Espnayol 1-0 Barça: Player Ratings

The scores from a disappointing defeat.

Jasper Cillessen

Made a good save from a swerving Espanyol free kick. Wasn’t a huge deal he could do for the goal but he can be criticised for being too far when the shot was taken. He was expecting a cutback which meant even a full stretch dive got him nowhere near the corner.

You say: 7

Sam says: 7


Sergi Roberto

Won the penalty for Barcelona after a clumsy challenge from the Espanyol defender. Speaking of clumissnes, a careless back pass from Roberto almost cost Barça a goal but Piqué was on hand to cover.

You say: 6

Sam says: 6


Thomas Vermaelen

Was unlucky not to open the scoring in the second half as a Messi cross was just headed away from him at the last moment.

You say: 7

Sam says: 7


Gerard Piqué

After Messi’s missed penalty, the team looked visibly shook and Piqué was desperately trying to regain the team’s focus. A cross that wasn’t defended by Digne has to be unorthodoxly cleared by Piqué and the Frenchman received a verbal barking.

You say: 7

Sam says: 7


Lucas Digne

Showed frequent lapses in concentration and the goal came from his side as he didn’t get close on enough to the attacker.

You say: 6

Sam says: 5


Sergio Busquets

Produced an unbelievable piece of skill to work his way past three defenders and followed it up with a rare shot towards the goal. The effort was one of Barça’s better ones in the first half.

You say: 8

Sam says: 8


Denis Suárez

Struggled again over on the left flank and in the final few minutes of the first half he missed a golden opportunity. He was well found by Aleñá but wrapped his foot too far round the ball and dragged it wide.

You say: 6

Sam says: 5


Paulinho

Baring one half attempt at goal, he was pretty anonymous throughout.

You say: 6

Sam says: 5


Aleix Vidal

Didn’t create a lot on the left flank.

You say: 6

Sam says: 5


Carlos Aleñá

Highlight of the youngsters’ game was a through ball pass to Denis Suárez but it ultimately came to nothing. Was substituted for Denis’ namesake Luis early in the second half.

You say: 6

Sam says: 6


Lionel Messi

Played well if not quite at his brilliant best. Everything he tried almost came off but it is these fine margins that can swing a game in your favour. His penalty was well hit but wasn’t far enough in the corner and was a good save from the keeper.

You say: 7

Sam says: 8


Ivan Rakitić

Only notable action was picking up a booking.

You say: 6

Sam says: 6


Luis Suárez

Pretty quiet in his second half appearance.

You say: 6

Sam says: 6


Rafinha

Made a welcome return from a long injury and did surprisingly well in the circumstances. However, couldn’t help Barça win the game.

You say: 6

Sam says: 7


Ernesto Valverde

Should have rotated in the second leg as the B-team struggled.

You say: 6

Sam says: 6


The Team

Good but nowhere near their best. Punished late on after the penalty miss looked to have unnerved them.

You say: 6

Sam says: 6


MOTM?

You say: Busquets

Sam says: Busquets

Barcelona draw Espanyol in the Copa del Rey Quarter Finals

The Catalans face a Barcelona derby in their search for a place in the semis.

Barcelona have been drawn against Espanyol in the Copa del Rey Quarter Finals.

Ernesto Valverde’s men must travel to the RCDE Stadium before returning for the second leg at the Camp Nou.

The first leg fixture will be played between the 16th and 18th of January while the second leg will be competed between the 23rd and 25th of the same month.

Barcelona secured passage into the next round after a 5-0 demolition of Celta de Vigo on Thursday and are looking for their 30th Copa title.

Espanyol, meanwhile, qualified for the quarters after a 3-2 aggregate win over Levante.


The draw in full:

CD Leganes – Real Madrid CF

RCD Espanyol – FC Barcelona

Atlético de Madrid – Sevilla FC

Valencia CF – Deportivo Alavés

Barcelona 5-0 Celta Vigo: Player Ratings

A dominating performance from the team.

Jasper Cillessen

Was rarely tested but did well when called upon.

You say: 7

Sam says: 7


Jordi Alba

The Alba-Messi connection is alive and well as the two regularly linked up in this game to devastating effect. Alba was forever willing to get forward in the knowledge that Messi could pick him out. Registered two assists and even got a goal himself.

You say: 10

Sam says: 10


Javier Mascherano

Unlike the first leg, Mascherano seemed unfazed by the pace of Celta’s attack this time and quickly stopped any chances before they became a real threat.

