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Barcelona Season Review: Back on the right track with La Liga triumph

Xavi’s first full season in charge of Barcelona ended with success as they snapped a three-season streak of failing to win La Liga.

This trophy is symbolic of the fact that Barça are headed in the right direction, but they still have some work to do as we will discuss.

Team Performance and Tactics

Barcelona were not really challenged in the league, as they won it by a comfortable margin of ten points.

That could have been much greater, but they lost three of their last four matches having already mathematically sealed the title.

Their success was built on a very solid defence, which only let in 20 goals all season. Their attack had some peaks and troughs, but it delivered at the crucial junctures and ultimately got a fairly strong return of 70 goals scored.

What was crucial from a tactical point of view was that they had stability throughout the season in terms of the formation and system they used.

After chopping and changing a lot through the last couple of years, this in itself was an indication that they were back on the right track.

After his appointment, Xavi quickly settled on a 4-3-3 formation which turned into a 3-2-2-3 shape in possession.

He stuck by it throughout this campaign, and his side’s possession-dominant style meant that it showed up quite clearly in the players’ average positions map.

The transition between the shapes was done by having the right-back stay deep and effectively operate as a third centre-back in possession, while the left-back pushed forward.

To accommodate his advance, the left winger tucked inside into midfield, while the right winger stayed high and wide to make up for the lack of an overlapping full-back.

Barcelona had the right profiles in each position, using a centre-back on the right in the shape of Jules Koundé and a midfielder on the left wing in the form of Gavi.

Alex Balde’s talents were used well as an attacking left-back, while Raphinha was adept at operating as a touchline winger on the right.

Stylistically, we do not need to say much about how Barcelona played. They lived up to the club’s reputation by implementing a possession-based game, killing opponents with thousands of passes.

While Barcelona’s defensive record in the league looked very impressive if judged by goals conceded alone, it was not so great in reality.

There are a couple of factors to consider, the most important of which is their xGA tally crosses 33.

The other major thing to note is that a lot of teams in La Liga — especially those involved in the almighty relegation scrap — adopted a defence-first approach and did not really have great attacking forces.

This perhaps was to Barcelona’s detriment in continental competition, as their group stage elimination in the Champions League certainly was their biggest disappointment.

In fairness, they were in a pretty tough group with Bayern Munich and Inter Milan, but taking just one point against in four matches those two sides is not good enough for the Catalan giants.

They might even have hoped to challenge for the Europa League trophy after dropping into the competition but ended up crashing out in the first knockout round against Manchester United.

While this was a good season for Barcelona domestically, it was counterweighted by a poor continental campaign.

Key Players

Barcelona ended the league season with a goal difference figure of +50, and two players were chiefly responsible for that.

Up front, Robert Lewandowski was arguably the team’s most crucial player due to his goalscoring ability. He was always there to finish off Barcelona’s flowing moves and provided a great presence in the opposition box — something that no one else in the side really did.

At the same time, he was able to get involved in the build-ups and created a fair few chances for his teammates too.

The Polish international returned with 23 goals and seven assists in the league, while none of his teammates were even able to cross seven goals.

At the other end of the pitch, a big reason behind Barcelona’s massive xGA overperformance was Marc-André ter Stegen.

The German goalkeeper recovered from a poor campaign last time out with a sensational shot-stopping season, saving his team close to nine goals more than expected according to the PSxG model.

In the middle, Pedri was the standout performer in Barcelona’s midfield. The 20-year-old Golden Boy award winner has continued to live up to the hype that surrounded him when he was signed from Las Palmas, already becoming one of the first names on the team sheet.

Between his security on the ball, great progression through passing, carrying and receiving, threat in the final third and defensive work, he seems to have it all.

Pedri is undoubtedly going to be a key figure for Barcelona for at least the next decade if he sticks around.

What Next?

We previously alluded to the fact that Barcelona are on the right track but still have some work to do to get back where they want.

Their priority will be to ensure they can stay where they are. They are losing a couple of experienced campaigners this summer, most notably Sergio Busquets.

The Spanish midfielder remained a constant calming presence at the base of their midfield as he has done for so many years, so finding a capable replacement for him will be extremely important.

The other notable departure is Jordi Alba, who terminated his contract by mutual consent and forgave a sizeable amount of the compensation the club owed him.

That is a good reminder that Barcelona’s financial position is not great at the moment, which will undoubtedly affect their transfer dealings.

Their window seems to have been impacted, as they seem to have lost the battle to sign Lionel Messi.

That may be good for their long-term plans as they can continue on this path of progress. It should be interesting to see how they fare next season when Real Madrid will surely hope to pose more of a title threat, but they should also have an easier Champions League group by virtue of starting in pot 1.

Stats courtesy Transfermarkt, Stats Perform via Fbref and Vizz App.

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