As another round of matches awaits La Liga fans in matchday 32, let’s delve into it with its best games and players to watch.
A day after Betis closed the 31st matchday in La Liga, their arch-nemesis Sevilla open number 32 and excitement will set foot, again, in La Liga. As we edge closer than ever to the final sprint for the title, European places and relegation places, it will be nice to see the players’ reactions at this stressful period. Without further ado, let’s get into the three most exciting games of the weekend.
Celta de Vigo vs Barcelona
Saturday 27th of June
Barcelona are second in the league and want to retain their crown for the third year in a row. However, against Celta de Vigo, it won’t be easy. The Catalans haven’t won in their last five meetings in Galicia and will have to reverse the curse for once if they want to stay competitive in the league. Celta have found form for the first time in a while, with a thumping 6–0 win at Balaídos on Sunday and seeing off Real Sociedad at Anoeta on Wednesday.
With the connections some of the Celta players have with Barça, such as Denis Suárez, Rafinha Alântara, Jeison Murillo and Nolito, it will be pleasant to see familiar faces in the opposition’s line-up. And let’s not forget, before last week, Celta were one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league and wins against two out-of-form sides do not mean that they can rest on their laurels.
Barcelona have to improve from their last outing, and the imminent transfer of Arthur Melo to Juventus means Riqui Puig will see more game time, especially when the kid had a great game against Athletic Club. Iván Rakitić will surely deserve a place in the eleven too after his game-winning goal on Tuesday and with Sergio Busquets suspended.
Villarreal vs Valencia
Sunday 28th of June
After hosting and drawing against Sevilla in midweek, Villarreal have another tough opponent at home in Valencia. The Yellow Submarine is in fine form, and they deserved to win in midweek after leading twice. Valencia come off a poor run of form, with one win out of five in the league. The two sides are chasing Europe and can’t afford to lose points at this point of the season.
More than a thousand days after his last game, Bruno Soriano re-appeared with Villarreal against Sevilla | Photo by David Aliaga via Imago
Villarreal, the more in-form side, have a slight advantage going into the game and will try to utilise their power to the maximum. Everyone affiliated with Spanish football will scrutinise Bruno Soriano’s second game since a three-year injury as well as Santi Cazorla replicating his magic against an equally fierce adversary.
Valencia should be up for the fight and will try and offer their best to win finally and get into the European places as they will be hoping for yet another slip-up from Real Sociedad. For Valencia, the likes of Dani Parejo, Rodrigo Moreno and Gonçalo Guedes will have the spotlight on them as they will need to pull off an excellent performance to win.
Espanyol vs Real Madrid
Sunday 28th of June
The title race hots up at Cornellà, as leaders Real Madrid visit the worst team in the league. Espanyol are in lousy form, and Madrid have had a banging return from lockdown, winning every game, even the hardest ones. At the RCDE Stadium, they will need to win to stay in the driving seat for the next matchday, at least. On the other hand, the Periquitos have to win to stay in the fight against relegation. After the wins of Eibar and Celta in midweek, Espanyol are in a precarious position and look like going down.
Real Madrid beat Espanyol by 2–0 in the reverse fixture of this La Liga season | Photo by Imago
For Madrid, Vinícius Júnior will have to perform at the outstanding level he usually does, and the team will be raring to go to keep their advantage on Barça. Also, this game will be open as Espanyol do try to play at times, and Madrid play with confidence right now.
What are the possible outcomes for Barça?
As mentioned, Barcelona have to win if they want to stay competitive. Nevertheless, if they draw at Balaídos and Madrid lose, they will be first. If they win and Madrid slip-up, they will be first. If Madrid win, they will finish the matchday in the second position of the table regardless of their own result. If they match Los Blancos‘ result, they are also second.
Players to watch
After some extraordinary midweek performances, it’s time for the stars to replicate their form. For Barça, the two main talking points will be Riqui Puig and Iván Rakitić, as their performances against Athletic were superb. For Atlético de Madrid, original defensive midfielder Marcos Llorente is inexplicably carrying the attack, and he will terrify Deportivo Alavés on the weekend.
Real Madrid’s Vinícius is another hot topic right now, and his form has been insane lately. Celta’s Iago Aspas will also have to do as well as last week to beat the holders. Sergio Canales will have to continue to play at this impressive level for Betis for a long time and, hopefully for La Liga fans, he does against Levante in matchday 32.
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.