You say: 8

Sam says: 8


Gerard Piqué

Only played the first half but did not look troubled in that period.

You say: 7

Sam says: 7


Nélson Semedo

Not quite as buccaneering as his full back partner Alba, Semedo did look to get forward when possible. He also knew when to stay back and watch for a Celta counterattack.

You say: 8

Sam says: 7


Sergio Busquets

No real danger of a Celta counterattack so Busquets’ main role here was to convert defence into attack as quickly as possible which he did well.

You say: 8

Sam says: 8


Ivan Rakitić

Managed to fire away a shot in the first half but it sailed over the bar, he did however get a goal in the dying minutes to go with a good performance. Linked up with Jordi Alba well.

You say: 8

Sam says: 8


Andrés Iniesta

Kept giving the ball to the right people and allowed Barcelona’s first half momentum to flourish. Left the field just after the hour mark.

You say: 8

Sam says: 8


André Gomes

A better performance from Gomes as he proved once again how much of a confidence player he is. Orchestrated a quick one-two with Suárez that resulted in the ball finding the net but the Uruguayan was offside.

You say: 7

Sam says: 7


Luis Suárez

Snatched at a few of the chances in the game but was gifted a first half goal. The ball rolled to him and he made no mistake, firing it high into the net.

You say: 8

Sam says: 7


Lionel Messi

Produced one of the best passes I’ve ever seen for Alba’s goal. From a standing start, he whipped the ball 40 yards directly through the fence and into the path of Alba. Sublime stuff. Elsewhere, he was in lethal form scoring two well placed goals.

You say:

Sam says: 10


Ousmane Dembélé

Looked excellent in his 30 minute cameo. Frequently causing problems for the already exhausted Celta defence, the quick movement and skill was a sign of what to come. Appeared to leave the field with an injury but Valverde was quick to pour cold water on any doubts.

You say:

Sam says: 8


Thomas Vermaelen

Played the second half and kept Celta out when needed

You say: 8

Sam says: 7


José Arnáiz

Played just under 30 minutes and looked a real danger thanks to some clever runs.

You say: 7

Sam says: 8


Ernesto Valverde

Won the game early and then rested key players.

You say: 10

Sam says: 10


The Team

Dominating from start to finish, a real momentum building win.

You say: 10

Sam says: 10


MOTM?

You say: Messi

Sam says: Messi

Does the Coutinho signing put a stop to Griezmann?

Financially and tactically, Griezmann’s signing does not make much sense anymore.

When Philipe Coutinho signed for an initial €120 million last Saturday, many questions arose. Where will he play in the team? Is he the new Iniesta? Is he worth the money? All valid questions but one that has received less attention is just where does this leave Antoine Griezmann?

The Frenchman was strongly linked with Barça in December and there were reports that the Catalan club were preparing to pay the €100 million release in his Atlético Madrid contract. The decision then seemed logical. At €100 million, Griezmann is relatively cheap in a post-Neymar market and the player was keen to join.

Now, the decision is less clear. For a start, the finances are puzzling. Despite an estimated £893.25 million market value, Barcelona are not an endless pit of money. They recored a net profit of €18 million but the club’s debt still sits at €247 million.

The Neymar fee of €222 million was a huge source of income but Barça have already surpassed that figure with the summer signing of Ousmane Dembélé (an initial €105 million) and now Coutinho. The expected arrival of Yerry Mina for a reported €15 million is nearing official announcement leaving Barcelona with a wealth of money going out and not a large sum coming in.

The club did agree a new €55 million per year sponsorship with Rakuten in the summer to boost finances but lost a significant amount of income after discussions with Qatar Airways broke down.

All of this means that Barcelona currently sit at €313 million spent in transfers this season and €226 million received. There is also the factor of wages to be considered. Ten players in the squad earn over £100,000 per week with Lionel Messi earning £500,000. Coutinho is incorporated in that list with a weekly wage of £240,000.

Still though, the flirtation with Griezmann continues. As of Tuesday, Spanish TV’s El Larguero reported Barça’s interest has survived the Coutinho signing but another €100 million hit on Barça’s pursestrings as well as Griezmann’s no doubt high salary demands pushes Barça further into the red.

For this transfer to make any sense, Barcelona will need a clear out but they do not have an abundance of sellable assets. Rafinha, Gerard Deulofeu and Andre Gomes are all reportedly nearing the exit door but none of them would warrant a sizeable fee and it is possible the sale of all three combined would not match Griezmann’s fee. While Arda Turan has dug in his heels and remains intent on seeing out his expensive contract despite Barcelona’s public discarding of him.

