Barcelona’s defence is under inspection. Ernesto Valverde’s side conceded four goals at Villarreal in Gerard Pique’s absence and the team have one of the worst defensive records of recent seasons.
However, there are nuances and caveats to the statistics, and the comparisons aren’t always so simply plain.
First is the fact that Pique and Clement Lenglet have been performing at a very high level this season. They’ve started 13 of the 21 games played in 2019 and the Catalans have conceded just seven goals – 0.53 per game – which is an extraordinary return.
Of their 13 games together, Barcelona have won nine and lost just once, while other pairings don’t have the same success rate.
Lenglet and Umtiti’s one game together ended 4-4, while Pique and Umtiti conceded three goals over two games against Rayo Vallecano and Sevilla.
The duo are the first choice pairing and there’s little doubt about it.
Valverde started the season by placing his trust in last year’s combination of Pique and Samuel Umtiti, but an injury to the Frenchman forced change on a partnership that wasn’t quite the same as it had been, with Barcelona conceding too many goals early on in the campaign.
That change was Lenglet’s inclusion and he took full advantage, starting impressively and making very few mistakes. He adapted seamlessly to life in the back four at the Camp Nou.
Pique and Lenglet have formed a wall in front of Marc Andre ter Stegen. Together, they have kept clean sheets away to Lyon and at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu – twice – as well as San Mames.
Lenglet wins 68 percent of his duels compared to Pique’s 64 percent, while the pair are impressive on the ball and the Frenchman’s completed pass rate of 89 percent is the lowest of the pair, with the Catalan successfully completing 91 percent.
Just how impressive they have been together is made evident when they’re not alongside one another. In eight games apart, Barcelona have leaked 12 goals. Umtiti is unrecognisable compared to last season and that was demonstrated at the Estadio de la Ceramica when his positional errors proved costly.
On top of that, the other options haven’t worked either. Jeison Murillo arrived to be used in case of emergency, Thomas Vermaelen is always injured, while Jean-Clair Todibo is only there to train.
Between now and season’s end, though, it will be Pique and Lenglet who start as Ter Stegen’s protection in the important matches.