The 2018/2019 season is nearly over for Barcelona. Still, the opinions are mixed about the performance of the Catalans and are rather negative. The Anfield disaster has caused much damage and made the football directors think about the future plans of the team. It’s maybe time to evaluate in an objective way the collective and individual performances. Thus, Gerard Piqué will be at the heart of the analysis of today. For sure, the Spanish defender had one of his best seasons ever. He has confirmed his status as the absolute of the Catalan defence. The Piqué-Lenglet alliance has even worked better than expected. The absence of Umtiti was barely felt. I will try in this tactical analysis article to discuss, using statistics, the role that Piqué played during the 2018-2019 season.
How did Geri perform in terms of statistics?
We always say that playing for Barcelona as a defender is one of the hardest things you can do. Most of the time, you defend over 40 meters from your own goalkeeper. You have much space to cover and you need to be very fast and anticipate a lot. It’s also imperative to find passing channels under huge pressure and think a lot about your positioning when your team-mate has the ball. All this to say that it’s a very complex task and that is really unfair to compare Barcelona defenders (or proactive teams’ defenders in general) to other ones especially those who play for reactive teams. So, in this section, I will try to compare and analyse Gerard Piqué’s numbers to defenders who are quite in the same situation.
In terms of appearances, Gerard Piqué had achieved at 32 years-old his most consistent year for his club. He played 35 games, all of them as a starter. It’s his best record so far as he had never played more than 30 matches per campaign before this season.
In the defensive sector, Piqué has some impressive statistics comparing to what he has done over the last few years, to his teammates at Barcelona and to other Manchester City defenders. Although 1vs1 duels do not figure out of his strengths, Gerard Piqué had been dribbled only 0.4 times per match (either in La Liga or in Champions League). He had better numbers only under the orders of Pep Guardiola between 2009 and 2011.
Clément Lenglet on the other side of the Barcelona defence had been dribbled 0.6 and 0.5 per match respectively in La Liga and UCL. Aymeric Laporte, City’s best defender of the time has an average of 0.4 and 0.3 as seen below.
In terms of clearances in UCL, Geri surpasses all of the defenders cited above. He made 5.1 clearances per match which are twice higher than any other Barca and City defender.
He had also won twice more aerial duels than any other Barcelona player who played more than 10 matches: 3.8 duels per game. Piqué had better performed in this sector only during La Liga 2013/2014 season.
Piqué is also the second defender who committed the least number of fouls just behind Sergi Roberto (who had played in the midfield few times). It is also one of his best seasons in terms of the number of fouls.
Last but not least The ex-La Roja player had made on average 65 passes per game in La Liga campaign. On the other side, Lenglet made only 51.7 passes per game, a noticeable difference. It’s maybe the first time since Luis Enrique’s first year, that most of the build-up phase goes through Piqué in a dominant way. During the last two years, Umtiti impressed with his passing qualities (He had performed some astonishing breaking lines passes). The Frenchman managed to have the dominant part of the passes attempted.
Through the different statistics mentioned below, you can see how Piqué managed to lead the Catalan defence in different areas. He was often the one who was in charge of the opponent’s long balls. He managed to block opponents’ passing and shooting and take the responsibility of getting the ball forward.
Though, statistics remain not really significant due to the fact that we only keep counting events without taking into account details like the pitch zone, the proximity of team-mates and opponents from the ball holder and also opponents’ quality. I will try, during the next section, to showcase Piqué’s role in build-up, the transition phase, and defensive phase through different examples of either iconic or “typical” games this season.
Piqué’s role in build-up, transition, and defensive phase
Piqué is a crucial part of most of the Barcelona attacks for years. Whether with the ball at its feet or by creating spaces and attracting opponents, his role was always prominent.
Against teams who pressed Barcelona high, like Girona, Eibar, and Liverpool, the Catalans tried to make a profit from their goalkeeper. For that, either ter Stegen or Cillessen had the responsibility to find an available passing channel.
Piqué created at these moments a kind of triangular connection between him, the goalkeeper and another team-mate. This has been done to attract opponents’ forwards and midfielders and look for passes behind their backs as shown below.
It has also been done to stretch the opponents’ players and to break a compact structure so they can find ways to play passes through the centre. This did not work against Liverpool as their attacking trio did not advance to press Barca’s defence.
Finally, these connections were also, in other times, formed to exit the ball through it. It’s the case especially when the opposition did align only two strikers to press Barca’s back line.
During the moments where the opponents remain deep on the pitch, Piqué had to move the ball forward. As a right-footed defender, he did often prefer to send the ball to his right. Some of his passes to Semedo or Roberto often broke the whole midfield line.
On another scale, Gerard Piqué had the responsibility of playing long balls to under-loaded zones. The idea is well-known as one of Guardiola’s central concepts. The team tries to occupy a certain space, exchange passes in that narrow zone of the pitch to attract opponents and then play a long ball to the opposite side of the pitch. Piqué played most of these long balls, and the majority were in Alba’s direction.
Piqué is also Barcelona’s last man in defence. He has to cover spaces left by either Lenglet or Semedo/Roberto. He has the habit of covering the right-back, but in addition to this, he also had to cover his left centre-back since Lenglet often gets out of position to follow opponent attackers, such as Depay against Lyon and Salah against Liverpool.
There were some important changes in Piqué’s role at Barcelona this season. He took a bit more responsibility at initiating attacks and imposing a general defensive attitude.
Through the years Piqué was known for being the calm defender who covers spaces and marks the opponent’s main attackers while Puyol or Mascherano get out of position and try to anticipate. This year, he had Lenglet to his side and as the Frenchman shared some of the tasks below with him. We have seen him, especially during Champions League nights, blocking and pressing opponents high.
This evolution is certainly due to Lenglet’s presence but also due to a decreasing stress level after quitting la Roja. The international retirement did get him some extra rest. It also made him less exposed to political controversies.
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