Barcelona is currently table-topping in La Liga with 37 points from 14 matches. They have scored 33 goals this season and have only conceded five. They won 12, drew one, and lost only one match this season. Their new signing, Robert Lewandowski, is scoring goals like he always has. So far in La Liga, everything appears to be going well for Barcelona. But there is an underlying issue that often goes unaddressed. That is the inability, nay, the reluctance of their midfielders to score goals. We look at some stats and see how the Barcelona midfielders’ lack of contribution in scoring goals is hurting them.
In modern football, midfielders need to contribute to the goal more. This takes the pressure off the forwards and gives the team a more attacking edge. Barcelona’s midfield consists of Sergio Busquets, Pedri, Gavi, Frenkie De Jong, and Frank Kessie. All the other midfielders for Barcelona, except Kessie, have started the majority of the matches. But yet, they have only scored five goals among them, with Pedri scoring three and Frenkie De Jong scoring two. The above visual shows the shots per 90 minutes for all midfielders in La Liga. The fact that not even one Barcelona midfielder has made it to the list speaks volumes about the problem.
Pedri has scored the most goals for Barcelona’s midfielders. He has three goals this season. The above visual shows the xG map of Pedri for Barcelona this season in La Liga. We can observe that he has attempted 10 shots, four of them from inside the penalty box, and all of them have been on target. The most worrying thing about this stat is that he has not troubled the goalkeeper even once from outside the box. The 20-year-old has a meagre average of 0.96 shots per game, and that too with 45% of them not on target.
Compared to last season, we can see that there is a slight, although not significant, improvement in Pedri’s shooting. He only attempted 12 shots last season and scored on three of them. Last season, Pedri averaged 1.32 shots per game with a 35.7% accuracy rate. The player himself had addressed the issue of his lack of goals. However, things have not improved much as the average shots per game have gone down. But the fact that he has already equalled his goal tally from last season midway through this one is encouraging.
Apart from Pedri, Frenkie De Jong is the only other midfielder to have scored for the Blaugranas. The Dutch midfielder has scored twice for Barcelona this season and has one assist to his name as well. De Jong has attempted a total of 13 shots this season, with six coming from inside the penalty box and nine on target. He averages only 0.89 shots per game, with 66.7% of them on target. De Jong also shows a reluctance to shoot in front of the goal. The 25-year-old often drives the ball forward with pace but then tries to pass the ball almost invariably.
Last season, the Dutch midfielder scored three goals and had three assists in La Liga. He attempted a total of 16 shots last season, with 12 of them from inside the box and seven on target. His shots per game have seen an improvement this season as it has gone up from 0.54 to 0.89 shots per game. De Jong also scored once in the Europa League last season. The bright point, even though it is very small, is his improvement in shots per game and accuracy.
The winner of the Golden Boy Award has not opened his account this season yet. He has one assist to his name in La Liga but hasn’t scored in any competition. The 18-year-old has attempted a mere five shots on target, and none of them has been on target. He averages 0.57 shots per game this season, with 70% of the shots going off target.
Gavi had a much better shooting record last season. He scored two goals in La Liga and attempted a total of 28 shots, the most among the midfielders. The then-17-year-old tried 19 shots from inside the penalty box and had nine shots on target. He even scored one from outside the box. Gavi averaged 0.75 shots per game with a 26.5% success rate. Gavi, like Busquets, has seen his shot count decrease this season.
Barcelona signed Frank Kessie in the summer to reinforce their midfield. However, the move has not gone according to plan for the player, as he has found himself on the bench more often than not. But even so, Kessie has the best shooting record amongst Barca’s midfielders. He has only played in seven matches, mostly coming on as a substitute. But the former AC Milan player has an average of 1.2 shots per 90 minutes and has attempted five shots this season. While this isn’t great, it is, at the very least, better than the other midfielders, none of whom averages a shot per game.
Football is evolving fast, and the role of goal-scoring midfielders is getting more important by the day. Therefore, the reluctance of Barcelona’s midfielders to shoot and instead look for a pass might end up hurting them. This could put additional pressure on the candidates, affecting their campaign as a whole. So, to become a formidable team in Europe, Xavi must ask his players to shoot more without hesitation. After all, as the saying goes, the one who hesitates is lost.
Visuals via TFA data viz engine