The Friday match against Sevilla began with so much promise for Barcelona, but ended with heartbreak after some wrong choices. This analysis will go deeper into the statistics from the match, and what they reveal about the disappointing result.
Although the start was promising for the visitors, Friday’s 0–0 draw against Sevilla at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán was a disappointment for Barcelona, as Real Madrid now have the advantage in the league. But what does data suggest from such goalless draw?
A brilliant start
Through the opening thirty minutes, Barcelona turned in perhaps their best start to a match this season. There had been some doubts about the team selection of Quique Setién coming in, but the starters proved him correct early on. Despite playing away against the third-placed team in La Liga, the blaugranas showed some of their best pressing and positional play of the season. Even the players who seem to have come under the most heat in recent times – Iván Rakitić and Nélson Semedo – were putting in a brilliant shift. It looked set to be an excellent Barcelona performance, and a crucial three points in the title race.
Lack of creativity
In spite of the early domination by Barça, they just could not create anything significant in the final third. This lack of conviction in the attack is reflected by Barcelona’s low expected goals tally. Expected goals is a stat which represents the probability of each shot going in, taking into account factors such as the location of the shot and the type of pass it came off of.
The expected goals, or xG, of both sides through the first half | Graph via Understat
While Barça were creating more than Sevilla, none of the chances were truly dangerous. According to Understat, Barcelona’s expected goal tally in the first half was just 0.19. In fact, the best chance of the half for the Catalans did not even come from open play. Instead, it was Lionel Messi’s free-kick, which ended up being cleared off the line by Jules Koundé, that had an xG of 0.09. Clearly, Barça needed to turn their possession into better chances in the second half. However, this did not happen.
Failure to improve
With five substitutions and forty-five minutes remaining, there were still plenty of opportunities for Quique Setién to change the game. But with the level of play declining after the great start, the manager failed to utilize the correct adjustments. This ended up costing the team greatly as Barça still could not muster up any significant attacking threat until very late in the match.
The expected goals, or xG, of Barcelona and Sevilla through the whole match | Graph via Understat
It wasn’t until the 88th minute that Barcelona had their first shot with an expected goal value of higher than 0.11. This was, of course, the Luis Suárez first-time, left-footed effort following a ball into the box by Jordi Alba. That was Barça’s best chance of the match, and it still had an xG of just 0.29.
As the chart shows, it took the azulgranas far too long to create a good opportunity, and they only really had one in the whole match. A player the caliber of Suárez could have scored that chance. Nevertheless, it is incredibly troubling that the best one Barça could create was a tough first-time shot on the weak foot of El Pistolero.
Strong defensive performance
While the attack struggled, Barcelona’s defense performed incredibly well. Sevilla took eight shots in the match, and their first seven had an average xG of just about 0.04. Los Nervionenses could not trouble Marc-André ter Stegen whatsoever, and each member of the back four turned in a performance deserving of a victory.
In a great performance, there was one late error from Barça’s defence. As shown in the last chart, Sevilla’s expected goals shot up in the last few minutes of the match. This was due to an awful headed clearance by Jordi Alba, which caused the ball to fall to Real Madrid loanee Sergio Reguilón. He took a shot from just outside the six yard box, and it had an xG of 0.54. Luckily, the attempt was fitting for the weak foot of a fullback, and Ter Stegen had no issue saving it.
A map showing the expected goals of each shot in the match, and the total for each team. Barcelona’s shots are on the left, Sevilla’s are on the right. The two best chances of the match, the shots by Reguilón and Suárez, are labeled | Graph via Understat
While this chance could have cost Barcelona even the one point of a draw, it should not take away from an excellent defensive performance. It took until the 91st minute for Sevilla to create a significant opportunity, and this was when Barça were pushing numbers forward in search of a winner. The source of this lone chance was also down to a fluke individual error by Alba, which could have easily been prevented. Outside of this, Barcelona’s defensive unit was brilliantly organized and aware for the whole match.
Barcelona came into the restart knowing each match would be like a final, and in this one they undoubtedly failed. With two points dropped, the fate of the La Liga title is now in Real Madrid’s hands. Additionally, the pressure on Quique Setién is building, and for his managerial performance in this match, that seems to be deserved.
