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Iñaki Peña: first team, Barça B or loan?

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Barça B’s extremely promising goalkeeper Iñaki Peña is ready for a step forward in his career, but as Ter Stegen’s back-up in the first team he may not have enough minutes. What should the club do?


Barcelona can feel very lucky, but somewhat unlucky at the same time, to have two extraordinary goalkeepers coming up at La Masía. Iñaki Peña and Arnau Tenas may well be the best two keepers the academy has produced since Víctor Valdés. Nevertheless, they are unfortunate enough to have been born with a small difference of only two years and, on top of that, to have to see how Ter Stegen is young and making history with every passing season at the Camp Nou. The German is immovable between the sticks for the Catalans, but the most unfortunate victims of this possibly are Iñaki and Arnau.

The stylistic similarities between the two youngsters and Ter Stegen are more than obvious to the general eye. Looking up at Marc-André and being able to learn from him is a privilege few are capable of enjoying. However, not even the most complex of formulas could see all of Ter Stegen, Peña and Tenas succeed and make a lasting impact at Barcelona. The former Mönchengladbach wonderkid is already building his own legacy, but the two La Masía talents – at least not both – will not be able to do the same for a mere question of age. And this undeniably is very unfortunate, as culés won’t fully exploit the qualities of two sensational gems.

García Pimienta Arnau Tenas Iñaki Peña Barça first team

García Pimienta with Arnau Tenas and Iñaki Peña, after the UEFA Youth League title won in 2018

Still, what Barça must do now is to not think too far ahead. Just go step by step, and each year’s events will already be shaping the fate of them all. Now, with Ter Stegen undroppable in the first team, and Arnau Tenas deserving to be promoted to Barça B from the Juvenil A, the dilemma is what to do with Iñaki Peña. The 21-year-old’s last two seasons with the B have been outstanding. Extremely reliable and gifted with the ball at his feet, he rarely, if ever, makes a mistake when it comes to facing the shots of the opposing strikers. Elastic and agile to get off his line, he covers space really well and is an expert both in one-on-ones and in penalties.

For his superb reflexes, anticipation, positioning and footwork, as well as some specific gestures, Iñaki Peña does look like a mini clone of Ter Stegen. Quality wise he’s still not there yet, of course, and has to gain much experience. In fact, the Spaniard is yet to feature in a single game for Barça, whether that’s official or friendly. Not even in preseason has Peña been handed his senior debut for the azulgranas. While he has been called up with the Spanish U–21, he hasn’t made his debut there either, so the only professional category in which he has taken part is the Second Division B, with Barça B.

Iñaki is unquestionably ready for much more, as so are many of his teammates. He deserves to be part of the senior squad, having shown enough level and merits for that. It would by no means be unreasonable to say that, once he gains more experience, he clearly has the potential to be Barcelona’s starter one day. But, with Ter Stegen aged only 28, the best he can aspire to at present is being Marc’s back-up. That means having a very secondary role, with La Liga and Champions League being reserved almost exclusively for the number 1.

What’s left is only the Copa del Rey, which translates to six matches a season at maximum. Far from enough for a player aged 21 that needs playing time to develop. In this sense, Quique Setién’s words in one of his first press conferences are somewhat encouraging: “Normally I make no distinctions between the goalkeeper of La Liga and of the Copa del Rey. Both [Ter Stegen and Neto] can play in all three competitions”. So, while Ter Stegen would continue to start in most games and all of the big ones, it would not be surprising to see the second-choice keeper be given some matches in La Liga against smaller sides.

Marc-André Ter Stegen Neto Iñaki Peña Barça first team

While being the starter of Barça B, Iñaki Peña has also acted as the first team’s third goalkeeper this season

This could be a fine solution for Iñaki Peña, who could get the Copa del Rey for him as a challenge, and then get minutes from time to time in the domestic competition. Ter Stegen wouldn’t complain about that, and Iñaki would get benefitted. It’s something that, for example, Zidane has been doing in recent seasons: playing the second goalkeeper in La Liga to rotate the main one. In any case, even if he gets little minutes, Iñaki probably would be more than satisfied with being promoted, as that’s his childhood dream. He’s still young and has plenty of time ahead to play.

Another alternative would be to loan him out. The Second Division would be the most feasible destination, as in this category teams are more open to giving chances to footballers with no experience. Barça B, on the other hand, are fighting to get promoted from the Segunda B to Segunda. Notwithstanding, staying at the B, no matter whether they get promoted or not, does not seem optimal, as Arnau Tenas is about to renew his contract with the blaugranas and should be the reserves’ starting goalkeeper.

With this in mind, and more so considering the board’s desperate search for money, what seems more sensible is to sell Neto, who could have a transfer fee of 20 or 25 million euros, and use Iñaki Peña as the second keeper. No need to pay 30 or 40 millions on someone like André Onana when the 21-year-old is free and more than ready to be a back-up, or even starter if required in some bigger clashes too. Having Ter Stegen and Peña in the first team, and Arnau starting at the B, would have everyone happy. Even the club would get benefitted economically as well.

See also

Kurzawa, closer to Barça. A free transfer, but not free of flaws

• Setién wants Dembélé to be Barcelona’s summer signing

• Offers on the table, but Ansu Fati is going nowhere

• Arthur or Coutinho: that may be the question, since one could get sold

As someone once said, football is the most important of the least important things in life. Football, though, is a passion lived 24 hours, 7 days a week. My life could not be understood without Barça. Having always lived in Barcelona, the deep love for this club was transmitted to me from before I can remember. With an affection that can be found in my most profound roots, my goal now is to share this admiration with other football enthusiasts.

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Analysis

Who are FC Barcelona’s hardest workers?

Samuel Gustafson

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Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images

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?

Offensive effort

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:

  1. Raphaël Guerreiro (Dortmund) – 100
  2. Jordi Alba (Barcelona) – 97.5
  3. Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain) – 94.3
  4. Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich) – 92.7
  5. 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?

barcelona work rate

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.

Defensive effort

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:

  1. Jean-Daniel Akpa-Akpro (Lazio) – 100
  2. Mikkel Damsgaard (Sampdoria) – 98.1
  3. Leonardo Bittencourt (Werder Bremen) – 98.1
  4. Morgan Sanson (Marseille) – 98.0
  5. 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?

barcelona work rate

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.

Overall

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.

barcelona work rate

The top five is comprised of:

  1. Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund) – 100
  2. Ander Herrera (Paris Saint-Germain) – 99.3
  3. Bruno Guimarães (Lyon) – 97.6
  4. Lucas Vázquez (Real Madrid) – 96.7
  5. 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:

barcelona work rate

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.

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.

Final thoughts

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.

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