If we switch matters to on the field, more problems arise. Just where would Griezmann play? If you’re signing an €100 million player, you would expect him to be a starter but how do you fit Griezmann, Luis Suárez, Messi, Coutinho and Dembélé on the same field without being extremely top heavy? A 4-3-3 seems the most logical choice but it creates more problems than it solves.


This would also push Griezmann away from his best position. At Real Sociedad, Griezmann was an exciting winger but Diego Simeone’s movement of him into the second striker position has seen him become one of the world’s best. The reality is Griezmann’s favourite position to operate in is the same as Messi’s. You could drop Suárez and play Messi in the false nine position as he did under Pep Guardiola but then you are decreasing the influence of Messi. Alternatively play Griezmann as the nine but he has shown he struggles in this role and can become isolated if marked well.

This also leaves the central midfield horrendously exposed. Coutinho is not known for his defensive work and it would likely fall to Ivan Rakitić. Perhaps a double pivot of Rakitić and Sergio Busquets could work but again, you limit the effectiveness of one of your best players in Busquets.

These are all questions that Ernesto Valverde would need to answer should Griezmann drive and while he would be another star player to add to the squad and the revenue gained from that is an attractive proposition but in the current climate it does not make financial nor tactical sense to bring him to the Camp Nou.

Barça 3-0 Levante: Player Ratings

The ratings for Barcelona’s first Liga game of 2018.

Marc-André ter Stegen

Made a couple of crucial saves as the Camp Not crowd has become so accustomed to. In truth, anytime Levante broke in behind you backed ter Stegen to take care of it.

You say: 8

Sam says: 8


Sergi Roberto

Roberto’s attacking contributions have come on leaps and bounds as he registered his third assist in as many games. His speed to get down the wing and then accuracy to find Suárez in the box was excellent. Also helped out at the back when Alba pushed forward.

You say: 8

Sam says: 8


Thomas Vermaelen

Playing with an unfamiliar defensive partner, Vermaelen contained the Levante attack well. Making a tackle and an interception but he was caught out sometimes. The goalkeeper saved them but there was a slight concern.

You say: 8

Sam says: 7


Javier Mascherano

A potentially difficult game for Mascherano with both full backs pushing high. One of Mascherano’s great strengths has always been his positioning and his was evidence here. He is not blessed with pace so must position himself to be effective. Was on occasion caught but ter Stegen or the offside flag bailed him out

You say: 8

Sam says: 7


Jordi Alba

Jordi Alba’s partnership with Messi is quickly becoming one of the most important in the team. The seemingly telepathic understanding between the two has provided chance after chance and the opening goal of this game came through that route. The directness of his runs in behind are very good and allow Barça to quickly get in at goal. Looked to have done himself some damage in the dying minutes of the game.

You say: 8

Sam says: 9


Ivan Rakitić

Excelling again in the Busuqets role. Rakitić saw a lot more of the ball then he does when he is shipped out wide and it allows him to find his rhythm quicker. This game he was producing incisive passes from deeper whilst providing a good screen from the defence. With the signing of Coutinho and the return to fitness for Dembélé, it is unlikely we will se the Croatian on the wing again which will benefit him.

You say: 7

Sam says: 8


Andrés Iniesta

Another controlling performance from the captain. Take the ball, pass the ball, take the ball, pass the ball. Iniesta was keeping the tempo ticking along from the centre of midfield. He was also keen to push the defenders forward, actively encouraging Vermaelen to bring the ball out from defence. Left the field in the 75th minute.

You say: 8

Sam says: 7


Paulinho

A quiet game from the Brazilian in which he did not see a lot of the ball. The majority of the midfield play seemed to come down Iniesta’s left side and meant Paulinho became a little isolated. However, he did crop up to get a customary late goal.

You say: 7

Sam says: 7


Ousmane Dembélé

In Dembélé’s first league game since his injury, he was very good. Frequently picking the ball up in dangerous positions and looking to pose a threat. However he did on occasion do too much on the ball whether that be through too many touches or sacrificing possession, the sharpness was not quite there. Despite that, some slack must be given for a player returning from such a long spell out.

