Barcelona, having been making changes to their squad in an attempt improve on what was for them a poor season. They lost the league title to Atletico Madrid and failed to reach the Champions League Final. The headline signing is of course Luis Suarez, but who is going to help create the chances for Suarez to take?
Barcelona sold Cesc Fabregas to Chelsea and has brought in the Croatian Ivan Rakitic who played for Sevilla last season. What does this change in personal portend for Barcelona?
The first thing to notice is not one which would normally stand out, but could be very relevant to an ultra-attacking team such as Barcelona, and that is the defensive contributions of these two midfield players. Barcelona may have scored 100 goals in the season, but they conceded 33, seven more than champions Atletico, a significant difference and one that may have ultimately cost them the title.
If we look at the number of defensive actions per game, especially those have been deemed to be good. Rakitic with 10.9 per game and a 40.7% average of good actions is above average on both. He also recovered possession at a rate of 3 times per game which again is above average.
Fabregas on the other hand, had figures of 7.4 for defensive actions with only 34.7% of them being good, both below average and a recovery of possession rate at 1.8 which is around average.
Putting all these numbers together, we see that Fabregas was below average and Rakitic above average in this field for players in this position.
Obviously, we also have to look at the creative abilities of both players, and the first detail we will look at is chance creation. Both players were above average in this category with Fabregas being more productive than Rakitic. The gap between them grows when we look at the actual chances created. Fabregas weighed in with 3, while Rakitic was below average with 1 per game.
Overall Fabregas was right on the money in this category with a 40.5% average as opposed to Rakitic who only managed a 20.4% success rate, well below average.
If Rakitic has been bought in for his defensive abilities then the need to improve in this area may not be so important.
Another interesting point to note here is that majority of chances created by Fabregas where through passing (84%) which is the Barcelona way whereas Rakitic favoured dribbling and crossing with (44%) of the chances he created coming from those methods.
Neither player is known as being a particularly prolific scorer, although Rakitic reached the average grade of chances which ended in shots with a mark of 63.9%, whereas Fabregas was well below average with a grade of 43.9% chances which ended in a shot. This could be interpreted in that Rakitic is keener to shoot and Fabregas tried to pass or create another opportunity for a team mate rather than shoot himself. This was one of the big criticisms levelled at Fabregas when he was a player at Arsenal, in that he did not shoot enough after having made a good opportunity for himself.
To sum up, there are those who will argue, that these players are in the team to create chances, but if everyone is involved in attack, this leaves you exposed at the back and having a midfielder who performs well in that area could be an asset to a team like Barcelona which is so attack minded.