A few days ago, a goalie whipped a ball out towards the middle of the park where it was picked up by a midfielder, pushed on to a teammate, who teed up a striker who fired a nifty, powerful shot into the far corner. A couple of hours later, a different goalie whipped a ball towards the middle of the park where it was picked up by a forward who moved forward before backheeling the ball for another forward who took a curling shot that was just barely parried away by the opposing keeper.
In the first, Leicester grabbed what would be a crucial goal through Jamie Vardy in their draw with West Ham United. They’re 5 points above Tottenham with 4 matches to go. In the second, Lionel Messi was denied by a fairly fantastic save and Barcelona lost to Valencia 1-2. After a string of 39 games unbeaten, the team has lost 4 of the last 5 in all competitions and getting bounced from the Champions League.A seemingly unassailable league lead has dwindled all the way down to exactly 0 points, first place only preserved by head-to-head tie-breakers. This is a crisis. Er, right?
If a match, and indeed a season, can hinge on a solitary move coming up either as a goal or a fantastic save, can something really be termed a crisis? Chelsea’s season was in crisis when they were flirting with the relegation zone; Aston Villa’s season is what a crisis calls a crisis; even Valencia’s spell under Gary Neville can be termed something at least akin to a crisis. But Barcelona, sitting in first place in the league, having made it to the quarter finals of the Champion League, and waiting on a domestic cup final? That is a crisis? A crisis that could have been turned into a triumph with a single goal was hardly a crisis to begin with.
Yet, it’s true that if you add up a whole host of moments that go the wrong way, it can look exceedingly like a crisis, even if it isn’t. The ball doesn’t come off the foot just right and what was surely a goal clangs off the crossbar, reducing the margin for error to virtually nothing. If Barça scores 3 against Atleti at the Camp Nou, there’s surely no way back from that for the colchoneros, but instead it’s a razor-thin 2-1 margin going into the second leg and the stats were 49% to go through, 51% to go out. That’s rather tight. Or maybe Ivan Rakitic doesn’t try quite so hard or tries just a little harder and instead of Siquiera’s easy-to-deal-with cross ghosting past Bravo at the near post, Raki’s touch sends the ball out for a corner or into the hands of the keeper and that causes the team to keep their head up and they get into halftime down just 1 or 0 or maybe they’re even winning at that point. Instead of chasing the game in the second half, they’re able to relax a little and their decision become easier, their passes a little crisper instead of tight-muscled through open spaces. Maybe Iniesta connects with Messi instead of sending the ball racing through for a goal kick.
Maybe is a loaded word, of course, because maybe not. Barça had 8 shots on target (or 7 depending on the outlet you look at), after all, but they converted just 1 of them. Valencia had 2 such attempts and actually only converted 1. The own goal is a statistical anomaly, not only in terms of its likelihood, but also because it doesn’t really appear in the stats. At one point, Valencia were up 0-2 with just 1 shot on goal and it was like some sort of wormhole had opened up and transported us to an alternate universe where opposing goals are worth twice what they are in this universe. That universe’s Dani Alves is also straight laced, just so you have an idea of how zany it is.
We ultimately lost to Valencia and the knives were out all over Twitter —which may or may not be representative of anything at all. I think of Barça Twitter like I think of the old SAT format: basically useless at predicting anything other than how well you’ll do on the SAT. Barça Twitter is in perpetual crisis, even when the team wins a Triplete, there’s calls for massive overhaul and pruning the tree down to its roots. Crisis? Crisis is a word that resonates with people, but doesn’t really mean anything when it’s applied to FC Barcelona, one of the richest clubs in the world and by far the most successful team of the last decade: no other team has won the Champions League even twice since Milan in 2002/03 and 2006/07. Except, of course, Barcelona, who has won three times since 2005/06.
Of course, the crisis is over now that Barca put 8 beyond hapless Deportivo keeper Manu. Er, right? Well, the stats tell you a different story. And by that I mean, exactly the same story the told against Valencia. Shots on goal against Depor: 10. That’s just 2 more than against Valencia, yet it resulted in 7 more goals. Seven. The quality of those shots was higher yes, but look at a comparison of the xG graphs produced by Michael Caley (Depor here; Valencia here) and you’ll note that the Depor match was a lot closer than it appears while the other match was a lucky getaway for Valencia. Over the course of a full year, you’d expect that Valencia game to be worth several goals to Barcelona.
Billy Haisley made some of these points (more eloquently than I can) before the Depor match even kicked off, but it really does bear repeating: a crisis is what you get when you’re Eintracht Frankfurt, stumbling from one loss to another over the course of many months. A two-week blip is just that: a blip. It’s painful, it’s frustrating, and it’s ultimately not decisive in the overall health of the squad. After all, Lucho took a team to a Triplete just under a year ago, lost in the quarter finals to arguably the second best team in Europe (you can choose the first), is the odds-on favorite to win a consecutive league title, and is awaiting a domestic cup final. The team could end up with 0 trophies or it could end up with 2. And the CL tie with Atleti was just a solitary goal in the first leg away from keeping the words “defensive masterclass” out of everyone’s mouths (though it was a pretty brilliant job by Atleti in the second leg).
If it’s a solitary moment that either puts us in crisis or takes us out of it, it was no crisis at all. Crisis? Pfft. Call me when we’re in 7th place despite having Jurgen Klopp on our sideline.