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Analysis

The curious case of Fransisco Trincao at Barcelona

Aaryan Parasnis

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Photo via Imago

Francisco Trincao has not gotten off to a flying start at Barcelona. The Portuguese starlet has found himself amid immense competition for a starting spot in Ronald Koeman’s teamsheet. And so far, he has yet to show the quality which made Barcelona shell out €31 million to bring him to the Camp Nou from Braga.

The left-footed winger has had slight hitches so far in adjusting to life at Barça. This does not come as too big a surprise, considering he had only played 48 senior matches during his time in Portugal. For a player this raw, the step up to Barcelona is demanding and tricky. Maintaining confidence and fortitude is not an easy task, which has been quite apparent. But it is not all down to that. Several other factors could have made life difficult for Trincao at Barça.

Fierce Competition

Locking in assured game time at Barça is a big ask for any player, let alone a starting spot. Even more so, when the player comes from a foreign league without much experience to his name. Couple this with the recent crises Barcelona have gone through in these past few months, along with drastic changes in management and staff, and it all spells out a recipe for a rather unsuccessful stew.

The first important reason for Trincao’s stuttering start is the amount of sheer competition in attacking positions. Despite Ansu Fati’s lengthy injury layoff, Koeman has enough options to cause major selection headaches. And with the season’s schedule as gruelling as it is, rotation is necessary, making it even tougher for players to keep their sharpness intact.

trincao Dembele
Trincao has faced more competition at Barcelona than he is used to. (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)

Trincao had shown during his time at SC Braga, that he can be deployed anywhere across the frontline, however, his talents seem best utilized on the right-wing. This season, Barça have four other players who have started on the right — in Lionel Messi, a returning Ousmane Dembele and occasionally Antoine Griezmann and even young Pedri.

Should he play on the left, he has competition from Dembele and Pedri once again who are proving equally versatile. And more recently, Martin Braithwaite has also deputized on the left flank. The cycle of having to outperform these players to get more game time, but not being able to do so due to lack thereof has hindered the Portuguese winger.

Trincao at Braga vs Trincao at Barça

The contrast in styles with Trincao at Barça currently, compared to his time in Portugal is very evident. By nature, he is very fluid. A player who loves locating spaces and exploiting them and creating chances through interplay with his teammates. His rhythm on the ball aids him further, as he is more than capable of taking on defenders.

All these traits were evident during his stint with Braga. An air of unpredictability and excitement arose every time Trincao received the ball. He showed directness with quick turns and bursts forward with the ball and vertical runs but also showed composure by linking up with his teammates to create more spaces or slowing play down and providing width.

Trincao’s season heatmap for Braga in the 2019-20 season (via SofaScore)

From Trincao’s heatmap last season, it’s fairly conclusive that he played most games on the right-wing, and that maximized his output. At Braga, he was encouraged to invert and drift inside to link up with his teammates, but he offered much more. He made breaking runs through the centre as well as crosses from out wide, feigning to cut inside and then moving out, a move very similar to Ousmane Dembele.

The Portuguese showed glimpses of all these traits from a very early age, as he broke through to the Braga first team. His willingness to receive the ball in transition and move towards the goal is apparent since his days with the B team. He also didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger as soon as he found a decent shooting position.

Receiving the ball in transition before beating his man and breaking.

Additionally, he would also keep bombing down the right flank and deliver crosses and through balls on either foot. Facilitated by his immense energy and spatial awareness, he also made intelligent runs in behind the defence.

A run from the right, beating two defenders and cutting the ball back on his right foot.
Intelligent runs off the shoulder of the last defender.

Woes at Barça

There is one very prominent difference in Trincao at Barça with regards to his game. The lack of unpredictability. Every time he gets the ball, he seems to have only one objective — to cut inside. While this is one of his key strengths, it has made him extremely easy to neutralize.

