After spending a number of months analysing Barcelona UEFA Champions League Campaign from 2010/11 Season a number of defence tactics became apparent. Clearly Barca enjoys large amounts of possession against all opposition and their tika-taka style of passing is much vaunted and well documented. It was however the defensive statistics that caught my attention. During one game in particular Barca and their opponents shared a similar number of fouls committed, FCB committed 18 and their opponents 22, this may not seem ordinarily strange until you consider that FCB had possession of the football for 76.4% of the match, for this particular match the ball was only in play for just over 53 minutes. Therefore FCB held possession for just over 40 minutes and their opponents just a little over 12 minutes. The significance of this is startling; it means that in just over 12 minutes Barca fouled 18 times at a rate of 1.74 fouls per minute compared to just 0.44 fouls per minute by their opponents. This data was from the ‘El Clasico’ semi-final at Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. This led me to compare data from all 13 Champions League games from this campaign and the results uncover a cynical and ruthless system of play from the current custodians of the champions of joga bonito.
Throughout the entire UCL campaign they averaged 0.72 fouls per minute compared with their opponents’ average of just 0.43. Barca fouled as high as 1.74 per minute during the semi-final against Real Madrid. When you consider the highest their opponents fouled was 0.77 it indicates that Barca are prepared to foul as a defence mechanism to halt any potential counter attack. The bar and line graphs demonstrate how Barca regularly out foul their opponents by quite some margin.
The next area I turned my attention to was where on the pitch Barca commit their fouls and where they tackle (both successfully and unsuccessfully) and the tactic is further unveiled. The fouls to tackle heat maps show where on the pitch Barca committed fouls in total in percentages and the second shows where they tackled the most in percentages. It’s clear to see that their much vaunted pressing game (tackle percentages) is apparent in the defensive areas only, but when they lose possession higher up the pitch they will opt to foul to slow the game down and not allow the opponents to counter while they are out of balance and disorganised.
FCB Foul To Tackle Heat Map Comparison.
This is consistent with a deliberate plan set out as a defensive tactic and what is of further interest is how many fouls are committed in the ‘Messi’ areas of the pitch. When you compare this to their opponents foul and tackle area you will note there is no real correlation or consistency in where they foul except that they are not foul dense in their opponents attacking third unlike Barca.
Opponents Foul to Tackle Heat Map Comparison.
This study has focussed on one aspect of a successful team and measured it against a range of opponents. Many other important factors and variables into what makes F.C.Barcelona so successful in the 2010/11 U.E.F.A. Champions League has not been considered in this study. The statistical data suggests F.C.Barcelona have a significantly higher foul density than their opponents over the whole tournament and when taking into consideration where the fouls occur, these findings suggest F.C.Barcelona are tactically aware of where fouling would be deemed an advantage.
The tackle density compared to their opponents also shows a significant difference which suggests F.C.Barcelona work very hard and place emphasis on regaining possession. When the results of where the most tackles occur it suggests they are aware of the optimum areas of possession regain to initiate a counter attack and where not to be tackle dense and leave them vulnerable to a counter attack. Finally when taking both findings into account it suggests F.C.Barcelona have a predetermined plan of where to foul or tackle to gain a tactical advantage, the foul and tackle density will vary depending on the overall ability and effectiveness of their opponent.