With Arthur Melo sold to Juventus for 72 million euros plus 10 in add-ons, and Miralem Pjanić signed by Barcelona for 60 million and 5 in variables, what do stats reveal in the comparison of both midfielders?
After a long time of speculation, Barcelona eventually offloaded Arthur Melo to Juventus with the Italians selling them Miralem Pjanić in return. In a highly controversial move, the 23-year-old Brazilian will no longer be part of Barça next season with 30-year-old Bosnian Pjanić coming in to replace him.
Was this deal an overall good deal? Will Pjanić be used to fill Arthur’s tactical weaknesses? Find out in this tactical analysis with an emphasis on stats.
Arthur Melo joined Barcelona from Grêmio in 2018. He was immediately touted as the next Xavi Hernández. His crisp passes, low centre of gravity and, of course, the signature pelopina move kicked off such comparisons. Though he was positionally, tactically and in terms of the general skill-level nowhere near to Xavi, he was a breath of fresh air in midfield for all culés. Since then, he went on to get four goals and six assists in 72 games for Barcelona.
“I see myself when I see Arthur on television. He is a very quick thinker. He has a natural talent, but most of all, he has a lot of room to improve through training”
However, Arthur has had problems recently. Specifically, he hasn’t been able to progress the ball efficiently enough, he hasn’t developed any more directness and he seems to have lost his creativity. Of course, directness is not necessary for a great player like Xavi, but Melo doesn’t have that level of genius-like football intelligence, unfortunately. This, along with the financial reasons, was why the Brazilian was basically forced out of the club.
“He’s one of those players that we say has the Barça DNA. He has all the qualities needed to be a success and if he’s given games, I think we are looking at a player that can mark an era at Barcelona”
on Arthur Melo
Miralem Pjanić first got recognition when he joined Olympique Lyon from Metz. He played well for Lyon, but at AS Roma was where he really became a world-class player. Gaining recognition for his passing and especially his set-pieces, Pjanić was scouted by Barcelona then as well. Notwithstanding, he joined Juventus in 2016. Under coach Maurizio Sarri, appointed last summer, he has played in a different role.
With Massimiliano Allegri, Pjanić was the number 6 with Blaise Matuidi and Rodrigo Bentancur playing as the other central midfielders most of the time. He did act as a playmaker here, though Sarri hasn’t used him the same way. In Allegri’s 4–3–3, Pjanić along with the other midfielders would keep drifting in and out of space.
“He is serious and intelligent. The possibility that he doesn’t give us 101 per cent, I don’t see it”
Juventus coach on Miralem Pjanić
Maurizio Sarri’s so-called Sarriball system relies on a pivot who carries the ball as well. Almost every attack is to be passed through Pjanić at some point under Sarri. Not exactly like Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets or Frenkie de Jong, who either drop in between the centre-backs or act as a false centre-back, respectively. Miralem’s job is to stay in the base of midfield and find passing lanes to receive the ball behind the opposition’s first line of press. Pjanić’s line-breaking passes and awareness are perfect for him to execute this role, even if his lack of dynamism and defensive expertise have made him struggle under Sarri on several occasions.
What do the stats say?
Miralem Pjanić has played around 2,000 minutes in the 2019/20 term, roughly 1.6 times more than Arthur, who has recorded around 1,200. Arthur has also been played in a more advanced role as compared to the Bosnian. Keeping this in mind, we will take a look at their stats and see what they indicate.
Note: All stats are taken from fbref
To start with, ball progression. This is something that a more defensive-minded player would usually have better stats at since progressing the ball in your own half isn’t as hard as in the opposition’s half. Still, Arthur’s passes have had the tendency to be very lateral very often. In terms of percentage of passes completed, Arthur has a success rate of 52% in his own half compared to Pjanić’s 61%.
This is indicative of Miralem’s line-breaking passes, since Arthur would have played more passes backwards or laterally in his own half and Pjanić more progressive, according to their positions. In the middle of the field, Arthur and Miralem have a 93% and 94% rate, respectively. In the final third, though, the former has an 85% rate which is much better than the latter’s 72%.
Arthur Melo is yet to become more adventurous on the ball | Photo by Alex Caparrós via Getty Images
In terms of the progression in meters of their passes, Pjanić’s passes have covered 8729m compared to the Brazilian’s 3246 according to fbref via StatsBomb. Even considering that the former has played roughly 1.6 times more, the Bosnian has a clearly higher distance travelled, which in turn can point towards Pjanić’s passing range. Playing in the Serie A for a long time, the Bosnian was already excellent at long balls. This is something that Arthur hasn’t displayed enough or seems to lack. Even when under Maurizio Sarri, in a possession-based system, Pjanić has a much better passing range statistically.
