As Barcelona clinched a crucial win over Napoli in the Champions League round of 16, Frenkie de Jong stole the show with an immense performance at the Camp Nou.
Despite Barcelona being overly dependent on Lionel Messi’s miraculous efforts in midfield, against Napoli, there seemed to be a lack of strain on the Argentine as a fiery Frenkie de Jong took matters in his own hands, asserting the midfield area throughout the 90 minutes. The Dutchman’s charismatic performance arguably proved to be his best, and most impactful of the year so far.
Without a shadow of a doubt, this was the game that elevated De Jong to the next level, the game that highlighted De Jong isn’t just another temporary solution to Barcelona’s catastrophic midfield, but instead a long-term investment, one that is already paying the club dividends. The blonde, beaming boy from Ajax is not captivated by the big stage, and it is players like him that are truly going to help the club seize some much needed silverware as well as strengthen their long lost philosophy.
A key aspect evident in Frenkie’s gameplay was the liberation and freedom he had at his disposal. Whether it was building out plays from the back or simply lending his services upfield, De Jong ensured he was a part of every move in midfield. The authority he had was put to excellent use with his quick feet and imaginative personality allowing him to always keep the Napoli players on their tip toes. The young midfielder controlled the pace of the game, dominating almost every part of the pitch and marking his territory wherever he went.
Frenkie de Jong skipped past Napoli defenders with astounding ease | Photo by Lluís Gené / AFP via Getty Images
It was a joy seeing the De Jong fans were so used to watching at Ajax finally come to life as his participation on and off the ball was utterly unmatched. Due to his excellent anticipation of players, he was never fazed by pressure. Infact, he seemed to welcome it. As soon as Gli Azzurri would pounce on him, he would squirm his way through with the most delicate of touches. Witnessing the 23-year-old look so vibrant and effective in such a high-magnitude game was truly a relieving sight for the blaugranas, who, over the years, have been in desperate search for such expressive and elated midfielders.
Whilst it was an undeniably game-changing performance, the number 21 was unfortunate to have been robbed off a beautifully executed assist in the closing stages of the first half, where he sent a terrific long ball in the opposition box, spotting an open Lionel Messi, who managed to chest it down and beat David Ospina in goal. Woefully, a controversial call from VAR claimed that Leo had contact with his arm, which ruled out an incredibly well deserved goal contribution for De Jong. Nevertheless, his ability to pinpoint the number 10 in such a fruitful position exhibited that even in terms of his vision, he was a cut above everyone else, including his own teammates.
Take the ball, pass the ball, take the ball, pass the ball; with his head spinning like clockwork, he fulfilled the ideals of a modern midfielder, injecting this sudden surge of energy and desire in midfield. The upcoming star proved that he’s the prototype Barcelona midfielder and with ample time, abundant faith and sufficient opportunities, he’s destined to reach the stars one day.
Although fans will be anxious to see Frenkie continue playing at such a high level, only time will tell if Sergio Busquets’ addition will seem to hinder the former Ajax man’s performances once he’s back from suspension. It’s a no brainer that, while he is more than capable of adjusting as an interior, Busquets’ involvement on the field often means that he is obliged to take unnatural roles on the field. It will be a huge test for Quique Setién to incorporate the two virtuosos in midfield, without hampering any of their performances. As long as De Jong doesn’t lose the jurisdiction to situate himself according to his own preference, Barcelona could become definite favorites in the Champions League.
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.