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Analysis

What can Miralem Pjanić provide to Barcelona?

Regardless of whether a swap deal with Arthur Melo is positive or not, what could Juve’s Miralem Pjanić offer Barcelona?

Suhas Achanta

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Header Image by Jonathan Moscrop / Sportimage via Imago

While in the eyes of culés there are multiple negatives in swapping Arthur Melo, Juventus’ Miralem Pjanić could still be a very useful addition for Barcelona if the deal goes through.


Arthur Melo‘s spell at Barcelona seems to be coming to an unpopular conclusion. The Brazilian is slowly gaining interest in leaving the Catalans to join Juventus as the board doesn’t value him enough. With the 23-year-old heading to Turin, Juventus’ Miralem Pjanić is tipped to be heading to Barcelona. As much as the fans don’t want this swap deal to happen, it seems more likely as the days progress. So, instead of lamenting over the inevitable, let’s take a look at what Pjanić could offer to Barça if he arrives.

Career overview

Miralem Pjanić started off as a young and promising midfielder in the French top flight. He played for French outfit FC Metz for a season where they got relegated, finishing rock bottom. Despite being only 17, he played 32 league games for Metz, starting 27 times, where he got 4 goals and an assist. He was extremely impressive and deservingly won himself a transfer to Olympique Lyonnais.

At Lyon, he established a foundation for his style of play. Taking set-pieces, willing to shoot from long-range, and the ability to feed pin-point passes were some of the qualities he harnessed. As he slowly began to earn a reputation across Europe, he would finally leave Ligue 1 in the 2011/12 season to join AS Roma for a fee of €11 million.

The Serie A seemed to be the perfect league for Pjanić. Despite being a smart player with the ball, he is relatively slow when compared to other central midfielders. The pace of Italian football seemed to be easy for him to acclimatise to, as he didn’t have to run too much. In Italy, the expectation on a midfielder is to pose the capabilities of unlocking defences through an extraordinary range of passes. Fortunately for the Bosnian, he was an excellent passer.

Miralem Pjanić Juventus Barcelona

Admittedly, the current has been one of Miralem Pjanić’s worst seasons at Juventus | Photo by Jonathan Moscrop / Sportimage via Imago

Roma was the ideal club for him. He started off the bench, but slowly became a crucial player for them. As the games progressed, his involvement in the team’s build-up began to rise massively. Every attack was either started or set-up by Pjanić. Towards his final two seasons, he was making double figures on goal contribution with ease. He scored 15 goals and provided 22 assists across 2014 to 2016 and, when Juventus came calling, he couldn’t refuse.

His five-year stint at Roma would end with a move to Turin for a fee of €32 million. Miralem is into his fourth season as a Bianconeri, where he has earned himself an incredible reputation for his playmaking. At Juve, the philosophy reduces his chances of direct goal-contribution. In spite of that, he manages to get himself bags of goals and assists through set-pieces and long-balls. He is a talented midfielder who is bound to improve any team with his vision. Unfortunately, he is Juventus’ only playmaker, and that makes it very challenging for him without any creative players around.

The role of Miralem Pjanić if he joins Barcelona

There is a never-ending question amidst this transfer saga: why do Barcelona need Miralem Pjanić? A lot of uncertainty looms over whether he is the right profile and if he is the player Barça desperately need. After all, if the blaugranas are willing to offload Arthur, then it must at least be for a player who gives everything that is required, right?

Pjanić is neither pacy, nor agile. He isn’t press-resistant like Arthur and can be dispossessed easily at times. However, despite the several drawbacks, he has an extraordinary vision. Under former manager Massimiliano Allegri, he was deployed more as a central midfielder. His duties pertained to more advanced distribution and had a lesser defensive job. Allegri’s system focussed more on building an overall defensive structure where a player with a wide range of passing is needed for distribution.

Under current boss Maurizio Sarri, he is being used as a regista. And this requires him to carry the ball and move progressively across the pitch. Sadly, Sarri is unable to get the best out of him in that role, which is why they want Arthur.