As many people have noticed, Arthur’s passing hasn’t been as progressive as it should be. Pjanic’s, however, has been. Arthur has only 57 progressive passes compared to the Juve man’s 177. As stated earlier, this would be easier for Pjanić since he plays in a more defensive spot, but he is very often pressured since the opposition know the pivot’s importance in Sarri’s system. Hence, his ability in this case should not be undermined.
Stats for defence and transitions
Somewhere that Arthur really shines is in the passes completed under pressure metric. His 205 are very good compared to Pjanić’s 241, which are more in number but, again, not considering he has had 1.6 times more matchtime.
We have seen both players operate in tight spaces often. Arthur shields the ball really well and manages to twist and turn away from the opposition. The next step for him is surely to try to receive the ball in threatening spaces rather than get into threatening spaces with the ball. Pjanić is really good at progressing in tight spaces. Since his days at Roma, he has known how to use the rivals’ momentum to his advantage. He often opens up his body to make his marker think he is going one way and darts in a direction.
In terms of defensive output, it is more important for Miralem to excel here. In the future when he plays for Barcelona, stopping counter-attacks is something which can benefit the team a lot. Even under Maurizio Sarri, being defensively strong is important which is something that players like Sami Khedira, Blaise Matuidi and Rodrigo Bentancur have gotten good at gradually. This could be the case for Arthur. He might develop his defensive attributes or he may be given a creative role. It remains to be seen.
Arthur surprisingly has a better ratio of tackles won, with 14 from 17 compared to 24 from 43 for Pjanić. Both midfielders are somewhat short and, though physique isn’t as relevant as technique, the utilisation of thus physique is important. The metric of dribblers tackled is good to get an idea of the previously mentioned ability to stop counter attacks. The 23-year-old edges out the Juve man with 33%, which is more than the latter’s 29% in this regard.
This means that the Brazilian might do well in a creative role, where he also has a light defensive responsibility. Somewhat similar to Sergi Roberto when he plays as a left central midfielder or so. He is expected not only to carry the team forward, but also to track back when possible.
While the positions of Pjanić and Arthur have been slightly different, stats already reveal some of both players’ tendencies and traits | Photo by Marco Bertorello / AFP via Getty Images
In a high-pressing system, both players surprisingly would have a similarity in one metric: successful pressures. This implies that both players have successfully contained an equal percentage of pressures attempted at 28.3%. Pjanić’s dribbling under pressure is very impressive. It is not always a lot of dribbling, but it is highly effective in progressing the ball forwards.
The stats clearly support this. Arthur has dribbled a total of 5807 metres with the ball, 2494 out of which have been progressive. Meanwhile, the 30-year-old has dribbled 4591 metres, 2219 out of which have been progressive. Pjanić has a better rate of getting progressive dribbles from total dribbles attempted as we can see. As mentioned earlier, he has had this talent since his Roma days.
Arthur also is somewhat messy when compared to Pjanić in terms of stats. This is surprising, but according to fbref, Arthur has miscontrolled the ball 21 times and has been dispossessed 17 times in tackles this season. Miralem, even though he has played more, has miscontrolled the ball 14 times and has been dispossessed 14 more times.
As the stats show, Arthur Melo and Miralem Pjanić are quite close in most regards when you consider their data along with position and playtime. This would make it easy to just conclude that Juventus are getting the better deal with Arthur being seven years younger. Nonetheless, Pjanić can really flourish in the next few years. Andrea Pirlo joined Juventus at a similar age and we all know how good he was for them.
Another positive to take from this transfer for culés is that Pjanić would start for a maximum of two to three years. He could even be eased out of the starting line-up when needed. Basically, this is an excellent opportunity for the La Masía midfielders to transition into the first team. Of course, right now it’s all speculation. The only thing Barça fans can do is to support their new midfielder and not get him muddled in with the hate towards the board for this deal.
Héctor Bellerín, a need or a double?
Héctor Bellerín, former Barça academy player, is linked with a move back to his fellow club. But with a right-back position that has been lacking a certain kind of consistency and solidity since the departure of Dani Alves, is Bellerín what Barcelona really need or does he leave open the same holes Semedo has been suffering? Let’s analyse who Bellerín is and what can he bring to the blaugrana cause.
The three-times FA Cup and Community Shield winner, Héctor Bellerín, has come to a crossroad. After six years of first-team football in London, he might have felt the need to change. And Arsenal’s eternal crisis and lack of high competitive seasons may have something to do with it. Especially when you are a talented, young footballer that is reaching his peak years. But at the end of the day, it is all too relative to talk about motives for a divorce, since both the North London club and the Spanish player are taking the path back to the light, really slowly but effectively.
As Arsenal is beginning its journey back to success with Pep Guardiola’s alumni, Mikel Arteta, Bellerín came back from yet another series of injury that have, until now, compromised much of his career. Perhaps, taking aside those fitness issues, he may already have been in a big club and we would not even be talking about a potential transfer for him in this stage of his career.