You say: 7

Sam says: 7


Lionel Messi

Got the ball rolling with the opening goal and another great link up play with Alba. He was the one seeing most of the ball in the first half but his influence dipped in the second half. Retreating further to get the ball, he had a lot to do once he did receive. He was also wasteful with the free kicks. Assisted Paulinho in the dying seconds.

You say: 10

Sam says: 8


Luis Suárez

Contuing his good form towards the latter end of 2017, Suárez was busy throughout. His goal was a wonderful example of his ability. Usuing the pace of Roberto’s cross, his first touch set him up for the perfect volley and one that required a good amount of technique. Saw less of the ball in the second half.

You say: 8

Sam says: 8


Nélson Semedo

Relinquished from Roberto of his defensive duties but did not see a massive amount of the ball.

You say: 7

Sam says: 7


Andre Gomes

Showed some attacking flair in his brief spell on the pitch.

You say: 7

Sam says: 7


José Arnáiz

Only played a few minutes.

You say: 7

Sam says: N/A


Ernesto Valverde

Set the team out well and made wise substitutions. The introduction of Arnáiz will please fans.

You say: 8

Sam says: 8


The Team

A very pleasing performance in which everyone played their part, the full backs in particular were impressive.

You say: 8

Sam says: 8


MOTM?

You say: Lionel Messi

Sam says: Jordi Alba

Celta 1-1 Barça: Player Ratings

Did the youngsters impress?

Jasper Cillessen

Not a lot he could have done for Celta’s goal as it was fired in at such pace that no keeper stood a chance. Otherwise, he was good.

You say: 7

Sam says: 7


Lucas Digne

Kept his left flank clear of chances and the majority of Celta’s attacks came through the middle or down the right. In an attacking sense, he wasn’t as effective as Semedo but still put in dangerous crosses from time to time.

You say: 7

Sam says: 7


Thomas Vermaelen

Another good performance from the Belgian which included a few crucial blocks. Seems to be building a good partnership with Piqué.

You say: 8

Sam says: 8


Gerard Piqué

As Piqué desperatley ran across to get the block in, Semedo dropped in to cover and this left space at the far post for Celta to score their goal. Had Piqué stayed in his position and trusted Cillessen to make the save, the goal may not have been scored. He also seemed to struggle with the pace of Aspas throughout but his partnership with Vermaelen helped.

You say: 7

Sam says: 7


Nélson Semedo

Started the game very brightly. Usuing his pace to catch up to Iago Aspas (who is no sloiuch himself) and making a last ditch tackle. Then at the other end, he produced a great cutback and then a chipped cross that looked dangerous. Throughout the game, he was creating chances and showing signs of his early season form.

You say: 9

Sam says: 9


Sergio Busquets

Kept Barça ticking in the middle as usual and almost scored an amazing goal. A side foot shot with such power that once it rocketed onto the crossbar, it shot several feet into the air.

You say: 8

Sam says: 7


Denis Suárez

Missed a sitter after a superb Semedo cross. Largely looked ineffective on the left wing and wanted to cut in more often than not.

You say: 6

Sam says: 6

André Gomes

This game was by no means his worst in a Barça shirt but he can be guilty of taking too many touches on occasion and making the wrong decision. However, he did get the assist for the goal with a driven cross into the box. Just needs to work on what to do and when.

You say: 7

Sam says: 7


Paulinho

Not as effective as he has been recently, perhaps due to the lack of a Messi ahead of him. When he did push forward, he didn’t create a lot with the ball and dragged a shot wide.

You say: 6

Sam says: 6


José Arnaiz

Was looking lively in the opening minutes with some good runs and then was rewarded for his effort. Free as a daisy in the middle of the box, he produced a hard, accurate shot into the bottom corner to score his first goal. Was unlucky not to score a second after a brave diving header. All in all, a good way to kick off 2018 for the youngster.

You say: 8

Sam says: 8


Aleix Vidal

A similar problem to Suárez in that he did not create enough out on the wing.

You say:

Sam says: 6


Ivan Rakitić

Looked to get Barça in ahead in the final minutes but ultimately could not quite do it.

You say: 7

Sam says: 7


Ousmane Dembélé

Great to see him back after such a long injury. Looked okay in the brief spells we saw him.

You say: 6

Sam says: 7


Sergi Roberto

Only played a few minutes.

You say: 7

Sam says: N/A


Ernesto Valverde

Gave the youngsters a chance while introducing Dembélé back into the fold. In the grand scheme of things, 1-1 is not a bad result to take back to the Camp Nou.