In the azulgrana colours, Pjanić can revert back to how he was playing under Allegri. He can feed nifty passes between the lines and work in a midfield of Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong where he doesn’t have to worry about ball progression. The former will take care of resisting the press, while that latter will deal with the dynamics. As a result of this, all Pjanić has to do is focus on his craft: splitting defences open.

Sami Khedira Miralem Pjanić Juventus Barcelona

At Juventus, Pjanić has been partnered up by more destructive rather than creative midfielders | Photo by Marco Alpozzi / LaPresse via Imago

As we already know, Lionel Messi tends to drop deep for the sake of providing a creative outlet for Barça. He has been doing this quite frequently since the departure of Andrés Iniesta. Even so, he is now 33, and there is a need for the Catalans to preserve his services. He can’t be left to do everything, as it would take a massive toll on his body. There is a need for the midfield to ease his workload by being able to feed passes that bypass the backline.

Messi’s trademark long balls that are received by Jordi Alba on the left flank also need to be provided by another player. Pjanić is capable of feeding such passes, and this would allow the Argentine in conserving the energy he spends by dashing into the opposition box. Messi can play more as a false nine or even as a wide-man cutting inside. At the moment, Barcelona doesn’t have a player who can share Leo’s playmaking responsibilities.

Coach Quique Setién will obviously have to devise a way to cover for Miralem Pjanić’s light frame that reduces his defensive actions. He can be bullied easily by sturdy players, and there is a possibility that Barcelona’s midfield becomes too timid due to the lack of physicality. Pjanić would be excellent alongside Arturo Vidal, for example, whose physical presence could give him more freedom. The future of the Chilean is uncertain, though, and Miralem could form an excellent possession-oriented triangle alongside Sergio Busquets and De Jong.

Conclusion

At the moment, it’s reported that the only thing that’s holding the Arthur–Pjanić swap is the decision of the Brazilian. He wanted to stay, but is now flirting with the idea of joining the Old Lady. Obviously, Arthur would be looking for guarantees under Sarri and a boost in his wages. On the flip side, the Catalans would have to deal with Pjanić’s wage demands as he earns more than Arthur.

Nonetheless, the current transfer market is one of the most unpredictable ones we have ever seen. A market hit by the ravages of the pandemic is bound to discourage reckless spending. Even though the swap deal seems to be inevitable, there’s always a chance that it may breakdown in the final stages. For now, the ball is in Juve’s court to convince Arthur.

But from Barcelona’s perspective, the fans should come to terms with the fact that Pjanić is the player who will be replacing Arthur. He may not be the ideal player who ticks all the boxes. Still, that doesn’t make him any less of a talent. Signing him would increase the midfield’s creative output, and reduce the burden on Messi. The Bosnian may have a few flaws to his playing style, and his age, 30, is also a factor that may discourage many. But he might actually be the player who could flourish under a system of more freedom.

Quique Setién won’t pose restrictions on him like Sarri and Allegri, and this would let him unleash his creative prowess to another level. His service on the ball is something that goes under the radar, and furthermore, he is a player who poses a tough mind frame. He is very vocal and could be someone who can provide an imposing control in the dressing room. He would be able to dictate the play by continually speaking with the players on the pitch.

If Setién can succeed in integrating Miralem Pjanić into the squad and making him understand the Barcelona way, then he might not be a bad signing at all.


See more

A positive for Barcelona: an improved defence

• The silent resurgence of Iván Rakitić

• Editors’ Takes: Debating on the Barcelona 1–0 Athletic Club

• Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig must play if Barça wants to stay alive

I started writing so that I could bridge the gap and pass time on days when there were no matches. But little did I know that writing about the beautiful game would amp up my love for it. I've always wanted to learn more, and share whatever insights I have on the game, to anyone, anywhere. The world stops for 90 minutes when your team plays, and that for me is very much true.

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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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