His natural tendency to move into spaces is already limited due to the deeper defensive lines in La Liga. He cannot constantly hug the touchline since it does not allow the overlapping fullback much room and neither can he stay infield since there are already too many players occupying central areas. Due to this, he has not found himself in as many goalscoring or creating positions as he would like.

Thus, the lack of goal contributions. Another factor which is hampering his confidence and expressiveness. In his 18 games for the Blaugrana so far, he has managed only the one assist, a simple pass to Messi in the 4-0 win against Osasuna.

Koeman’s tactical stubbornness and strange rotation

Koeman always seems keen on starting with a 4-2-3-1 setup but insists on using way too many similar profiles. Lining up with two or more players like Messi, Griezmann, and Coutinho is severely detrimental to a winger who likes to cut in. The aforementioned trio always prefers to stay central, and as Messi likes to drop deep and drive with the ball, Trincao’s role is highly restricted.

trincao barcelona
Trincao has almost been left in the dark at Barcelona. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Add to this the strange periods of game time Koeman gives to Trincao and matters become worse. The 20-year-old is yet to start a game in La Liga, and as a substitute, he has played just more than a half of football. Merely 15-20 minute spells more often than not. Which, for a player trying to adapt to a new system, is rather comical.

Hence, there has not been much scope for him to adjust his style to match the defenders in Spain. Additionally, Koeman tinkering with the squad every time he has started in the Champions League means he has not had a way to get a read on his teammates’ styles either.

Doubt and hesitation

While at Braga, Trincao showed much more willingness with his actions on the ball. The statistics do not look all that great, but there is more to it than meets the eye. His pass completion rate of 78%, through ball success rate of 36% and long pass success rate of 39% don’t look all too glorious. However, they show how aggressively involved he was in the buildup. While his overall pass completion rate at Barcelona is higher with 81%, he is just not as involved.

At Barça, however, Trincao’s per 90 metrics are significantly more telling. He averages 18.2 touches per 90 — less than half of his tally of 38.4 at Braga. Since Barcelona’s central zones are so congested, he does not have enough runners to find with attempted through balls or long passes. The 20-year-old does not shoot anywhere near as often, either. He attempts 0.5 shots per game, which pales in comparison to his 1.4 shots per game at Braga.

trincao barcelona
Trincao has the ability to whip them, and he should continue to. (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)

Conclusion

So is there any light at the end of the tunnel for Trincao at Barça? Only time will tell. For starters, he has to notch his first goal. Sometimes that one crack can break the damn dam open. Barcelona is a club where players cannot afford to be shy. Much less someone as talented as Francisco Trincao.

With Ansu Fati still on the road to recovery, Trincao may yet have time to prove his value. But he has to make sure he capitalizes on every opportunity provided to him. Moreover, Ronald Koeman may need to alter his systems to get the best out of the Portuguese as well, even if it means temporarily. It is never a one-way exchange.

Trincao has received rather heavy critique due to his wavering form. But fans tend to forget that he is only 20, immensely talented but certainly unpolished. If he and Barcelona are to develop a harmonious coexistence, he needs a bit of time to start providing what he truly can. Culés have rightfully been very patient with Ousmane Dembele because his ability was bound to show after a point. The same patience must be afforded to Trincao who has not even played 20 games for the club yet.

If he’s constantly scrutinized and harshly treated before getting the chance to show his level under favourable conditions, neither he nor the club will benefit from it.

Stats via FBRef

It was the great César Luis Menotti who once said that "to be a footballer means being a privileged interpreter of the feelings and dreams of many, many people". This quote has stuck with me since my childhood when football first caught my attention. My interest in football developed from a hobby to an emotion embedded into every fibre of my being. Football and Barça became my life. I spend every waking moment thinking about football and my sentimentality towards FC Barcelona is a catalyst. The world's most popular sport is a universal language that unites everyone who loves it and, to me, writing about football is being able to transmit that language in my own way.

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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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