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Analysis

Sergi Roberto: Justifying the selection

How did Sergi Roberto perform against Villarreal and why should he play more in this new role in midfield?

Suhas Achanta

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Header Image by Imago

Barcelona got back to winning ways in a 1–4 thumping of in-form Villarreal. There were many positives to take from the game. But the one person who deserved massive praise for standing out in midfield was Sergi Roberto.


On Sunday, in the visit from Barcelona to Villarreal, when the line-ups for the fixture were announced, culés were left in a confused state. The inclusion of Sergi Roberto in midfield made absolutely no sense to them when youngster Riqui Puig was doing impressively well. However, what followed was 90 minutes of absolutely firm and resolute performance from the Spaniard. It was Sergi’s first start since he suffered a fractured rib against Leganés.

For a long time, the 28-year-old has been lauded for his versatility. Be it right-back or central midfield, Sergi Roberto always puts a shift in that position. Nonetheless, in the fans’ opinions, he is a jack of all trades but a master of none. As Puig has been doing fabulously well since Quique Setién has given him an opportunity, starting Sergi Roberto in midfield ahead of him didn’t go well with the supporters. Notably, while playing a team that’s doing very well, one would expect Setién to go with players who are in form.

Notwithstanding, Villarreal proved to be a less challenging task than expected. The Yellow Submarine is chasing a berth in next year’s Champions League. And so, they were tipped to turn up against the Catalans. But Setién’s men were ready for the match. From the very first whistle, they were in complete control. One of the players who received massive praise for pitching in an excellent and professional display was Roberto.

Sergi Roberto’s role in the game

As we all know, Quique Setién was put under the microscope for his handling of Antoine Griezmann against Atlético de Madrid. To incorporate the Frenchman, the manager went with a 4–4–2 diamond. Sergi was responsible for providing an equalling number at the centre of the pitch. Villarreal went with a 4–4–2 that had a double pivot of two sturdy defensive midfielders. Thus, Sergi Roberto was deployed on the sides of Barça’s diamond midfield to provide stability and control and generate numerical superiorities.

Sergi Roberto midfield Barcelona Villarreal

Sergi Roberto excelled both in midfield and at right-back, where he would have recorded an assist to Lionel Messi had it not been for a previous offside position from Arturo Vidal | Photo by José Jordán / AFP via Getty Images

As expected, he didn’t have the most glittering performances. Instead, he did what he was told to do. With a pass accuracy of 97.7% and a total of 95 touches, Roberto had a calm and controlled impact on the pitch. He carried the ball for a total of 311 yards and was one of the most progressive players on the pitch. Furthermore, in the entirety of the match, he was dispossessed only once.

Defensively, he was more involved in pressing down the middle. The Catalans gave no time for the hosts to build with the ball. Sergi Roberto was crucial in ensuring that Villarreal’s midfield wasn’t given enough space to work its way upwards with the ball. Instead of tracking back and making tackles, the attacking threat was halted at the centre of the pitch.

There’s no way that the diamond would have worked without a player doing the tireless legwork. Even Quique Setién was appreciative of the shift the La Masía graduate put in.

“He was spectacular. He came with positive and renewed energy after that injury. I’ve told him that he has to be versatile. He does it well. He always does it to perfection”

Quique Setién
on Sergi Roberto’s performance versus Villarreal

The fans, the coach, and even Roberto were pleased with the role he was given and the subsequent exhibition. The outing against Villarreal was one of the most satisfactory displays that Barcelona have showed collectively since the restart. Since the dominant performance against RCD Mallorca, this was the first away game where there was control from the start till the end.

Conclusion

The likelihood of Quique continuing with this tactical approach is high. The incorporation of Antoine Griezmann was helped with the settling in of Sergi into the role he was given. The 61-year-old tactician seems to finally be finding the correct combination for his starting XI.

“Tactically, it has been a while since I played there. Sometimes I play central midfield but on the right, and today I was on the left side, where I am most comfortable. It’s where I played for Barça B.

I enjoyed it, I had a lot of fun, with space and focused on the opposition’s defence. It’s a shame I had to go back to right-back [late on] but I am happy to help the team playing wherever”

Sergi Roberto
on his new role

It will be interesting to see if the same approach is applied for the upcoming games. With the blaugranas hosting rock bottom RCD Espanyol on Wednesday, a dominant performance is mandatory. With Sergi Roberto bringing a more calming presence to the midfield, there is no reason why Setién should alter his role. The versatility of Sergi is something that should be appreciated a lot more than it is.

Be it right-back, or central midfield, Sergi Roberto always gives his 100%, shifting from both positions with ease. He might not be the most technically astute player, but he understands the Barcelona way to the fullest. It will be interesting to see what the formation and tactics are when Frenkie de Jong returns from injury. To incorporate Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Antoine Griezmann, only a diamond-shaped 4–4–2 seems to be the likely solution. But the midfield at the heart of the pitch is critical, and Sergi Roberto appears to have found his best role under Setién.


See more

Editors’ Takes: Debating on the Villarreal 1–4 Barcelona

• Why Xavi Hernández shouldn’t take up the coaching job at Barça yet

• Antoine Griezmann is smiling again in Barcelona

• Lionel Messi: Fed up with Barcelona or with the board?

I started writing so that I could bridge the gap and pass time on days when there were no matches. But little did I know that writing about the beautiful game would amp up my love for it. I've always wanted to learn more, and share whatever insights I have on the game, to anyone, anywhere. The world stops for 90 minutes when your team plays, and that for me is very much true.

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Analysis

Using Machine Learning to predict Barcelona’s 2021/22 league season

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Photo via Imago

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.

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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 STEGEN79.34
ARNAU TENAS1.59
RONALD ARAUJO26.45
CLEMENT LENGLET26.45
GERARD PIQUE12.70
DAVID ALABA58.19
ERIC GARCIA21.16
OSCAR MINGUENZA10.58
JORDI ALBA26.45
JUNIOR FIRPO10.58
SERGINO DEST26.45
SERGI ROBERTO26.45
SERGIO BUSQUETS10.58
FRENKIE DE JONG84.63
RIQUI PUIG19.04
ILAIX MORIBA10.58
PEDRI GONZALEZ74.06
GEORGINIO WIJNALDUM37.03
ANSU FATI84.63
KONRAD DE LA FUENTE2.64
OUSMANE DEMBELE52.90
TRINCAO26.45
MEMPHIS DEPAY47.61
ANTOINE GRIEZMANN54.00
LIONEL MESSI84.63
Figures via Transfermarkt

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.

Oh, Haaland. Oh, you. (Photo via Imago)

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.

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