Analysing the Stats of Barcelona

Analysing the Stats of Barcelona
April 29, 2019 Andrew Beasley


Statistics correct up to and including matches played on 27th April.

Analysing future opponents with statistics is not easy, it’s something of a fool’s errand. Take a look at Liverpool’s recent Champions League ties if you want evidence of that. The numbers suggested Bayern Munich were not as bad as many fans assumed they were based on their league form, yet the Reds won the tie relatively easily (and by 3.7 expected goals to 0.7, so it was thoroughly deserved).

Porto’s statistics suggested they were worse than last season, yet – to my eyes at least – they put up a much better fight than they did in 2017/18, certainly until Liverpool’s away goal went in anyway. Only five teams have had two clear-cut chances at Anfield this season, and the Portuguese champions are one of them.

So what of Barcelona? The newly crowned Spanish champions, who’ve also won the title in seven of the previous 10 seasons, are in their first Champions League semi-final since they last won the trophy in 2015. What do the numbers say about them?

Needless to say, they are on the whole very impressive, but there are also interesting nuggets which can provide Jürgen Klopp and co. with plenty of inspiration ahead of the tie.

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Let’s start with La Liga. Barcelona’s expected goal difference (according to FiveThirtyEight) is a sight to behold; they are on +44 when the next best side – which, unsurprisingly, is Real Madrid – are on +23.

However, a closer inspection reveals a degree of stat padding against the lesser lights. A team has recorded an xG total of at least 4.0 six times in the Premier League in 2018/19; Barcelona have done that five times this season.

While Ernesto Valverde’s side are top of the Spanish expected goal table, it’s by nowhere near as large a margin as the underlying goal differences would suggest.

A look at more traditional underlying statistics paints a similar picture in that they’re a little modest by Liverpool’s standards. Barca’s shot ratio is 59% to the Reds’ 66%, their shots on target ratio is 67% to Liverpool’s 71%. The Catalan side may be a fair way ahead on attacking clear cut-chances (117 vs 98) but they’re also ‘ahead’ on CCCs at the back too (58 to 35), meaning Liverpool are four in front on clear-cut chance difference.

And this is what gives me the most heart ahead of this titanic clash: Barcelona give up a lot of good chances.

Girona are 18th in the table, having lost their last six league games in a row and having only won eight all season. Yet they had three clear-cut chances both home and away against Barca. They got a point at Camp Nou, after Marc-André ter Stegen saved two of their big chances, and while they lost at home, they missed three golden opportunities while only one goal down.

Looking slightly higher up the La Liga table, Real Sociedad – who are currently 12th – had seven CCCs across their two matches with the champions. They were 1-0 up at home and missed three before going on to lose, before losing the return fixture after wasting two big chances while the score was 0-0.

This propensity to allow their opponents high quality opportunities – and not just while comfortably ahead, as the above examples attest – has led Valverde’s team to have conceded a similar total of expected goals as Wolves and Leicester this season. A respectable figure, but hardly elite.

Part of the reason they allow so many good chances should have Liverpool’s front-line licking their lips, as Barcelona are quite susceptible to counter attacks. Opta’s definition of such things is pretty strict, but Barca have conceded six league goals from fast breaks in 2018/19. For context, in the Premier League only Bournemouth, Southampton (both six) and Crystal Palace (seven) can match that figure, and coincidentally that’s how many Liverpool have scored themselves.

Perhaps the match the Reds should aim to emulate is Valencia’s 2-2 draw at Camp Nou from February. The brief highlights don’t do it justice, but the visitors had five shots from counter attacks (roughly a quarter of their total for the season), which included three clear-cut chances and a goal.

But of course, things are never this straightforward. Barcelona haven’t allowed many clear-cut chances in big games this season: six in four matches against the Madrid teams, and 12 in 10 Champions League games. They’ll be as aware of Liverpool’s strengths as the Reds will be clued up about their weaknesses, and will probably set up accordingly.

When looking at how much of the expected goal haul is converted at both ends of the pitch, the findings suggest this should be a close encounter (of the last four kind). In league football, both sides are no more than 3% ahead of their underlying stats goal-wise, but in defence they’re both overachieving by sizeable margins.

In the Champions League it’s even more extreme, particularly for Barcelona. The Spanish giants have conceded just six goals from chances collectively worth over 11, meaning they’ve over- performed by 88%. Interestingly, Liverpool have underachieved to the tune of a quarter in attack, by scoring 18 goals from shots worth about 24.

