amount of space in behind Piqué, as his centre-back partner Clément Lenglet was about halfway across the pitch.
Once Carrasco had the chance to accelerate, Piqué had no chance. The center back was left on the ground as he tried everything to stop Carrasco’s burst forward. This left the Atleti winger with plenty of time and space around him as he entered the penalty area, but he had no clear angle for a shot or pass.
Just as it looked like time had run out for Carrasco and the move had amounted to nothing, he cut back to try to get the ball on his right foot. As this happened, Arturo Vidal stuck his foot out in an attempt to win the ball. Unfortunately, it was a very poor and unnecessary challenge by the Chilean.
Vidal completely missed the ball and swiped Yannick’s left leg to give Atlético the penalty. The experienced Diego Costa stepped up to take it, giving him the chance to redeem his earlier mistake. Although, Costa placed his spot kick low and to the right, exactly where Marc-André ter Stegen dove, and it was saved comfortably. It seemed as though the keeper had bailed out Barcelona once again, but upon the VAR review, this was not the case.
Instead, Ter Stegen was given a yellow card and Atleti got to retake the penalty. This was due to the keeper coming off of his line before the shot was taken. Even if it was just by a few inches, it was the correct call.
For the retake, Saúl Ñíguez stepped up to shoot. The midfielder put his shot into the bottom right corner, similar to Costa, but this time Ter Stegen had dove the opposite way. After a strange turn of events, Atleti had their equaliser.
This was a truly poor goal for the Barça defence to concede. All it took was two completed passes followed by Carrasco’s dribbling run for Atlético to go from their own box to winning a penalty. The ball could have easily been won back at midfield when Gerard Piqué and Arturo Vidal had Carrasco surrounded, but their defending was dismal.
Vidal then had a chance to make up for it by keeping Carrasco out wide when he got into the box, and instead he went in with a rash and unnecessary tackle. Just several minutes after taking the lead against a tough defense, Barcelona now had to do it all over again.
Barcelona 2–1 Atlético de Madrid
For the second straight match, after giving up a 1–0 lead, Barcelona were able to take it again. For this goal, the penalty decision was given in favor of Barça, and it was far more debatable than the previous one given to Atleti.
Leading up to the penalty, Barcelona moved the ball wide to the right, where Arturo Vidal was stationed. When the Chilean received the ball near the touchline, Lionel Messi was in a central position after drifting inside earlier. This left unoccupied space ahead of Vidal, which was recognized by Luis Suárez, who moved into it.
The movement of Suárez created space between him and his marker, Felipe, and opened up a passing lane for Vidal. The South American midfielder did well to recognise this, and was able to curl in a pass with his left foot to the number nine.
As Vidal was playing this pass, right-back Nélson Semedo detected the space in behind the Atlético. Their left-back, Renan Lodi, had stepped up to Vidal, while Felipe was tight on Suárez. This made Yannick Carrasco, who is far from a natural defender, the marker for Semedo. Thus, the Portuguese full-back used his pace and burst into the space available.
Luis Suárez did very well to spot the run of Semedo, and he played a first-time ball ahead of him and into the box. Semedo got past Carrasco and got to the ball before Felipe as well. What followed was a very controversial moment.
As Semedo took his first touch and pushed the ball ahead of him, Felipe came in with his right foot and missed the ball. In the follow through of the defender’s challenged, he made very slight contact with the left foot of Semedo. Selling the foul, Semedo went down and the referee awarded a penalty.
Cool as you like, Messi stepped up to the spot and pulled off a panenka against one of the world’s best keepers. It seemed as though the penalty was undeserved, but it created a brilliant moment as that was Lionel Messi’s 700th career goal.
For Barcelona fans, the second of the goals against Atlético de Madrid certainly created mixed feelings. In addition to the great achievement for Leo and a crucial go-ahead goal, there was also some solid buildup to the penalty. In fact, the sequence of possession leading up to the foul was made up of twenty passes between nine players. Still, it was hard to deny that the newfound lead was undeserved. In a way, karma would end up hitting Barça.
Barcelona 2–2 Atlético de Madrid
Once again, just like the Celta de Vigo match, Barcelona gave up their lead for a second time. Just like Atleti’s first goal, this one came down their left side, and took advantage of the pace of Yannick Carrasco against the Barça backline.
The sequence started right around midfield, as Renan Lodi took a free-kick after being fouled by Lionel Messi. Lodi first played the ball back to Felipe, before it was returned to him. From there, the Brazilian split the Barcelona midfield line with a pass ahead to Carrasco. The Belgian had checked to the ball and received it just in front of Gerard Piqué.
Carrasco played a first time pass to quickly lay the ball off to Diego Costa, who had dropped into a deeper position. With Piqué stepping to close Carrasco down, and then Lenglet stepping to pressure Costa, a vast amount of space was left in behind the Barça defense. Carrasco recognised this, and quickly turned and ran into this space after his pass to Costa.