You say: 8

Sam says: 7


The Team

Looked vulnerable at times but got a good result in the end.

You say: 7

Sam says: 7


MOTM?

You say: Semedo (43.6%)

Sam says: Semedo

Halfway Report: Valverde, the Team & Player of the Season so Far


Ernesto Valverde


Real Madrid v Barcelona - La Liga
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Your Rating: 9

Sam’s Rating: 9

Weathering the biggest of storms upon his arrival, Valverde has negotiated the Neymar departure, his boss being the subject of a vote of no confidence, injuries to key players and a complete writing off from various media outlets to guide Barcelona to first. The calm head of Valverde was needed at a time of much tension and his in-game tactical changes have been great. The recovery of Dembélé will aide him in the second half of the season as he looks to secure the Liga crown and go far in the Champions League.


The Team


Real Madrid v Barcelona - La Liga
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Your Rating: 9

Sam’s Rating: 9

It may not always be pretty but it’s functional. Predicted their worst season for a long time, Barcelona find themselves top of the table. The football hasn’t been as mesmerising as recent years but the team has been struck with injuries to crucial players meaning it was more a case of win by any means possible.


Player of the Season so Far


Barcelona v Celta de Vigo - La Liga
Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Lionel Messi (84.7%)

Was it ever going to be anyone else? Despite all of ter Stegen’s heroics, Umtiti’s dominance and Busquets’ quiet brilliance, Messi has been a cut above.


Player of the Season so Far without Messi


Barcelona v Real Betis - La Liga
Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Marc-André ter Stegen (66.7%)

The rock in-between the sticks, ter Stegen is deserving of this accolade for the points he’s saved Barcelona alone. He is dominant, good with his feet, reactionary and is well on his way to becoming a leader at the club.

Barcelona halfway report: Forwards

Who else aside from Messi as shined up front?


Luis Suárez


Real Madrid v Barcelona - La Liga
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images
Games Played Games Started Shots Conversion Rate Total Passes Pass Accuracy Passes per Game Fouls Won Yellow Cards Goals Assists Your Rating Sam’s Rating
14 14 42 23.8% 432 75.5% 30.9 21 3 10 1 8 8

Luis Suárez’s season can be cut in to two halves, well maybe into thirds. The first two thirds, he was dreadful. Seemingly shot of confidence and lacking the familiarity of Neymar, Suárez form was poor in the opening stages. Continually offside and when he did manage to make a legal chance, he fluffed it.

There were questions over whether Suárez would ever get back to the form he once had but the latter third of this first half of the season has shown a resurgence. Four goals in his last three games including a goal in the Clásico are hopefully blueprints for the future. With the expected arrival of Antoine Greizmann and the return to fitness for Ousmane Dembélé, Suárez needs to be back at his best if he is to keep his place in the team.


Paco Alcácer


FC Barcelona v Sporting CP - UEFA Champions League
Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images
Games Played Games Started Shots Conversion Rate Total Passes Pass Accuracy Passes per Game Fouls Won Yellow Cards Goals Assists Your Rating Sam’s Rating
8 4 8 25% 102 78.4% 12.8 4 0 2 2 7 7

An able deputy from the bench, Alcácer has proven he does have a place in this team. With Suárez’s goalscoring trouble of earlier in the season, it was important that Barça had goals coming from the bench and Alcácer has provided that. Will he always be happy with a place on the bench? Time will tell but for now he is well worth his place in the squad.


Ousmane Dembélé


Barcelona v Espanyol - La Liga
Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images
Games Played Games Started Shots Conversion Rate Total Passes Pass Accuracy Passes per Game Fouls Won Yellow Cards Goals Assists Your Rating Sam’s Rating
2 1 0 N/A 17 88.2% 8.5 0 0 0 1 7 7

Struck down by a hamstring injury in only his second league game, Dembélé has yet to show his true potential in a Barcelona shirt. Still, there were encouraging signs during his brief cameo and with the player scheduled to return soon he may bring a much needed width and balance to the side.


Gerard Deulofeu


Getafe v Barcelona - La Liga
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images
Games Played Games Started Shots Conversion Rate Total Passes Pass Accuracy Passes per Game Fouls Won Yellow Cards Goals Assists Your Rating Sam’s Rating
9 5 1 20% 270 80.7% 30 4 1 1 1 6 6

A disappointing return for Deulofeu on his return to the Camp Nou. After a few starts, he has been limited to substitute appearances and looks out of his depth when featuring. Plenty of pace but lack of an effective final ball has made Valverde look elsewhere.


