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Analysis

The silent rise of Clément Lenglet

As Clément Lenglet turns 25, we review his quiet rise from Nancy to Barça.

Aaryan Parasnis

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Header Image by Aitor Alcalde via Getty Images

Lenglet has been wonderful in his time at Barça so far, but has perhaps gone under the radar. On his 25th birthday, we take a look at the quiet rise of Clément Lenglet, which deserves more recognition.


FC Barcelona largely owe Clément Lenglet a debt of gratitude for their win over Leganés last night. In what was a rather cagey match, Lenglet’s contributions were vital in securing all three points. Within the first 15 minutes, Leganés burst into the box and Miguel Guerrero had the Barça goal gaping. However, Lenglet made an absolutely heroic block off the line to keep the game scoreless. Had he not intervened, the champions would have been in real trouble. The Frenchman grew into the game even more from there on out. He also completed a staggering 124 passes out of 128. A completion rate of 96.88%, via SofaScore.

After serving a one match suspension against Mallorca, he returned to action after 101 days, and he looked as confident as ever. A very welcome sight as the league leaders travel to Lenglet’s former club Sevilla for a crucial game in a couple of days. His performance had everything Barça fans are finally coming to admire him for. Holding his defensive position impeccably well, moving to track the attackers, intercepting vital passes and offering wonderful support on the ball. Since arriving at the club, Clément Lenglet has never looked back. And as he turns 25 years old, it is time he gets some well deserved recognition.

From Nancy to Sevilla

Clément Lenglet started his senior career with AS Nancy in 2013. In fact, Lenglet’s first brush with top flight football came as late as 2016. When he made his debut in 2013, Nancy were a Ligue 2 side. They would remain in the second division till the 2015-16 season, which is where Lenglet’s stock gradually begins to rise.

In April of 2016, the young defender scored from a corner that secured promotion to Ligue 1 for Nancy. The small French club would return to the first division after a three-year absence and also secure the Ligue 2 title in the process. In their very first season back, teams around Europe started noticing Lenglet. Just halfway through the 16/17 Ligue 1 campaign, Sevilla brought the promising talent to the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán.

Clément Lenglet rise Sevilla Bayern Munich

Clément Lenglet already gained experience in the European stage with Sevilla | Photo by Imago

Clément Lenglet immediately got his debut eight days after joining in January 2017. He continued his steady rise and became a key player at Sevilla in the following season. Making 35 league appearances for the Andalusians, he played a vital role in European games as well. He was particularly great in Sevilla’s Champions League win against Manchester United. His wonderful short stint at Sevilla caught Barça’s attention, continuing his rather rapid rise up the ranks.

Clément Lenglet at Barcelona

Barça triggered Lenglet’s release clause of 35.9 million euros in the summer of 2018. When he signed, it looked fairly certain that he would initially just be an understudy to Gerard Piqué and Samuel Umtiti‘s starting duo. Nonetheless, the long term injuries to compatriot Umtiti, meant Lenglet was thrust into a starting role far earlier than expected. The sudden step into the limelight turned out to be a blessing in disguise for both Barça and Clément. And it has more or less justified his massive release clause of 300 million euros.

The calm and quiet, 6’1 / 1.86 metres, left-footed centre-back has made miraculous strides in his development at the club. Since he has joined, he has made 43 league appearances for the blaugranas and 19 Champions League appearances as well. His demeanor on the pitch certainly doesn’t fit the mould of a conventional defender. He is not too vocal and aggressive, instead very composed and dutiful.

His technical ability vastly overshadows the need for physicality. He is a great distributor of the ball, an elite tackler and very astute in his awareness and positioning. All traits, which make him the ideal centerback not just for Barcelona, but for almost any club in the world. And even Barça legend Carles Puyol seems to agree.

❛ A pleasure speaking to you, Clément. My dear Barça’s defence is in good hands. Good luck, now comes the best and the most beautiful and give your all! ❜

Carles Puyol
via Instagram in January 2020

Another facet of Lenglet is his consummate professionalism. He is a very classy individual, who keeps away from unnecessary controversy. He behaves like a gentleman off the pitch and lets his football talk for itself on it.

With Barça, he has already won a La Liga trophy and the Supercopa de España. His continued improvement also earned him his first France call-up in May 2019. Since then, he has seven caps for the national team, slowly but surely inching his way up the pecking order.

And not just for France, he is also staking a major claim to an undisputed starting spot at Barcelona. Although Quique Setién has been in two minds recently claiming that Umtiti and Lenglet are “on a similar level”, the latter is regularly showing why he deserves to be in the team. He also stated that he feels “at home” with Barcelona.

❛ You never really know what the future will be like if you are a football player; but I hope that I will play in Barcelona next season, yes ❜

Clément Lenglet
in an interview with French radio Station RMC

His career’s constant upward trajectory can only mean that there is a lot more success in store for Clément Lenglet. The now 25-year-old will very likely be seen as one of the world’s best defenders very soon. Here’s wishing him a happy 25th birthday. One of many personal and professional milestones to come for this amazing talent. And hopefully many of them will come in Barcelona colours.


See more

Tactical analysis: Barcelona 2–0 Leganés

• Barcelona 2–0 Leganés: Player ratings

• Umtiti vs Lenglet: Which centre-back is a better ‘fit’ for Setien?

• Barcelona 2–0 Leganés: Match Review

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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