With the Barcelona defence completely imbalanced – the two full-backs much deeper than than the two centre-backs, leaving a massive gap in the centre – Diego Costa smartly played a return pass in behind for Carrasco. The Belgian’s pace was once again too much to handle, as he got ahead of Semedo and Piqué. But, before he could get a touch on the ball, Carrasco fell to the ground inside the box.
This fall was in response to this very minimal contact that Carrasco had made with Nélson Semedo. While bringing his foot back in his running motion, it had barely rubbed against the knee of Semedo. Another incredibly soft penalty claim, but it the referee gave another spot kick.
Just as he did with his first penalty, Saúl Ñíguez drove it low and to the bottom right corner. This time, though, ter Stegen dove the correct way and was able to get a touch on the ball. Nonetheless, the German’s save attempt was just not strong enough, as the ball made its way in.
With another very quick, direct move down the left wing, Atleti had another penalty and another goal. This sequence involved just four completed passes between four Atlético de Madrid players, but it was enough to slice open the Barcelona defence for the second of their two goals on the night. Unfortunately, there was no more retaking the lead for the Catalans after this, which meant another two points dropped.
While the focus of football should never be on the officials, the La Liga referees have undeniably made many poor decisions recently. There were the several controversial calls in Real Madrid’s fixture against Real Sociedad, the questionable free-kick given against Barça which allowed Celta de Vigo to equalise, and now this match. The second goals for both teams came from very minimal contact which was barely noticeable. Improvements must be made to the officiating and VAR in La Liga, but at least in this match there was one of those bad decisions in favor of each team.
While the penalty Barcelona earned yesterday was undeserved, it still serves as a reminder of some of the attacking deficiencies of the squad. Only two goals in these past four matches have been scored by a Barcelona player from open play, while there have been two from set pieces – one of those an own goal versus Atlético de Madrid – and one penalty. Improvements have to be made to make the attack more dynamic and far less reliant on these inconsistent sources of goals.
Lastly, something also must be said about the way in which Atlético de Madrid seemed to go right through the Barcelona defence leading up to both their goals. The sequences leading up to their penalty wins were just two and four passes. They took advantage of the poor structure and intensity of this Barça side, and absolutely made them pay. There is certainly much work to do on both sides of the ball.
Who are FC Barcelona’s hardest workers?
Work rate is a crucial element in a successful football side, but which Barcelona players have put in the most effort this season?
While FC Barcelona has always been renowned for their technical ability and tactical intelligence of its players, their work rate on the pitch has also played a key role in the club’s greatest triumphs.
The concept is simple, but that does not detract from its importance. Players who track back to win the ball, make bursting runs to create space and passing angles, and constantly apply pressure out of possession are incredibly valuable.
While it may be impossible to quantify a player’s effort with full accuracy truly, the available data can still reveal some prominent trends. With that in mind, which Barcelona players put in the highest amount of work rate statistically?
First things first, time to establish a methodology. Using data from FBRef, the dataset will be filtered down to outfield players who have played five or more 90’s in one of the big five European leagues in the 2020/21 season. That means each player has at least a decent sample size under their belt, so there will not be anyone with only a few ten-minute appearances off the bench.
Then, which metrics can be used to quantify effort best? With the data available, it seems like the most viable option is to try and identify box-to-box players. For that, we can use the different areas of the pitch in which players take their touches.
Each player’s percentile rank for touches per 90 minutes in the defensive penalty area, defensive third, middle third, attacking third, and attacking penalty area was found. The average of those five percentiles became each player’s “attacking average.”
These averages were then scaled between 0 and 100 for the final “Offensive Coverage Rating.” This is how the top five came out for all clubs:
- Raphaël Guerreiro (Dortmund) – 100
- Jordi Alba (Barcelona) – 97.5
- Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain) – 94.3
- Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich) – 92.7
- Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid) – 92.4
Elsewhere in the top 20 are names like Andrew Robertson, Reece James, Luke Ayling of the intense Leeds United system, Ander Herrera, and Frenkie de Jong. There seems to a solid set of players who work their way up and down the pitch, either down the flank as full-backs or as energetic centre-midfielders.
How does the Barça squad stack up in particular?
As previously mentioned, the full-backs are the main standouts. The never-ending stamina of Jordi Alba is especially on display. Frenkie de Jong sits as the top non-full-back by a solid distance, reflecting his ability to drop deep in the buildup and provide dangerous runs forward.
A bit lower down the list, though, things start to look a bit weirder. It should be noted that this methodology can be a bit biased towards centre-backs. They rack up many touches in the defensive penalty area, defensive third, and middle third in a possession-based system, and the additional touches they get in the attacking penalty area off of corners and free-kicks can drive their scores pretty high.
Looking at Antoine Griezmann and Martin Braithwaite all the way at the bottom brings up another limitation. While we can track players who are active in many different areas of the pitch, we can not do the same for players who move and work a lot in the same area.