A place in the final determined by how much regression to the mean occurs for both sides? That’s far too simplistic, not least when one side possesses one of the greatest footballers in the history of the sport. And Lionel Messi will give him a good game too.

Barcelona clearly have a collection of fabulous players who can hurt Liverpool and comfortably knock them out. I don’t think for a moment that this will be an easy assignment for Klopp’s Reds. But if the likes of Huesca, Girona, Real Betis and Levante can have a couple of clear-cut opportunities at Camp Nou, then there has to be a reasonable chance that Liverpool can.

Having missed the most big chances of any team in this season’s Champions League, whether they can now stick them away or not may well determine whether or not the Reds return to sunny Spain in June.


Comments (35)

  1. Chris Rowland 4 years ago

    Time to start cranking it up for Wednesday, and here Beez looks at the stats to see what we’re really likely to be up against. Our thanks to him for this, as ever.

  2. red mick 4 years ago

    Great stuff Beez. Many thanks. Particularly like the Messi reference. I had no idea you held Jordan Henderson in such high regard!

  3. Lubo 4 years ago

    Excellent preview. Having watched a lot of their games this season, they are more open in La Liga by design, I feel, where they know their talent superiority will guarantee them wins even if they ship the occasional goal. They have also been relying heavily on Ter Stegen, who has played out of his mind this season.

    In the CL, they have been more closed and careful, especially away, happy to settle for a draw if needed, knowing they can win at home. It will be interesting to see how they approach this game, as they are home first this time (they were away first vs OL and United). I expect a more cautious start, ramping up in 2nd half.

    There is an article on ESPN that they want to approach the game like Pep’s Man City did. Bayern had the same idea, at least at Anfield. Whether they can pull it off, we will see. But I expect a lot of action on the wings, especially down the left channel with Alba and Dembele. So a big test for, I assume, Trent and Matip.

    • i.wilson 4 years ago

      I Have a feeling that it may be TAA and Matip.

      But what reassures me is that they may be protected by the rested Milner and Fabinho.

      Milner providing both cover for TAA and overlapping threat going forward.

      Fab I feel will be targetted at not letting Messi get the ball.

      Its amazing to look at our midfield and see a choice between Hendo, Wij, Keita and Ox for third spot allowing for Shaq being kept as Back up for the front 3.

      I’m excited for this one.

  4. Tony Mckenna (Macattack) 4 years ago

    Brilliant Andrew.  And much inspired hope therein.  Someone also told me that Barcelona conceded at least one goal every home game; and that they weren`t even the best home performer.  Which seems dubious because I don`t think that they have lost at home this season? Whatever, that susceptibility to counter attacks is surely something for us to exploit?

  5. Lubo 4 years ago

    The 538 SPI model has Liverpool as the second best team in the world, with SPI rating of 93.8, and Barcelona as the third with 93.3. Bayern are fourth with 93.0. The model gives Liverpool 52% to make it to the final. So it will clearly be a tight battle, where (as Paul Dalglish likes to say) it will come down to quality in key moments. Hopefully it’s our players who show their quality in these moments.

  6. Jeff 4 years ago

    One of the more interesting realities in modern team sports is how to employ statistics or analytics as opposed to what the eye sees in games or matches. One must always recognize that either or both could deceive anyone attempting to evaluate a team or a player or the results of a match or matches.

    I suffer from the fact that I am numerically challenged and once I run out of fingers and toes I am in deep and serious trouble. Therefore, I am as a rule old school and rely more on my eyes than I do on statistical analysis. I wrote this sentence to show where I tend to come down in the conclusions that I draw.

    To me if you have watched Barcelona play this season, one notices a team that has prospered in Spain because of the brilliance of Leo Messi who in my opinion has had his best season in a career that puts him among the best in the history of modern football. I also want to note that while his pace has declined and I mean noticeably declined Luis Suarez has been outstanding for Barcelona. In my opinion, these two players are the reason why Barcelona has been successful in Spain and at the same time covered up the weaknesses in Barcelona.

