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Analysis

What attributes should the Barça central midfielders have?

Lewis Shankie

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Header Image by David Ramos via Getty Images

The role of the Barça central midfielders is crucial to the team playing well. They set the pace of the game and often dictate where the play goes. Many struggle to adapt to the position when arriving in Barcelona, so what attributes should the midfielders have in order to succeed?


FC Barcelona’s central midfielders must possess a certain skill set if they are to succeed at the club. In an era where the ideal midfielder was seen as strong, athletic and powerful, Barcelona redefined the position. Instead, the blaugrana opted for technically gifted players that had great ball control, passing, vision, intelligence and dribbling. This was epitomised during the most successful period in the club’s history by Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta.

But there is also a different role that can be effective for the Catalan side. Players such as Arturo Vidal, Iván Rakitić and Seydou Kieta have been useful as more of box-to-box midfielders and look to make more runs in behind the opposition defence. With that being said, what qualities should the ideal Barça interior possess?

Key attributes

There are a number of key attributes that any of Barça’s central midfielders should have. The first is a good range of passing and vision. One of the main principles at Barcelona is to take the ball, pass the ball, so midfielders must be able to pass the ball quickly. Furthermore, they must be confident in playing short one-touch passes. Also, being able to find passes that break the lines of the opposition and create space for others is essential.

❛ Technique is not being able to juggle a ball 1000 times. Anyone can do that by practising. Then you can work in the circus. Technique is passing the ball with one touch, with the right speed, and at the right foot of your teammate ❜

Johan Cruyff

Positional intelligence and awareness is another indispensable attribute that the azulgranas‘ interiors must possess. This is both in defending and attacking. Defensively, they must know when to press and be able to anticipate where the opponents are going so they can close them down effectively. In attack, the midfielders need to understand where to position themselves so that they provide an option for their team. They must also find space to stretch the opposition and not overcrowd one area of the pitch.

The final desirable features are dribbling and ball control. Inevitably, Barça’s midfielders are going to have to take the ball in difficult positions where they may be under a lot of pressure. Therefore, it is crucial that they have the confidence to receive the ball and find a way to retain it in tight spaces. This may be through dribbling past someone or being able to move the ball on quickly.

The Xavi and Iniesta model

It would be a mistake not to talk about legends Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta when discussing Barça’s central midfielders. Two of the greatest to ever play this position, players should look to learn from them. Their telepathic understanding of each other meant they were always available for a pass and could keep the ball for extended periods. Their impact on the game was huge and they were always looking to be involved in the play.

❛ Sometimes without even looking at him I know where he is ❜

Xavi Hernández
on Andrés Iniesta

The area of their game that the current Barcelona midfielders could learn the most from is how they played in the final third. Xavi and Iniesta thrived in playing quick passes and one-two’s around defenders. They moved the ball at a fast rate to stretch teams and open up space. This is something that has been lacking in recent years for the blaugranas. The midfield needs to get the ball moving quicker and be aware of better attacking positions to take up. Too often, when rivals defend deep, the ball moves lethargically from side to side and there is not enough risk in finding that killer pass. Midfielders, and not only attackers, should contribute to unbalancing the defences too.

The unique role

Although Xavi and Iniesta represent the model Barça midfielder, every great Barcelona team should have a more dynamic midfielder, even if it’s just as an alternative to have on the bench. These are players like Seydou Keita, Iván Rakitić, Arturo Vidal and Paulinho, who have all made a significant contribution at the club. While still very good on the ball, they offer more attacking runs in behind the defence and goals from midfield. These types of footballers are important for the team as they offer a Plan B when the usual possession-based football is not working. This is especially the case when opponents are sitting deep and it is difficult to break them down.

The current options

Barcelona have some of the most exciting midfielders in the world and a good mix of youth and older players. Iván Rakitić and Arturo Vidal are more experienced and probably coming to the end of their careers at the club, but they have been great assets for the Catalan side. Meanwhile, Frenkie de Jong and Arthur Melo are two players that are built to play for Barcelona. De Jong is the most athletic and agile midfielder and he is composed on the ball. Arthur again is excellent with the ball and they both have huge potential. However, they struggle to be as effective in the final third at times and this is where they need to improve.

❛ I like to watch the great players, the ones who are technically good and understand the game. I try to see how they move ❜

Frenkie de Jong

Two players who must get more first team minutes are La Masía products Carles Aleñá and Riqui Puig. They both have the potential to be starters for the Spanish champions and understand how to play Barça’s football perfectly. The two youngsters know where to position themselves and excel in finding passes that break the lines of the opposition. They could be the key to offering a more balanced midfield as Arthur and De Jong are more comfortable playing with the ball in deeper positions. Riqui and Aleñá could help the midfield be more inventive in the final third and allow Barcelona to create more chances from these positions.


See also

5 years since a historic treble: What made Barça so fearsome in 2015?

• Comparing the attacks of Barcelona and Manchester City

• Eric García returning to Barça: A possible scenario?

 

Football is the greatest sport in the world. There is no sporting event that is watched more and is as passionately followed. Any football fan should try and watch Barcelona to understand how football should be played. At Barcelona, football is all about keeping the ball, movement, passing and playing great football above all else. I am a Barça fan from Scotland and have been following the team for over a decade now. I have been lucky enough to watch possibly the greatest era on football ever, and hope it continues.

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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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