Lionel Messi


Real Madrid v Barcelona - La Liga
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images
Games Played Games Started Shots Conversion Rate Total Passes Pass Accuracy Passes per Game Fouls Won Yellow Cards Goals Assists Your Rating Sam’s Rating
17 17 83 18.1% 973 80.7% 57.2 37 1 15 6 10 10

What can you write about Messi that hasn’t already been written? In a previous article, I spoke of how Messi has gone up another level. His role in the team is more important than ever. Every aspect of Barcelona’s game runs through him and he has taken that burden and excelled with it. The top goalscorer (who could have had a lot more if it wasn’t for the post), the top assister and the man all of his teammates look for.

At a time when Barcelona were in crisis due to the embarrassing nature of Neymar’s departure, Messi has remained undeterred. Offered far more tempting offers from abroad, he has stayed and carried this team to the top of the league. Barcelona now find themselves in a tricky situation, look to involve other players and ease the load on Messi or continue to rely on the Argentine’s brilliance?


Forward of the season so far


Messi (98.1%)


Barcelona halfway report: Midfielders

Rankings for Busquets & Co.


Sergio Busquets


FC Barcelona v Olympiakos Piraeus - UEFA Champions League
Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images
Games Played Games Started Tackles Tackles Won Total Passes Pass Accuracy Passes per Game Fouls Conceded Yellow Cards Goals Assists Your Rating Sam’s Rating
16 15 42 61.9% 1168 90.8% 73 24 5 1 2 9 9

After overcoming an uncharctestic slow start to the season, Busquets is back to his best. It has long been said that Busquets doesn’t receive the plaudits that he should and anyone who has been watching Barça for more than five minutes can see his importance.

Take his Clásico performance in which Zidane deployed Mateo Kovačić in an effort to man mark him. The comfort on the ball allowed him to play a forward pass within a whisper of Luka Modric to Ivan Rakitić and that set the wheels in motion for Barça’s first goal whilst Kovačić clung to Messi.


Ivan Rakitić


Villarreal v Barcelona - La Liga
Photo by Fotopress/Getty Images
Games Played Games Started Tackles Tackles Won Total Passes Pass Accuracy Passes per Game Fouls Conceded Yellow Cards Goals Assists Your Rating Sam’s Rating
17 15 22 63.6% 1132 90.3% 66.6 13 1 0 3 7 6

This season has been a tough one for Rakitić. Asked to play out on the wing, it is clear he is not comfortable. Forever opting to come inside rather play wide has caused Barcelona to become narrow and relies on the full backs to provide width. When he’s played wide, he is ineffective. Not offering much in attacking threat, Rakitić has been relying more on putting in a defensive display but that’s not what he was bought for.


Andrés Iniesta


Valencia v Barcelona - La Liga
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
Games Played Games Started Tackles Tackles Won Total Passes Pass Accuracy Passes per Game Fouls Conceded Yellow Cards Goals Assists Your Rating Sam’s Rating
14 13 16 87.5% 710 89.3% 50.7 9 0 1 0 8 8

Go back to the summer of 2017 and many wondered if Andrés Iniesta was even first choice anymore. At 33 years of age, it could have been argued that the Spaniard had given all he had but the reality was that a change of system was needed to get the best out of the club captain.

Ernesto Valverde deployed him in a position that does not require a large amount of running whilst still allowing him to see plenty of the ball. His importance to the team is once again obvious and while he will continue to pick up injuries, he has missed 40 days through injury this season, the reduced amount of KM covered should lessen his time out and allow him to be ready for the final stages of the season.


Paulinho


Barcelona v Deportivo La Coruna - La Liga
Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images
Games Played Games Started Tackles Tackles Won Total Passes Pass Accuracy Passes per Game Fouls Conceded Yellow Cards Goals Assists Your Rating Sam’s Rating
16 9 20 70% 548 88% 34.3 13 2 6 2 8 9

If there is a 2017 comeback to rival Barcelona’s against PSG, perhaps it is the one of Paulinho. Seen as a symbol of everything wrong with the current board and the seeming lack of a plan, fans’ views of Paulinho only worsened when a video went viral of the Brazilian failing to do a few kick-ups at his presentation.

For all the hate and ridicule projected at Paulinho, the player himself seems unfazed by it. He has genuinely added something to the Barça midfield. A directness, a powerfulness, a Frank Lampard-esque desire to make late runs into the box and score goals. He is Barcelona’s third top scorer behind Messi and Suárez and it is testament to his desire to drive forward and look for goals.