    If you watch Barcelona play, you will notice that its midfield and back line lack the pace and quickness that is needed to cope with the pace and quickness of Liverpool’s midfield and forward lines. If you watch Barcelona play, you will find that when they play teams that have disciplined back lines and at least one quality if not two quality defensive minded midfielders Messi and Suarez tend to be contained and if you contain these two lads Barcelona is in real trouble. I am certain that VVD will play for Liverpool in this match, he will be a player who simply Barcelona cannot play when Liverpool take free kicks and corners and oh yes he provides the organization at the back which will mean that as I just wrote Liverpool will not allow itself to lose its defensive shape which is how Messi and Suarez prosper. Advancing age is a reality and as you get older you lose pace and endurance and if you look at who more likely than not will be in the midfield for Barcelona and by this I mean Busquets and Rakitic are both on the wrong side of 30 and if you have seen Barcelona play, you will know that the tend to fade in matches. I have as I wrote above using what my eyes tell me and I see plenty of weaknesses in the Barcelona side and as someone who has seen Liverpool play this season I see plenty of strengths in this Liverpool side.

    I have watched Jurgen Klopp teams play for more than a decade and his teams are always well prepared and always compete. To me if this Liverpool team simply is what Klopp’s team always are I think Liverpool should be viewed as a favorite in this match. I am not saying that Messi and Suarez in a moment or moments of brilliance could not win the match but what I am saying is that if I was Barcelona I would fear Liverpool and as a Liverpool supporter I think Liverpool have a real chance to make the final.

  7. Krishaldo 4 years ago

    [Referee] Kuipers has been in charge of five previous Liverpool games, with the Reds recording four wins and a draw. The most recent game was the 2-1 Champions League qualifying win at Hoffenheim last season.

    The referee, though, infamously dismissed Lazar Markovic during the 1-1 Anfield stalemate against Basel that saw Liverpool eliminated from the Champions League group stages in 2014-15.

    Kuipers has refereed six Barcelona games, with the Spanish side winning two and drawing four.

    • NickM 4 years ago

      I have to say that he is one of the European refs that I have always liked and normally thought that he does a good job. He always comes across as being in control but is firm and fair. Never seemed to be whistle happy and likes to let the game flow.

  8. Many thanks, Andrew. This was a fascinating read.

  9. humdul1 4 years ago

    Thanks Beez – looks like we will smash them 4-2 at Camp Nou!

    • Author

      Haha, I think we’ve got a chance of a good result but I wouldn’t go that far!

      • Tony Mckenna (Macattack) 4 years ago

        4 – 0, then Andrew?  Good man!

  10. mr miyagi 4 years ago

    Setting of tomorrow night and I’m just a little bit excited by this one! I gave my ticket to my lad as i couldn’t go in and leave him outside, the Footballing Gods looked favourable on my kindness though and I’ve only gone and bagged a ticket behind the dug outs!! If we score and the TV goes to the view of the dug outs the idiot going mad will be me!! seriously though, this is what its all about April/May European Semi Finals, light nights, Barcelona, Messi, then Newcastle on Saturday and Barca again next week, WOW!

    • NickM 4 years ago

      I’ve only gone and bagged a ticket behind the dug outs

      Well with Klopp being 6’4″ you might need to kindly request him to sit down Rafa style in order to see the game properly.

  11. Lars Ivar 4 years ago

    I just looked at the bookmakers, and it seems to me that Barcelona are considered bigger favorites than they should be (looking at Beez’ stats and maybe the 538 predictions). I’m not much of a better myself, but this looks like a good opportunity.

    • Author

      I wonder if bookmakers factor in facts such as the 19 of the last 30 CL semi-finalists who played the first leg at home got through, which may not be included in 538’s model?

      Plus it’s 12 years since a team lost the first leg and reached the final… though that was Liverpool (and also AC Milan) at least! On that basis, if Barca are favourites to win tomorrow (and they obviously are) then they’re favourites to get through.

  12. Taşkın / Tash 4 years ago

    My own underlying stats confirm that Im fuckin bricking it.

    Not because I think they’ll hammer us.  Quite the contrary.  I think we have a real chance of coming away with a win.

    In other visits to watch the Reds at Camp Nou Ive gone there thinking we’ll probably lose, but I’ll enjoy my day out anyway.  This time its different.  Yes, they’e great. And they have Messi.  And Suarez.  And Coutinho (the law of the ex…). But we’re great too.  As a team, I think we’re better.  And we have the tools to both blunt their attack and hurt them at the back.

    Oh, and its only the fuckin Semi-Final.


  13. Lubo 4 years ago

    2 xG models I have looked at (538 and InfoGol) are slightly more optimistic of a Liverpool result (draw or win) in the game at Barcelona than the bookies lines I have seen, by maybe 5%? Not a lot, but encouraging. These are fine margins tho, and literally anything can happen.

