While the moment Victor Valdes tore his anterior cruciate ligament was the turning point in Barcelona’s season, Blaugrana fans around the world are ignoring a more subtle detail about the starting XI during the last five losses that they suffered in all competitions under Argentine Gerardo “Tata” Martino.
The absence of Chilean Alexis Sanchez from the starting eleven of the sides that played Real Sociedad, Valladolid, Atletico Madrid, Granada and Real Madrid respectively should be examined closely.
Alexis’ offensive and defensive contributions are vital to Barcelona, both when they have and do not have the ball. Going strictly by the numbers, his contribution this season can be considered superior to that of his teammate and main competitor, Neymar.
According to statistics from WhoScored.com, Alexis has made 1.6 tackles per game; double that of his teammate, Neymar. In all Liga games thus far, Alexis has made 48 tackles and Neymar only 20.
Martino, who during most of his managerial career had coached a defensive style of football, has largely accommodated Barcelona’s inbred short passing. Barcelona has players of immense attacking quality who aren’t known to play well without the ball, and so they must try and recover possession quickly when they lose it.
Alexis’ tackling contribution is essential to this strategy.
Another statistic, “turnovers per game,” shows Alexis’ superior ability to retain possession in away games. Away games are where four of the five losses in the Liga have occurred this season. Away from the Camp Nou, Alexis has turned the ball over to the opponent only once per game in the Liga. Neymar, however, has nearly doubled that, coming in at 1.9 turnovers per game.
And of course, there is the offensive contribution. A year after a forgettable season for Alexis, the Chilean has 17 goals and 10 assists in the Liga. Neymar comes in with nine goals and eight assists.
This isn’t to say that Neymar will not improve upon this season’s numbers. After all, he is only 22. But Alexis Sanchez’s workmanlike efforts at Barcelona cannot be overlooked. He is a player who they must hold on to this summer if they want to succeed in all competitions next season.