In recent times, Barcelona have made two transfer announcements out of nowhere. In 2017 Paulinho arrived from Chinese Super League outfit Guangzhou Evergrande, and at the beginning of this season his fellow Brazilian Malcom was snapped up from under Roma’s noses. After this, more left-field announcements were surely possible. However, the signing of Kevin-Prince Boateng from Sassuolo has surprised everyone. In this analysis, we use statistics to see if and how Boateng could help Valverde’s Barcelona.
Boateng is the first Ghana international to play for Barcelona. Having played for clubs such as AC Milan and Schalke, Boateng is very experienced. He is a physical player. His physical strength is a very predominant part of his style of play. However, he doesn’t possess great dribbling ability. Good shielding, hold-up play and decision making are part of his arsenal. These things make him a more than capable player to come off the bench.
Why Barcelona need Boateng
Barcelona recently sold La Masia graduate Munir to Sevilla. This, along with Paco Alcacer’s departure to Borussia Dortmund, left Barcelona with just one genuine striker. Lionel Messi can play centre forward, but he and Luis Suarez are not enough when Barcelona are competing on all fronts.
The other option was promoting Barcelona B striker, Abel Ruiz. However, it would be difficult for him to live up to a great standard all of a sudden in the middle of the season. So what exactly did Barcelona need? Essentially, a striker who could easily fit in and adapt, who had experience playing at a certain level and who would be good enough to help them resolve their lack of squad depth. On paper, Boateng is a very good fit.
Kevin-Prince Boateng is the brother of Bayern Munich player Jerome Boateng. He usually plays as a centre forward. However, he has been deployed as a midfielder recently.
Barcelona most often have three in the attack. They are usually Messi, Suarez and either Coutinho or Dembele. As we see, Messi and Suarez hardly get any rest. To solve this Boateng would play as a centre forward. He has 0.8 shot assists on average per match. Were he to hold the ball up, Coutinho and Dembele could play on either side of him and make runs whom he could pass to.
At 1.86m tall, Boateng is well built and very good physically. This allows him to hold up the ball and pass it to any players making runs. This holds up play could help many assets of Barcelona’s attack. Hence, he would be a good fit in Barcelona’s attack rather than in the already crowded midfield.
Boateng is good in front of goal, too. With an xG of 0.25 and goal tally of 0.31 per match, he will be very helpful for Barcelona if he fits in.
What Suarez lacks
In some aspects, Boateng has better abilities than Suarez. One of the most striking is how he manages to keep possession and play the right passes in the final third. Making 5.23 passes into the final third each match, Boateng is very valuable in that aspect.
In the image shown below, we see Boateng in the final third. His teammate is covered by the opposition. However, Boateng shows his great decision making here. He plays the ball first time over the defenders to his teammate and runs forward to receive a pass. This fast give-and-go is very similar to Barcelona’s style where we see the Messi-Alba or Messi-Suarez combinations.
Boateng makes 8.85 forward passes per match. These passes are usually very helpful for his team in switching play or getting into the box. Here, we see that Boateng has the ball on the edge of the box. The opposition has already fallen back making a through ball unlikely. Boateng sees the option to the far right though, and delivers an accurate pass. Now the ball is in a position to be crossed as there is a lot of open space.
The current strikers at Barcelona, Suarez and Messi, are not exactly good contributors in defence. Boateng, however, is different. On average he makes 4.7 defensive duels per match. Along with this, he also makes more than four recoveries per match.
In the image shown, we have an example of Boateng’s good decision making and defensive contribution. The ball is with the opposition player deep in Sassuolo’s half. Boateng runs up from behind him and pressurises him with his physical strength. This sudden pressure leads the opposition player to make a hasty pass which is then intercepted by a Sassuolo player.
Below is another example, but in a more attacking position. The ball is in open play here, which gives either team equal chance at possession. The field is more crowded more on the near side. Here, Boateng recognizes that and decides to pass it back to the defence. This pass gives his team the chance to attack from the opposite wing, outnumbering the opposition.
Boateng is also very active in defence when played as a central midfielder. He breaks opposition plays with an average of 2.93 interceptions per match. Barcelona tend to have the wing-backs move up the pitch which induces vulnerability. This is where Boateng’s interceptions would come into play. With more than 50% of his recoveries in the opposition’s half, Boateng will be the wall needed to stop counter-attacks.
Boateng is not the most agile of players. He can shield the ball to drive forward, but dribbling past opponents is not really his strength as mentioned before. In the example below, we see Boateng surrounded by three opposition players. While dropping back, this can certainly be a problem. Cnsidering Boateng’s holding play, he would drop back often.
Here, he has a few options. Either dribble forward a bit and pass it to his teammates making a run, dribble and pass it to the player on the far right, or make a long pass to the player on the right wing. He had time to position himself to make a long pass.
As we can see, most options involved dribbling. With only 2.3 dribbles per match and 0 players dribbled past, it was bound to be a problem for his skill set. Long passing would have snuffed out the attack as he has a 47% success rate. Hence, he had to pass the ball to the midfield.
Another of Boateng’s weaknesses is making a through-ball or pass through crowded areas. He has a disappointing accuracy with through-balls of 33%. While this may not be required for a centre forward, playing in the attack of a team such as Barcelona does need good passing. This problem increases as he only has a 48.8% accuracy when passing into the box.
Boateng is a very experienced player who can fit in Barcelona’s system as a striker providing more options for the rotation. His skill set will only make Barcelona better. As a team that is competing to win everything, this signing is a major push forward in gaining and maintaining momentum.
Boateng should fit in well in Barcelona’s system. Though he won’t start every match, he will be a great asset ready to come on as required.
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