  14. Joe A 4 years ago

    I’m not anticipating Jurgen to take Neil Lennon’s approach:

    One of them was Adam Matthews, 20 at the time. “I was a bit nervous before the game, I’m not going to lie,” the defender, now at Sunderland, says, “but we didn’t talk about him [Messi] all that much. We didn’t do much preparation. If you build a player up too much beforehand, you might freeze with nerves. The manager [Neil Lennon] just told us to give everything and to enjoy it.”

  15. acsgp 4 years ago

    Thanks Beez. Not sure what happened in our away group CL games, but did our stats improve, esp defensively, against Porto and Bayern away?

    • Author

      Here are our away match stats for the CL this season:


      Home Away H Goals A Goals xG H xG A xG Diff H Shot A Shot H SoT A SoT H CCCs A CCCs
      Napoli Liverpool 1 0 2.0 0.2 1.8 14 4 5 0 3 0
      Red Star Belgrade Liverpool 2 0 0.8 2.5 -1.7 10 23 4 4 1 1
      Paris Saint-Germain Liverpool 2 1 2.1 1.4 0.7 12 8 8 1 2 1
      Bayern Munich Liverpool 1 3 0.3 1.1 -0.8 7 10 2 6 0 2
      FC Porto Liverpool 1 4 1.0 3.3 -2.3 19 13 8 5 0 5

      And Barcelona’s at home:


      Home Away H Goals A Goals xG H xG A xG Diff H Shot A Shot H SoT A SoT H CCCs A CCCs
      Barcelona PSV 4 0 2.0 0.7 1.3 21 14 9 1 1 0
      Barcelona Internazionale 2 0 2.4 1.2 1.2 21 9 11 2 2 1
      Barcelona Tottenham Hotspur 1 1 1.4 2.6 -1.2 14 17 3 7 1 5
      Barcelona Lyon 5 1 4.3 0.7 3.6 19 11 10 2 7 0
      Barcelona Manchester United 3 0 1.5 0.3 1.2 13 9 6 3 1 0

      (Bear in mind they’d qualified before they played Spurs, who hadn’t at that point!).

  16. Cassim 4 years ago

    Conventional wisdom suggests that playing your second leg at home gives you an advantage. I challenge this. The modern day elite footballer is far more psychologically conditioned nowadays than they were in the past, and are certainly less fazed by crowds (or any other kind of home advantage) than they were say 10 years ago. I’m not sure anymore how much of an advantage it is to have the second game at home. Look at this UCL season’s knockout rounds: Out of 24 games so far, there have been 11 home wins and 10 away wins, (and 3 draws). That’s about as close to parity as it gets. In fact, several teams have lost/drawn when at home, and then proceeded to win the tie when away (us, Ajax twice!, Man Utd).

    What is more objective is the fact that playing your second leg away is advantageous simply because your second leg goals are going to be worth more. It seems to me that the away goals rule has overcompensated the psychological effect of playing as an away team. It instead actually benefits those who play away in the second leg by giving them a chance of scoring goals that are of more value late in the two-legged tie.

    Simply look at these two UCL seasons we have had. We played second leg away against Man City, Roma, Bayern, and Porto. It’s not simply the fact that we went through each time that backs up my point – it’s the fact that the moment we scored our away goal in the second leg (against Man City, Bayern, Porto), our opponents were visibly deflated. Same goes for Ajax, whose second goal in Turin completely killed off Juve’s drive in the second leg. And I think if Bernardo Silva hadn’t scored immediately after Son’s 2 goals, Man City would also have gradually lost their belief knowing they then needed three.

    You’ll always want second leg goals to be worth more for you than for your opponent. This is the only concern I have ahead of tomorrow.

    • NickM 4 years ago

      I believe that is why the away goal is going to be abolished from next season. I do not actually agree with that because while travelling is light years from what it was back in the early years of the competition, scoring away from home should still be encouraged.

      Games like the City v Spurs game, or Liverpool v Dortmund may have happened without the away goal but I honestly think they might end up being more turgid affairs. Without the away goal rule would Spurs have gone out to try and get those early goals or would they have tried to sit tight for a while frustrating City and keeping it to 1-0, 1-1 on aggregate?

      The tables have turned slightly in favour of the away side (for the 2nd leg) and maybe home advantage in the 2nd leg isn’t what it was because the away side knows what it needs to do and can maybe throw off the shackles at times if they have a decent first leg result. That said you are still away from home and trying to impose your playing style on the home side, trying to quieten the home crowd and also potentially stop the ref from being a bit of a homer can all be difficult. For these reasons I believe that the side which is playing away should always have a positive attitude towards the game and try to go out and score away goals regardless of which way around the tie is and that is what we need to see tomorrow.