Watching Braithwaite and Griezmann definitely shows how active they are making runs in behind or across the attacking third, but because they do not drop off very often to pick up the ball, they rank low in the team.
However, those top names prove this offensive coverage metric is able to quantify box-to-box play in possession. Additionally, incorporating defensive metrics will clean things up even more.
On the other side of the ball, the process is very similar. The same players and methodology will be applied, only this time with pressures instead of touches.
StatsBomb, who collect the data displayed on FBRef, define pressure as, “…applying pressure to an opposing player who is receiving, carrying, or releasing the ball.” These pressures are just broken down based on the thirds of the pitch, not the penalty areas too, so only three metrics go into each player’s “defensive average.”
Once again, those averages are then scaled between 0 and 100, creating the “Defensive Coverage Ratings.” The top five performers in these ratings were:
- Jean-Daniel Akpa-Akpro (Lazio) – 100
- Mikkel Damsgaard (Sampdoria) – 98.1
- Leonardo Bittencourt (Werder Bremen) – 98.1
- Morgan Sanson (Marseille) – 98.0
- Maxence Caqueret (Lyon) – 97.2
Midfield workhorses like Fred and Adrien Silva, along with high-pressing forwards such as Diogo Jota are common throughout the rest of the top 25.
Given that Barcelona are a possession-heavy side, and one that often presses at a lower intensity, one would expect these defensive work-rate ratings to be a bit lower. Still, though, which players stand out?
Pedri comes out as the clear leader. Impressively, the teenager’s score is one that would be respectable in any side. Let it serve as just another testament to his work rate and ability to perform a variety of different tasks on the pitch.
With Sergio Busquets in second, even as he ages, he is still one of Barça’s most active players in terms of closing down the opposition. In third is another newcomer, as Sergiño Dest’s tendency to press aggressively puts him much higher than most of the other defenders in the squad.
The tallies for the other members of the backline are quite low because they defend in a more reserved nature. This can also be attributed to the fact that Barcelona give up fewer opportunities than many teams.
With both of these two ratings in place and some solid results for top-ranking players, it is time to combine them.
Here in the endgame, we will be combining all eight metrics to create one “Overall Coverage Rating.” That means touches in each third, touches in both penalty areas, and pressures in each third are all included. This way, we can see the players who cover most of the pitch overall.
The top five is comprised of:
- Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund) – 100
- Ander Herrera (Paris Saint-Germain) – 99.3
- Bruno Guimarães (Lyon) – 97.6
- Lucas Vázquez (Real Madrid) – 96.7
- Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain) – 96.2
Idrissa Gana Gueye, Dani Carvajal, Joshua Kimmich, Renan Lodi, Arturo Vidal, Maxence Caqueret, Ezgjan Alioski, Pedri, Reece James, Mason Mount, and Mateusz Klich are among the top names as well.
Now, for the final Barcelona squad rankings:
The numbers still involve the same intricacies as those discussed for the separate offensive and defensive ratings, but at least the top five names seem to match an eye test evaluation of the squad.
Pedri has joined the team and impressed everyone with his work rate and movement. He will track an opposition runner back to the defensive third, win the ball, combine in midfield, and then get forward to be an outlet for Messi.
While not as youthful and agile, Busquets still serves as a metronome in the possession and an active defender. He will move and reposition to rack up touches in the deeper thirds and engages in defensive duels very often.
The right flank has been slightly ignored at times this season, leaving Dest isolated, but the American always brings energy. He has all the skills and the mentality to be a great modern full-back.
Dest’s counterpart on the left, Jordi Alba, performs a much greater portion of his work offensively. His countless runs down the left wing have made him a key target for through balls and switches of play over the last few seasons.
Lastly, Frenkie de Jong backs up his reputation as an all-round midfielder. This season, the Dutchman is settling in more at the Camp Nou, and his surging runs forward to the penalty area have been awe-inspiring as of late.
Rivaldo (on De Jong): "It is being shown that near the area it seems that he is capable of playing better as an offensive midfielder and that he can even play a role similar to what Messi does when the Argentine is away. This is great news for Koeman." pic.twitter.com/r8aIrdMWSg— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) January 15, 2021
Griezmann and Braithwaite are probably the hardest done by these metrics. However, their energy, work rate and volume of runs they can provide off the ball is noticeable when watching them play, and invaluable for Barcelona.
There is no perfect way to quantify how hard a player works in-game, especially with these limited statistics. What this attempted to do, though, is focus on effort in terms moving to a variety of areas, being as involved in the match as possible, and doing so in different ways.
While not perfect, this methodology was successful in identifying some of the busiest players in the side. It should serve as a reminder of the value these players, like Pedri or de Jong, can offer beyond even their brilliant technical ability.
Given that 32-year-old Sergio Busquets and 31-year-old Jordi Alba were also near the top, it is a reminder of the potential replacements the club will be forced to make eventually. How long can these two continue to exert energy at this level? Could younger players be doing even more in those roles? How will Barça fill those holes when they move on? These are questions that need answering.