The Barcelona Problem
It’s been a difficult month for Barcelona. Three consecutive league defeats and a Champions League exit mean they are football’s current crisis club. The odds of enduring such a miserable run would have been around 2,500 to 1; outlier results this extreme at any club always demand serious examination.
The first step for clubs in this situation would be to get an objective, baseline view of performance from which to start the analysis. Barcelona’s league performances would typically have returned 5.8 points based on the quality and quantity of chances created and allowed. This is slightly worse than the 6.8 points expected before the run, but by no means catastrophic. Meanwhile, their first leg performance against Atlético would have returned at least a two-goal win around 50% of the time, rather than the slender one-goal lead actually taken to the the second leg.
Therefore the crisis can be broadly put down to a crisis of finishing – at both ends. A reasonable interpretation of the statistics suggests that such runs are a part of football’s ‘natural variation’, and end sooner rather than later. But there may be more – The Times’ Gabriele Marcotti notes how Messi, Suárez and Neymar have played over 250 hours of football in the last year, which could lead to misexecution in the final act of scoring. Others have mentioned how defences have dropped deeper, or the effect of the emotional toll of Cruyff’s death.
The point is that all these theories provide a starting point for further analysis; they can help us understand the real reasons why things are happening – or if there is even a problem at all. From that, we can make decisions that are informed rather than conjecturable, strategic rather than reactive. The Barcelona Problem is, at some point, every club’s problem. Fortunately, there’s a simple diagnostic that can help deliver some answers.