Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo willlikely be key to Barcelona and Juventus’hopes of arresting their poor recentform.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been in fine fettle since football returned from its coronavirus-enforced break. The same cannot be said for Barcelona and Juventus.
Juve won a ninth Serie A title in a row, of course, but a run of two wins in eight games to end the domestic season was not exactly sparkling form. They also lost the Coppa Italia final to Napoli.
As for Barca, a two-point lead when LaLiga restarted became a five-point deficit to Real Madrid by the end, as Zinedine Zidane’s side took back the title.
Messi made it perfectly clear in a rather disgruntled outburst that, if they do not improve, they will not progress to the Champions League quarter-finals, having drawn 1-1 at Napoli in the first leg. It’s worse for Juve; they must overcome a 1-0 deficit to Lyon if they are to make the last eight.
As the numbers show, Messi and Ronaldo might need to be at their best if we’re to see them in the next round in Lisbon…
Even with Luis Suarez’s return, Messi was largely a lone bright spark in the Barca attack post-lockdown.
With six goals and nine assists in 11 league appearances, he took his tally for the season to 40 goal involvements in 42 outings and broke former team-mate Xavi’s record for assists in a single LaLiga campaign when he reached 21.
Prior to lockdown, Messi was averaging one big chance created per game in the league, and that actually increased after the restart – he managed 14 in his 11 outings. His passing accuracy, too, was largely stable, dropping by just 0.3 per cent on average.
Interestingly, his shooting became a little more wayward, his shot accuracy dipping to just 45.7 per cent from a seasonal average of 68.5. Likewise, his dribble success rate slipped to 59.3, having been at 66.2 prior to the shutdown.
Ronaldo scored 21 in 22 Serie A appearances pre-lockdown, with three assists to boot. That form stayed largely consistent after the restart, with 10 goals and two assists in 11 games.
Creating chances has been a limited part of Ronaldo’s game in recent years but his numbers in that regard are solid, with three big chances created after lockdown and six before.
His passing accuracy in all competitions went up (87.1 per cent compared to 84.2 pre-lockdown), while his shooting accuracy (53.6 from 54.8) and his dribble success rate (50 from 57.3) went down – just like Messi. Perhaps the long season began to creep up on them.
TWO TEAMS IN TROUBLE
There’s no doubt Barca and Juve would find themselves in some difficulty if Messi and Ronaldo become suddenly unavailable. Their form just isn’t strong enough.
Pre-lockdown, Barca had played 38 games in all competitions, scoring 82 goals and conceding 41; afterwards, they played 11 league matches, scored 23 and conceded seven. That’s consistent enough.
The problem is more in the way they have been playing. Their average possession went up after lockdown to 70.1 from 64.9, but shooting accuracy fell a massive 13.2 per cent to 48.7 and their shot conversion rate dropped from 22.5 to 19.7. Teams were happier to give up the ball and sit back, confident they could keep Barca (largely) at bay.
As for Juve, they scored 71 goals and let in 34 in 37 games before the pause, and while they scored 26 in 14 afterwards, they conceded a truly worrying 19.
Like Barca, their shooting accuracy fell (45.8 from 49.1), as did their shot conversion rate (13.5 from 15.9). They also averaged 2.6 per cent less possession after lockdown – not a great look for Sarri-ball – and won just twice on the road (they won 10 away games before the break).
Juve might have held on in the title race, but they, like Barca, have been getting worse since the season restarted. A strong challenge to win the Champions League will depend on some fairly substantial improvement – or a number of magical moments from their main men.