The defensive improvements of Barça are showing on a game to game basis, and Nélson Semedo and Gerard Piqué had two superb games against Sevilla on Friday.
Barcelona’s goalless draw at the Sánchez Pizjuán was a match were many negatives were drawn. Many were quick to criticise Quique Setién’s passive reaction to the dull football at the culés disposal in the second half. However, one big positive Setién can draw from the last four fixtures is the rock-solid defence that has played a big part in Marc-André ter Stegen’s four clean sheets in a row.
With Sergi Roberto, Samuel Umtiti or Ronald Araújo, the Culés have shown great depth at the back, and Ter Stegen’s saves have been magnificent as ever in front of the dangerous Real Sociedad or Sevilla sides that sit right near the top of the table. With all these players finding some sort of form, Nélson Semedo might have felt out of place in a Barça side that was playing well, especially the full-backs. Sergi Roberto’s run of form with Semedo foolishly breaking lockdown rules a few days before the Mallorca game made it easy for Setién to bench him.
Still, the Cantabrian tactician had to revert to Semedo when Roberto got injured before the Sevilla clash. On Friday, the Barcelona attack and defence contrasted as the forward line looked toothless while the defenders ruled the Andalusian attack. Two players stood out in the blaugrana defence. The first one is Nélson Semedo himself.
Sergi Roberto is expected to miss Tuesday’s meeting with Athletic Club, so Nélson Semedo could use this opportunity to continue improving his form | Photo by Imago
The Portuguese was everywhere and was even the most threatening visitor on the pitch, stretching the opposition defence with his powerful runs on the right. His attacking duty did not alter his work rate, and he returned well at times to stop attacks, even going from the right to the left side to discontinue Sevilla’s counter-attack. It was a delight to watch him running up and down the pitch and be a threat with the ball every time he touched it. His ability to create space for his teammates on the right was on display.
Semedo played exceptionally well in a tricky away game for Barça, but his partner in crime Gerard Piqué that night was as excellent as him. The Catalan is enjoying one of the best seasons in his career, even though it feels like culés say that every year. The centre-back’s run of form has been scintillating, but his game in Seville last time out was astonishingly good. He bothered the opposition a lot in attack and also became an attacking threat at times, trying to tease left-back Sergio Reguilón every time he was forward, as he poked the Real Madrid loanee before half-time.
On the offensive side of things, Piqué did President things. Everyone could feel his tranquillity, as his passing was delicious. At the half-hour mark, he had completed all his passes and helped Barcelona in dominating the game on the first half. When Barça began to suffer more after the second half, Piqué kept it together and showed everyone who’s boss. Against Lucas Ocampos’ repeated runs, Piqué was there, intercepting the passes, heading the ball or tackling the opposition. His incredible tackle inside the box denied Sevilla a dangerous shot on goal.
Gerard Piqué has been a saviour for Barcelona this term | Photo by AFP7 via Imago
Despite being heavily criticised, Setién has shored up a defence that looked shaky earlier in the season. Many would say his possession-hungry system helps a lot, as the Catalans now defend with the ball, but his tactics require top players, intelligent enough to move and pass the right way. Semedo’s game in Seville was a lesson of movement and commitment by a man who has often received criticism for his work rate and hid attacking flaws.
For Piqué, his game is the pinnacle of defensive greatness. His 96% pass accuracy, accompanied by his tackles and interceptions, show much of an intelligent and composed footballer he is and, alongside Clément Lenglet and Sergio Busquets, the core of Barça’s team is as relaxed as ever in the back, allowing the attackers to breathe a bit. Performances like these from Nélson Semedo and Gerard Piqué could win leagues, and even though Barça do not depend on themselves anymore in the league, it is not their defence’s fault but instead their inefficient attack.
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.