Teams will always sit deep against Barcelona but with Paulinho, Valverde may have found the key.


André Gomes


FC Barcelona v Sporting CP - UEFA Champions League
Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images
Games Played Games Started Tackles Tackles Won Total Passes Pass Accuracy Passes per Game Fouls Conceded Yellow Cards Goals Assists Your Rating Sam’s Rating
8 2 10 60% 127 88.2% 15.9 6 0 0 0 6 5

Perhaps the best way to describe Gomes’ season so far is meh. He’s been okay in patches but made no indication he is ready for a consistent starting spot. He has made eight league appearances but only two have been from kick off. His substitute appearances have largely been to provide the role of fresh legs rather than a tactical change. Will need to improve drastically or else this will be his last season at the club.


Denis Suárez


Barcelona v Las Palmas - La Liga
Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

A similar case to Gomes but Suárez has actually shone some promise when he’s appeared. He’s registered two goals and two assists in the league and while he as of yet has not met the potential talked about upon his re-signing, he has made progress.

Given he’s now 23, Suárez won’t be happy being a bench player for much longer regardless of who the bench belongs to.


Midfielder of the season so far


Sergio Busquets (47.6%)


Barcelona halfway report: Defenders

Ranking the men at the back.


Marc-André ter Stegen


FC Barcelona v Olympiakos Piraeus - UEFA Champions League
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
Games Played Clean Sheets Total Saves Saves/Shots Ratio Total Passes Pass Accuracy Your Rating Sam’s Rating
17 11 50 87.7% 507 81.1% 10 10

With every passing game it seems more incredible that ter Stegen was once linked with a move away from Barcelona. A choice between Claudio Bravo and ter Stegen saw the former switch to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and since then the German keeper has excelled into one of the world’s finest.

This season has seen him at his dominating best. Saving his side on more than once occasion whilst being also perfectly playing the role of Barcelona’s first attacker. His distribution is excellent and his instinctive shot stopping is among the best in the world. Rest assured without ter Stegen in-between the sticks, Barcelona would not be sitting pretty at the top of La Liga.


Sergi Roberto


Villarreal v Barcelona - La Liga
Photo by Fotopress/Getty Images
Games Played Games Started Tackles Tackles Won Total Passes Pass Accuracy Passes per Game Fouls Conceded Yellow Cards Red Cards Goals Your Rating Sam’s Rating
13 11 31 64.5% 748 92% 57.5 7 1 0 1 8 8

Barcelona’s great utility man continues to impress this season. As fans clamber for him to start in a midfield role, Sergi Roberto continues to play at right back. Perhaps the biggest compliment to the player is he is no longer described as “filling in at right back”. As well providing a competent defensive opportunity, Roberto has also improved his attacking game and makes for a good partner to the marauding Jordi Alba.

Still though, midfield looks the best place for Roberto to shine


Nélson Semedo


FC Barcelona v Sporting CP - UEFA Champions League
Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images
Games Played Games Started Tackles Tackles Won Total Passes Pass Accuracy Passes per Game Fouls Conceded Yellow Cards Red Cards Goals Your Rating Sam’s Rating
10 7 10 80% 391 89.3% 39.1 3 0 0 0 7 7

A player who started the season brightly but appears to have fallen down the pecking order in recent weeks. An initial start full of energetic performances of a player eager to get forward have subsided for a player not overly sure of what to do and when.

Semedo is likely to be a better right back than Roberto but the youngster’s inconsistencies have opened the door for the Spaniard to return to the position. A second half of the season more reminiscent of the first quarter would see him lock down his spot in the team.


Gerard Piqué


Real Madrid v Barcelona - La Liga
Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
Games Played Games Started Tackles Tackles Won Total Passes Pass Accuracy Passes per Game Fouls Conceded Yellow Cards Red Cards Goals Your Rating Sam’s Rating
13 13 15 73.3% 915 89.9% 70.4 11 6 0 1 8 7

At the age of 30, Piqué is now the experienced leader of the backline. His increasing age has led to him on occasion being too slow to react and his lack of pace has hurt him this season but with the pace of Umtiti alongside him, the Spaniard has a reliable partner.

A highlight also saw him take the captain’s armband for a game in which he orchestrated his team of youngsters to a winning performance. Puyol would be proud.