The question has to be asked: Why were there not more minutes for Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig? Barcelona were struggling to create, and needed a spark similar to the one Fati provided against Leganés, but he did not even get on the pitch. The midfield also needed a rejuvenation due to a clear drop in performance as the match progressed, but Riqui only got on in the 88th minute.
Clearly, Quique Setién will have to adjust his strategy for substitutions going forward. With such a vibrant, dynamic start, only the final ball seemed to be missing. But instead of bringing on players who could supply this, Setién went the pragmatic route and paid the price. It was a brilliant performance in the back, but the attack was clearly not at the same level, and neither was the manager.
Barcelona vs Real Madrid: The Game through Numbers
A detailed look into the game by numbers, statistics, and tactics as FC Barcelona fell to defeat against Real Madrid in the first El Clasico of the season.
Following a high-flying victory against Ferencvaros in the opening game of the Champions League, FC Barcelona returned to action in La Liga against Real Madrid at Camp Nou. However, the game didn’t go as Ronald Koeman planned, and Barcelona stumbled to defeat in the first El Clasico of 2020-21. This followed a draw against Sevilla and a shock loss to Getafe and left Barcelona midtable 5 games into the season.
Ronald Koeman sprung in several surprises ahead of this fixture. Firstly, Jordi Alba returned from injury to play as left-back, while Sergi Roberto was omitted altogether for Sergiño Dest. Philippe Coutinho played as left-wing. 17-year old Pedri got to start the Classico as a reward for his performances but was fielded on the right-wing. Lionel Messi played as the no. 10 behind Ansu Fati as the striker.
Off the ball, Barcelona defended in a 4-4-2 with Messi and Fati staying and pressing up. From touch-based heatmaps, there are two interesting features.
Firstly, while Frenkie de Jong played in a relatively advanced role, he stayed quite wide. Sergio Busquets occupied the central channels. However, tasking his old legs to guard such a big zone resulted in recurring issues.
Secondly, Pedri is not a natural winger. He loves to play centrally. Having three natural CAMs in Pedri, Coutinho and Messi on-field and forcing two of them to play as wingers was never a good idea, to begin with. Pedri kept drifting inside, as shown in the heatmaps. Both Coutinho and Pedri were limited in their influence. Koeman’s overthinking and tinkering nullified both their strengths.
Real Madrid on the other hand set up in a skewed 4-3-3 as shown. Early injury to Nacho resulted in Lucas Vazquez coming on as the right back for the remainder of the game. Vinicius stayed high and wide, while Marco Asensio drifted in and out, often letting Federico Valverde occupy the wider channels.
Barcelona’s structure after the 81st minute deserves a special mention. Koeman made several offensive subs, bringing on Antoine Greizmann, Ousmane Dembele, Martin Braithwaite and Fransisco Trincáo into the game, in place of Pedri, Fati, Busquets and Alba. To top it all off, Coutinho was slotted as the only pivot in the side, instead of de Jong as the shape devolved into a bizarre 3-1-6.
Attacks and Buildups
This game had a clear moment after which the game changed – minute 62. Until then, Barcelona were evidently the better team starting to dominate a bit as well. Here are the stats from the entire game:
Barcelona were outshot, outscored, and had fewer shots on target – but a lot of that’s skewed from what happened minute 62 onwards. From the PPDA (Passes per Defensive Action) data, which is a proxy for pressing intensity, it’s evident that neither team went for a very high press. Here is the shot map and xG flow:
Minute 62 was when Clement Lenglet fouled by pulling Sergio Ramos’ shirt inside the penalty area while defending a corner. Ramos didn’t need a second invitation to exaggerate the pull. He fell theatrically to the ground, won a penalty, and Barcelona were chasing the game that moment onwards.
The first blood was drawn by Madrid after a moment of disastrous marking by Busquets allowed Federico Valverde to run into Barcelona’s box, unmarked, and smash home from Karim Benzema’s pass.
Thankfully, Barcelona did not take long to reply. A delightful ball over the top from Lionel Messi met Jordi Alba’s well-timed run, and Alba’s square pass was prodded home by Ansu Fati. Here is a little animation of the goal:
As mentioned earlier, Madrid’s second goal came from a penalty, scored by Ramos himself. And Luka Modric capitalized on some terrible defending to make it 3-1 in the 91st minute.
