This is a guest post by Marlon, who you can find on Twitter as @majatt.
Let’s set the context first. Barcelona have played 6 games this season and they’ve played out like this:
Losing the first two games by a two-goal margin, winning the next four by two goals or more while keeping clean sheets in all four. Before the game against Juventus, using the ranking on whoscored.com, Barça’s best 11/formation was:
The Best 11, by whoscored rankings, regardless of formation for 433, which is large the preferred formation was:
Roberto – Umtiti – Pique – Alba
Rakitic – Iniesta
Suarez – Deulofeu
Barcelona went into Juve with 2.5 changes:
- Dembele in for Deulofeu.
- Suarez went Left, Messi Central and Dembele on the right where Deulofeu plays on the left.
- Swapping Roberto for Semedo.
All the choices made sense as Barça’s injury list going into the game was:
- Sergi Roberto doubtlful, started on the bench.
The Semedo for Roberto choice also making sense simply because Semedo is new to Barça and has more potential at Right Back than Roberto who can’t match his speed, strength or experience at the position.
For Juventus injury and other factors saw them missing:
- Cuadrado (Red card ban)
- Lichtsteiner (left out, probably transferring)
While Barça was missing one starter, Juve was missing six, so this obviously impacted the game but maybe not as much as one would think.
Last year a Barça side missing two of last seasons’ Key Players (Busquets and Vidal) lost 3-0 in Turin to a full-strength Juventus. Juventus had one less shot and one less shot on target than last seasons’ fixture. Where Barça needed nine shots this year, with five on target, last season they attempted 16 with four on target! A few of these and other items related two the 3-0 win and loss to Juventus:
|Stat||This Season||Last Season|
|Barça Shots vs Juve||9||16|
|Barça Shots on Target vs Juve||5 (55%)||4 (25%)|
|UCL average shots on Target %||N/A||50%|
|Barça Possession vs Juve||64%||88%|
|Barça Passing vs Juve||90%||88%|
So it should be clear the difference between losing 3-0 and winning 3-0 was largely down to quality of chances and accuracy of finishing, for both teams.
Here’s the key difference, last year Juve sat deeper, Luis Suarez played up front and Juve spent a lot of time deep in their own box. While Messi and Neymar spent most of their time around the edge of the box:, feel free to go to whoscored and play around if you’re interested.
While this year:
As you can see Messi, Suarez and Dembele spent their time further away from the box. Hang on, Messi et al are MORE dangerous near the box. You hear this ALL the time, so it must be true, and mostly it is. Unless you’re playing against an organized defense that is comfortable sitting deep, using their physical advantages well and ready to pounce on the counter.
You might think so what? They sat deeper, how did that matter? Well I’ll give you my opinion, this made Juve’s back line spend a lot more time fishing outside their box creating space between them and Buffon. In the game we lost, Juve spending the time largely so far back meant through balls made little sense and that’s visible in the passing map. Look at this below, this was last year, Barça played a ton of passes into the box, a bunch of them created chances, some deserving better finishes but with 25% of shots on target you get the idea. Clearly something was off, especially for a team that averaged 50% of their shots on target in the UCL (55% in La Liga last season).
Now here is this seasons’ game:
Do you see it? Maybe this will make it easier, here are the key passes and assists for Barça last year:
And the most recent game:
The assists occur outside the box towards the center, last year the chances created outside were wider. The one key pass into the box went nowhere this year, well it went into the stands courtesy of Suarez. The second goal for Barça came from a failed pass inside the box, which is the point, Juve will suffocate plays into the box making the resulting shot difficult. The deflection was a bit of luck and Barça took it.
I’ve been somewhat coy but I’ll come out and say it, putting Messi as a false 9 and having no one to justify Juve sitting deep created space in behind their backline that Barcelona exploited to score the first goal and generally threaten. For both of Messi’s goals he received the ball on the move outside the box and, crucially, didn’t hit the post but the back of the net. I want to emphasize the latter point a bit, look at this:
When Messi fires the first shot he had a small pocket of space, was quickly being closed down by two Juve players but shot between them and into the far corner. For Messi’s second Buffon guessed the wrong side but really, Messi could see Buffon and had tons of space to shoot in.
The sheer quality of Messi’s first finish changed the game as the last goal was a counter attack facilitated by Juve looking to get back into the game vs shutting it down and winning comfortably in Turin. You’ll notice I’m largely ignoring the 0-0 result, it was an extension of the first game’s tactics and issues for Barça.
Now back to the point about Messi as a false 9 and how Suarez’s positioning may ultimately have been the spoiler in last season’s fixture. Look at where Barça tried to dribble vs Juve last year:
Mostly wide and deep centrally meaning Juve could respond more easily. The most recent game:
Dribbles out wide were further back this time around, if a second Juventus player tried to disrupt the run they’d be creating space in their backline while a Barça player was on the ball in the midfield area. The dribbles centrally are mostly outside the area, four of them, one resulting in the third goal of the game but you can discount that a bit as it was a counter attack. One of the other four was a Juve CB so it goes to the point of getting Juventus to sit the back four further away from Buffon.
Lastly let’s look at Barça and expected goals. You can read about expected goals here if it sounds like gibberish, also you should definitely read this if you’ve ever struggled to quantity why Messi is such a great goal scorer. Anyway, have a look at last seasons’ 3-0 loss in terms of expected goals:
xG map for Juventus – Barcelona. Combination of great finishing and a bend-but-don't-break defense put Juve in great position for the semis. pic.twitter.com/cvP7Ep1lMJ
— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) April 11, 2017
Now have a look at this seasons’ win:
xG map for Barcelona – Juventus. So, yeah, I just didn't think Juve were all that bad. pic.twitter.com/YtEaWu6bwB
— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) September 13, 2017
Now if you’ve understood the xG stat this makes sense because Barça took a lot of shots in the loss and this figure is a sum not an average. If you read that article about Messi you’ll see he had, by 2014, a 21% success rate from just inside the penalty area (vs 13% by players on average) and that’s exaggerated when he’s centered as he more or less was for his shots vs Juve. Still Barcelona generated the same probability of scoring goals from fewer shots, that is, the shots taken this game were of higher quality.
Take away points:
- Playing Messi centrally should be and should have always be Barcelona’s strategy against teams that are defensively strong.
- This all only works because the defense performed well in this game and last season it wasn’t as effective.
- Even if Juve scored first or outperformed their xG I think Barça would have won assuming the tactics held.
- Dembele and Suarez were largely spectators with 78 touches (42 and 36 respectively) between them (vs Messi’s 83). Ter Stegen had more touches than either player. Expect them to be more involved in the future and Barça being better off for it.
Barcelona 3-0 Juventus Highlights