Unfortunately for him, he has been heavily influenced by injuries throughout his whole professional life. After he had his breakthrough season with Arsenal, in the 2014/2015, nobody would have thought the unfortunate series of events that would have characterised him later on.
Up until 2018, Bellerín’s only fitness problems had been a couple of groin strains and ankle injuries, which resulted in a mere four weeks away from football in four years. As his talent was developing in what has always been a great place to play entertaining football, his body had always responded well to the Premier League’s workloads. Until the 2018/2019 season.
While that campaign opened with the same continuity he showed in the previous ones, the problems began to show their marks just before Christmas. In a league game against Southampton, Héctor Bellerín sprained his ankle. Nobody knew, but that was going to be the start of a new delicate, unfortunate era for the Spaniard. And after the return on the pitch, a month later, Bellerín’s knee couldn’t take it anymore. Against Chelsea, the tragedy came to a sad reality: cruciate ligament rupture, meaning the end of the season for the footballer and the beginning of a long ordeal.
Héctor Bellerín already was a strong option to sign for Barça in 2017 before they went for Nélson Semedo | Photo by Julian Finney via Getty Images
Beginning last season still as injured, he slowly recovered from the trauma, getting back to full fitness around late October 2019. But the lack of luck followed him furthermore. After a month of benches and a small number of minutes on the pitch, he got injured again. This time, hamstring. But will has never been an issue for Bellerín, as he eventually got back onto the pitch a month and a half later and felt enough trust and faith from Arteta, who rarely left him out of that starting eleven spot until the end of the course.
Héctor Bellerín’s career has been a journey. As much as he has always shown character and determination, he has always been one of the most talented players Arsenal has developed over the last decade. Offensive and aggressive on the pitch, his dynamism and speed form a phenomenal conjunction down the right-back side. But apart from physical aspects of his game, even his technical ability has shown improvements year after year, as he has registered 25 assists in his 205 appearances in a red shirt. Just imagine what some pure Barça style training could do to him and to his overall affinities.
He has always been a pure talent, but at the same the risk of getting another Nélson Semedo or Ousmane Dembélé is huge. What do I mean by that? Barcelona’s problems in the last few years have always been the defensive system. Not the defensive players, but the collective all together. How a team defends is the representations of a group’s effort, rather than the individual brilliance, which can help in moments but not in a long-term vision. And next to this very problem that has been afflicting Barça ever since Dani Alves’ departure is the fact that lots of players bought by the Catalan club have resulted in a false promise, due to technical misconceptions or injury addiction.
Without pushing too much against Semedo, the Bayern Munich game emphasised yet again how fundamental the full-back positions are in modern football. It is no surprise that Guardiola has spent a lot on those kinds of player: Danilo, Benjamin Mendy, Kyle Walker and joão Cancelo.
At the same time, it is just the same with the likes of Liverpool, who completely changed the way football is perceived through the wings and the quality brought by both Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, and Bayern Munich, who found in Alphonso Davies and Joshua Kimmich the foundations of another complete and powerful wing work combo with Leroy Sané and Serge Gnabry up down the line. Full-backs are the present and the future of football, both defensively and offensively, but especially tactically.
While Barcelona has never shown much interest in reinforcing those full-back positions – apart from Semedo –, football was evolving and the Catalan club has found itself in a blind spot. After many consider Nélson Semedo’s time has come to an end, the question on whether to begin to improve such a crucial yet difficult position to fill starts to arise. And without thinking too much of the similarities between the Portuguese international and Héctor Bellerín, Barça seems to be set in changing names, but not concepts.
Would Bellerín really be a big upgrade to Barcelona’s current options? | Photo by Naomi Baker via Getty Images
Bellerín can be extremely talented and exciting for both the future and the present, especially if he really ends up in a place like Barcelona, where he could refine his technical and offensive movements skills. But the doubts in whether his defensive work will ever improve to such heights will always be there, as Barcelona has shown not to care much about improving their full-backs¡ defensive positioning.
As much as Jordi Alba and Semedo can have excellent offensive movements and ball abilities, they have rarely shown improvements on the other end of the pitch. That is the risk that signing a player like Héctor Bellerín for Barça could bring. A talented full-back, but without a prior defensive foundational work behind him. And injury prone. Does Barcelona really need to make such a bet, again?
There are lots of opinions regarding this latest rumours on Bellerín. Many are against it for fitness reasons, many for footballing ones. Other are in favour because it would bring some new flavour to the Camp Nou. But there are really not many who think it would bring a bettering of the team.
As much as having such talented players on a Barça side should excite every football fan because of what Barcelona itself represents and its technical bible dictates, the only reason behind such a transfer would purely be of a renewal. Changing faces, bringing in some new players, rebuilding around new personalities. But even with a bargain deal in the region of €20 or 25 million, in many ways, Héctor Bellerín would bring to Barça the same features Semedo currently provides. Nothing better, nothing worse.