Is Barcelona's Over-reliance On Messi Killing them?
Smashed 4-1 at home by PSG in the Champions League, eight points adrift of Atletico Madrid in La Liga and 1.2 billion Euros in debt.
Things aren’t exactly glowing in Barcelona at the moment, with this past weekend’s shock draw against lowly Cadiz only amplifying everything that's off at the Nou Camp.
Yet underneath all of Barcelona’s well-documented problems, the club still leads Spain in a variety of attacking metrics, perhaps indicating a path back into title contention.
Let's take a look at what's gone wrong, and just how La Blaugrana can perhaps still get their hands on a 27th Spanish crown.
Over-reliance on Messi
There's no doubt that Lionel Messi has run the Barcelona system for over a decade, but in recent times, he's taken it to the extreme.
On a superficial level, he's equal first in the league for goals (16), leads the league for expected goals (14.2) while he's also in possession of the most expected assists in the league with 6.3. However, if you look deeper into the stats, it becomes increasingly clear that Barcelona's massive reliance on Messi might be stunting their growth.
Using the aforementioned metric of shot-creating actions, of Barcelona’s 648, 149 have been provided by Messi himself, meaning that a staggering 23% of all of Barcelona's shots have come from a single source. To put some perspective on it, Pedri is second on the list at Barcelona, yet his 58 shot creating actions are nearly three times less than the brilliant Argentinean's. Furthermore, of the 344 passes into the penalty area for Barcelona this season, 86 of these have come courtesy of Messi, once again pointing towards Messi's autocracy.
This over-reliance on one player makes Barcelona extremely predictable to play against. Of the four games that they've lost outright this season, Messi hasn't registered either a goal or an assist.
While it's the stuff of nightmares planning and playing against one of the all time greats, it seems that if you are able to curtail Messi's brilliance, Barcelona aren't in possession of a Plan B to make up for it these days.
On the face of it, having scored the most goals in the league (50) and having the most expected goals in the league (50.2), would make any suggestion Barcelona have been profligate seem ludicrous. However, look deeper into the stats and it tells a completely different story.
With the letting go of Luis Suarez in the summer, goals were always going to be harder to come by for Barcelona.
Despite having 648 shot-creating actions this season, which is first in La Liga, and by a massive 116 edge on Real Madrid, they've only managed 74 goal-creating actions, which clearly represents their inability to make the most of their chances.
Furthermore, their goals per shots on target sits at only 0.29, which is ranked 12th in the league, and down sharply from the 0.36 they posted last season and which was the second-best figure in Spain.
While Barcelona has completed the most passes in the penalty area (344) as well as the most key passes (284), just 58 live passes have led to goals, once again indicating how wasteful the famous club has been- very much lacking the kind of ruthlessness with has defined previous campaigns.
RELATED: How Atletico Madrid Conquered Spain
Despite the embarrassing defeat at the hands of PSG, coupled with Sunday's shock draw against Cadiz, Barcelona have actually been making strides recently. Their 13-game unbeaten streak in La Liga has them within touching distance of their Madrid counterparts, while their pending UCL elimination might allow them to channel all their efforts into an assault on a 9th La Liga title in 13 seasons.
In recent times, the likes of Frenkie De Jong and Antoine Griezmann have improved markedly, while Barcelona's vaunted youth system has once again bore fruit, with Ansu Fati and Pedri entrenching themselves within the team, while also showing occasional glimmers of potential stardom.
The ability and talent, as always, is clearly in abundance at Barcelona. However, what's needed is it to be better organised and structured on the pitch, and for their statistical domination to start translating into more regular wins.
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