      Tomorrow night for me it is important that we try to go out and get that away goal. I think it could be very important in the overall tie as was shown by Roma last season who lost 4-1 but with the 3-0 home win managed to go through on away goals.

      Do they honestly believe that it is fairer for the tie to go to extra time and the away team have to play an extra 30 minutes in front of a hostile home crowd? Yes the players are more conditioned to it and by the time ET comes around the crowd may be a little less vocal but it is still an extra 30 minutes on someone else’s pitch, in front of their fans.

    • Chris Rowland 4 years ago

      I think you’re right Cassim. Scoring a first leg away goal is crucial. Bayern didn’t manage one, and City didn’t at Spurs. It leaves you open to danger if you concede at home in the 2nd leg.

      We have to score at least once in the Nou Camp tomorrow. You could never rule out the possibility of Barcelona scoring an away goal, at Anfield or anywhere else.

      • garythespud 4 years ago

        While talented and possessing Messi this Barca side is ageing and moves at times like an oil tanker turning. If they can stop Mane, Bobby and Salah, along with the rest, from scoring tomorrow then they’ll deserve a medal.

    • Author

      Here are the results for the 11 teams from the last 15 seasons who’ve played the first leg of a CL semi-final away from home and got through.


      Leg Date Round Home Score Away 2nd leg Aggregate
      1 27/04/05 Semi-finals Chelsea 0-0  Liverpool 1-0  0-1
      1 18/04/06 Semi-finals Milan 0-1  Barcelona 0-0  0-1
      1 24/04/07 Semi-finals Man Utd 3-2  Milan 3-0  3-5
      1 25/04/07 Semi-finals Chelsea 1-0  Liverpool 1-0  1-1
      1 22/04/08 Semi-finals Liverpool 1-1  Chelsea 3-2  3-4
      1 23/04/08 Semi-finals Barcelona 0-0  Man Utd 1-0  0-1
      1 26/04/11 Semi-finals Schalke 0-2  Man Utd 4-1  1-6
      1 27/04/11 Semi-finals Real 0-2  Barcelona 1-1  1-3
      1 26/04/16 Semi-finals Man City 0-0  Real 1-0  0-1
      1 03/05/17 Semi-finals Monaco 0-2  Juventus 2-1  1-4
      1 25/04/18 Semi-finals Bayern 1-2  Real 2-2  3-4

      Looks like a clean sheet tomorrow would be handy! Who knew?!

      Perhaps more interestingly, not one of them got through on away goals, the closest was Liverpool winning on pens in 2007. History suggests we need to get a close result tomorrow, then win at Anfield. Simple 😉

      • Cassim 4 years ago

        Thanks Beez. From your data, it seems that in the last 15 years, only 11 out of the 30 teams that played the 1st SF leg away made it through. That’s 36%, making it almost twice as likely for those playing the 1st leg at home to go through, than the team playing away first. Cause for concern ahead of tomorrow?

      • Author
        Andrew Beasley 4 years ago

        Yeah massive cause for concern. Barcelona are on the longest unbeaten home run in Champions League, winning 28 of their last 31 at Camp Nou.

        They won’t have faced many teams as good as Liverpool in that team, and all runs end eventually, but we’re up against it, no doubt.

  17. halonkarrison 4 years ago

    I really like our chances in this two legged tie. Play Barcelona in the final? Fuck off. Messi could score at any point. But to keep it tight and controlled at Nou Camp, breaking with pace, forcing them to keep players back suits us in the first leg.

    Then we can blow them away in half an hour at Anfield. Run them ragged.

    I fancy Mane scoring in the first leg with his head. He’s really stepped up finding that space in the box this season and turned himself into a truly world class player.

    I’d like to see Gini, Fab and Hendo as the three. Make it as hard as possible for them to pass the ball forwards.

    • garythespud 4 years ago

      I think the key is stopping Messi from turning inside and shooting from just inside the box. It’s his thing and he does it all the time and people fucking let him do it!


      • LeeHamm 4 years ago

        See also , Salah, Mo.

        Oh and don’t give away free kicks anywhere within 40 meters of the goal!

  18. proudred 4 years ago

    My dream is that Barcelona have a corner, VVD clears and we go up the other end at lightening speed and score. I love to see this obviously in previous matches but at the Nou Camp, it would be heaven indeed.

  19. What kind of two-bit side loses four league games in a season? Shambles of a club.

    Should be a walkover for us this one 😉

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