Neither team were truly impressive in passing. Here are the most dangerous passes by both teams:
Passes into the box were few by either team. Barcelona did manage to get into the box from central zone 14 or half-spaces, while Madrid clearly utilised their greatest strength – attacking from wide areas. It’s also shown in the key passes map:
However, in buildup, Madrid were far more expansive. They switched the play a lot as compared to Barcelona.
Comparing the passes completed in the final third by each team, quantified by field tilt – Barcelona completed a greater number of final-third passes. However, the field tilt, or final third territory gained, was being dominated by Madrid in the first half. Barcelona started the second half positively and dominated territory. However, they got scored against the run of play. After that, Madrid were happy to let Barcelona keep possession and attacked the team on the counter.
Defence and Pressing
Both teams exhibited some terrible defending in the first half, to say the very least. Both goals were conceded from such cases.
As mentioned before, there were huge gaps in the midfield, and too much space between the midfield and defence; i.e. poor covering by Busquets and de Jong. Madrid made the best use of this for their first goal, and repeated it several times as the clock ticked ahead.
In the first image, it is evident that too many Barcelona players got sucked in trying to press the Madrid defence, resulting in a huge void in the midfield. Madrid play out of the press with ridiculous ease.
In the second image, the gap between Dest and Pique is appalling. Both centre-backs are engulfed towards Benzema for some reason, and Busquets completely loses track of Valverde’s run. One simple through ball and the job is done.
Almost immediately after that, Vinicius almost scored a second. Quick combination with Benzema in the box, while Busquets is seen jogging outside the box, there is a huge space to attack. Thankfully, Vinicius’ poor decision making and first touch allow Alba to throw him off.
The next example, again in the first half, shows terrible spacing between defenders, and terrible tracking from Busquets. A simple ball behind Dest, who is in isolation with the rest of the backline meets a well-timed run that Busquets can’t keep up with.
The next two examples are from the second half:
In the first one, the “pivot” Coutinho loses track of Toni Kroos’ run. Kroos runs onto Vazquez’s cutback to take a shot that Neto saves marvellously, and denies the German again pouncing perfectly on the rebounded shot.
The second image shows the moment when Vazquez lobs a ball into Ramos’ path, who is completely unmarked on the far post. Thankfully, Neto comes to Barça’s rescue saving the Madrid’s captain volley with his foot.
Madrid didn’t cover themselves in glory either, especially in the first half. Barcelona’s only goal of the game came as a result of terrible tracking from Nacho as Alba found space behind him. There were giveaways in midfield that led to multiple chances as well.
Most notably, Fati’s lofted ball into the path of an unmarked Messi, who eviscerated Ramos with a quick dribble but shot straight into the hands of Thibaut Courtois at the near post. However, they weren’t as often as Barcelona’s, and in general, resulted in lower quality chances.
As mentioned before, neither team went all out to the press. Barcelona’s pressing structure was so poor that Madrid played through it without trouble. They could even manage elaborate buildups, with two examples shown below:
Shambolic would be the right word to define Barcelona’s defending in the game. The lack of speed and the alertness to track runners was exposed yet again. The card-happy centre-backs came to haunt Barcelona again, as Lenglet gave away a poor penalty.
Busquets, on the other hand, looks far from being a starter and should be replaced as soon as possible. And if he somehow manages to retain his spot in the lineup, the midfield structure needs to be fixed so that he doesn’t get tasked with defending such a wide area.
The substitutions and Koeman’s game management made little to no sense. As seen in the Getafe game, in more cases than not, more forwards does not equate to more goals. The midfield was non-existent in the last 10 minutes, and Los Blancos made the best use of this as they scored the third where Luka Modric made the Barcelona defence dance.
The game was pretty even for nearly one hour, with neither Barcelona nor Real Madrid standing out as the better team. Post that, however, the scoreline spoke for itself.
Sergiño Dest made a solid claim for starting as right back in the coming games. He was outstanding in defence and quite courageous and innovative in the offence, with some neat dribbles. Fati kept his goalscoring form alive, becoming the youngest ever scorer in an El Clasico. Neto ended the game as arguably the best player on the pitch, but that is more bad news than good for the Garnet and the Blue.
However, there are defensive, structural, tactical, and personnel problems to be ironed out by Koeman in the future, especially if he wants to retain his job after a change of presidency. Otherwise, this could turn out to be a worse season the previous one for La Liga.