Javier Mascherano


FC Barcelona v Chapecoense - Joan Gamper Trophy
Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images
Games Played Games Started Tackles Tackles Won Total Passes Pass Accuracy Passes per Game Fouls Conceded Yellow Cards Red Cards Goals Your Rating Sam’s Rating
6 5 14 92.9% 351 90.9% 58.5 8 0 0 0 6 6

Absent for a large part of the season, it seems Mascherano is on his way out of the club. When he has played, he hasn’t looked at his best. Once applauded for his position, the Argentine has been caught on occasion this season.

Barcelona finally have better alternatives than the CDM turned CB and if the club strengthen in the winter transfer window, Mascherano may well be heading the opposite way.


Samuel Umtiti


Valencia v Barcelona - La Liga
Photo by Fotopress/Getty Images
Games Played Games Started Tackles Tackles Won Total Passes Pass Accuracy Passes per Game Fouls Conceded Yellow Cards Red Cards Goals Your Rating Sam’s Rating
12 12 29 62.1% 931 92.2% 77.6 11 4 0 0 9 9

Taking the mantle of Barça’s best centre back from Piqué, Samuel Umtiti has been a defensive rock this season. A mixture of pace, well timed tackles and smart positioning has made it very tough for opponents to get in at Barça’s goal. If a player has the ability to get past Umtiti, the Frenchman has the pace to make up the ground and get a tackle in.

His fitness will be crucial for Barcelona if they hope to win trophies.


Thomas Vermaelen


Real Madrid v Barcelona - La Liga
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images
Games Played Games Started Tackles Tackles Won Total Passes Pass Accuracy Passes per Game Fouls Conceded Yellow Cards Red Cards Goals Your Rating Sam’s Rating
5 4 7 85.7% 230 92.6% 46 4 2 0 0 7 7

Tasked with filling in during a Barça defensive injury crisis, Vermaelen has passed this test helping to ensure a clean sheet in the Clásico. Criticism of the player can be seen as harsh given his appalling injury record has kept his appearances to a minimum and thus turned him into a bit of a laughing stock but when he is actually on the pitch, he has played well. Some mistakes have been present but they have largely been caused by the lack of a consistent run of games.

If he can stay fit, he can defintley challenge the first choice partnership of Umtiti and Piqué.


Jordi Alba


Barcelona v Celta de Vigo - La Liga
Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images
Games Played Games Started Tackles Tackles Won Total Passes Pass Accuracy Passes per Game Fouls Conceded Yellow Cards Red Cards Goals Your Rating Sam’s Rating
15 15 29 79.3% 1048 88.4% 69.9 20 3 0 1 9 9

With the departure of Neymar and the injury of Dembélé, Barcelona were forced to adopt a 4-4-2 that consisted of central midfielders playing on the wings. This, in turn, forced Alba to provide a lot of the width and he has done this task magnificently. Producing runs similar to his Barça career pre-Neymar and with the vision of Messi nor centrally, these runs are being rewarded.

A quick one-two, a drag back or even a shot himself. Alba’s attacking game is strong this season and he has almost become a left winger that on occasion defends. Whether he can produce such performances against Europe’s elite will be the true test of where Alba ranks among the bets full backs in the world.


Lucas Digne


FC Barcelona v Sporting CP - UEFA Champions League
Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images
Games Played Games Started Tackles Tackles Won Total Passes Pass Accuracy Passes per Game Fouls Conceded Yellow Cards Red Cards Goals Your Rating Sam’s Rating
4 2 5 80% 129 86% 32.3 2 1 0 0 7 7

An able replacement for Alba if not always setting the world on fire. With the almost impossible task of benching one of the world’s finest left backs, Digne has had a turbulent time since he moved to the Catalans in 2016. He has made just four league appearances this season but may be required more during the business end of the season.


Aleix Vidal


Real Madrid v Barcelona - La Liga
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images
Games Played Games Started Tackles Tackles Won Total Passes Pass Accuracy Passes per Game Fouls Conceded Yellow Cards Red Cards Goals Your Rating Sam’s Rating
10 3 3 66.7% 202 77.7% 20.2 2 0 0 0 7 7

Appearing mostly as a substitute, Vidal has done well when called upon. Whether that’s part of the back four or more often as a midfielder, his pace has been used against tried legs. Although he is guilty of wasting chances in the final third but he did get a Clásico goal which is a great way to endear yourself to the fans.


Defender of the season so far


Samuel Umtiti (76%)