Barcelona's Season So Far: The 6 Most Telling Statistics for Messi and Co.
Barcelona—and Lionel Messi, in particular—have been smashing records all season long.
After Messi finished the calendar year with an astonishing 91 goals in all competitions, Barcelona won their first two January league fixtures to cap off an eye-catching run of their own: 55 points taken out of a possible 57 for the first half of the league season.
While they have been on fine form, the Blaugrana will be looking to improve in the weeks and months ahead, particularly at the defensive end of the pitch.
What patterns in Barcelona's play underlie their fine form so far? What statistics point to the areas where they will need to make changes in order to be considered a great—if not the greatest—Barcelona side?
1.38: Messi's Goals Per Game
The most telling statistic to emerge from Barcelona's season so far is also the most obvious: Lionel Messi's goalscoring rate.
La Pulga has found the net 44 times in just 32 appearances, including 33 in league play, leaving him on pace to eviscerate his record tallies of 72 and 50 from last season.
After such a remarkable 2012, it won't be surprising if Messi suffers from what statisticians call "reversion to the mean." That is, whatever effect luck has had in his recent record-breaking play is unlikely to continue forever.
But Messi is a player who has made a regular habit of making the statistics his own. Consider that he already has more goals than he did in the entirety of the 2008-09 season, and he is only three shy of his mark from the following year as well.
In fact, looking at this simple chart showing Messi's goals per game hit rate by season suggests that he hasn't yet reached his peak. Who's to say when he will?
42: Percentage of Barcelona's Goals Scored by Messi
Messi's goals do have their downside—the team is increasingly dependent on the little Argentine to finish off chances.
Just as his goalscoring tally has been on the rise in recent years, so has his fraction of the Blaugrana's total output. With 44 of Barcelona's 105 goals so far this season, Messi has a higher percentage of Barcelona's goals than he did last season (38) or the season previous (36).
It's more a measure of La Pulga's incredible success in front of goal than any other player's failure. But if Messi were to miss a spell of matches for whatever reason, Barcelona could potentially be in trouble.
105: Total Team Goals
That being said, the team on the whole is scoring goals aplenty.
With 71 in the league alone, Barcelona have 27 more goals than their closest goalscoring rivals from the capital.
With an incredible 3.38 goals per league game thus far, the Blaugrana are well on pace to cut short Madrid's reign as the top scoring league side in history.
Of course, difficult Champions League fixtures, reversion to the mean and the mere fact that they may well wrap up the league title several weeks early will probably make that particular record an unlikely one to fall. Time will tell.
1.35: Standard Deviation on Goals Per Game
Barcelona's goalscoring record this season is impressive, but the consistency and regularity of their goalscoring has been an equally important factor in their success.
Consider that up to this point in each of the last two seasons, Barcelona had a nearly identical overall goal tally. In fact, at the end of January last season, the Blaugrana had scored more goals per game in all competitions (3.1) than they have so far this season (3.0).
The difference this season is that while the total number of goals scored has been fewer, the number of goals per game has more closely clustered around the average of three (see chart). So while there have been fewer games with eight or nine goals, there have also been fewer on the low end of the spectrum. Thus they've only failed to score three goals on 11 occasions, compared to 17 last season.
This consistency has led to better results across the board.
1.09: Goals Conceded Per Match
Though things look rosy on the offensive side, the statistics aren't so flattering at the other end.
With over a goal conceded per match on average, this season's Blaugrana defense lags far behind those of the past few seasons up to this point (under .7 goals concede per game for each of the last two).
Early season injuries are at least partly to blame, as Puyol and Pique each spent a significant chunk of the fall on the sidelines.
But with Puyol aging, it's likely that he'll be spending more and more time off the pitch. And Barcelona's defensive record hasn't improved significantly as the year has progressed (11 goals conceded in the last 11 league encounters). It may not matter as long as long they're smashing in the goals at the current clip, but Barcelona's defending isn't as solid as it was in the Guardiola era.
11: Clean Sheets
Barcelona's defensive problems can also be seen through another window: clean sheets.
With only 11 clean sheets in 35 matches, the Blaugrana aren't doing themselves any favors defensively.
Compare to the similar tallies for the past two seasons through January: 22 and 17 clean sheets, respectively.
Again, it may not have mattered so far in the season with the goals flowing freely, but later on, the inability to keep things tight at the back may be a problem for Barcelona.
Will Barcelona's defensive problems cost them? Or will their offensive prowess bring them the titles and the greatness they seek? Only time will tell.