My thoughts on the Barca game from a betting perspective. Tl;dr etc and I wrote it in a semi-rush. I hope there is something useful in amongst the bllsht. I am aware I sometimes take Barca's side and don't expand on some of the pros for Arsenal but overall I think it balanced with the information provided.
Arsenal vs. Barcelona 16/02/2011
Below are three recent Barcelona matches, two Arsenal matches and the two legs of last year’s Quarter Final.
From these and other research it is possible to make a number of assumptions.
Barcelona’s most likely back four will be Alves, Pique, Milito/Abidal and Maxwell with Puyol injured. Home and away Barca’s wing backs play as just that leaving the central defenders back with ordinarily Busquets filling in when defending.
Busquets will have Xavi to his right and Iniesta to his left. Messi will play through the middle flanked by Pedro/Affelay with Villa on the left but roaming the centre interchanging with Messi. In reality Barca players will shift positions with often plenty of time to recover due to their amazing ability to recover the ball, helped by oppositions simply clearing it.
Arsenal have finally worked out the Djourou and Koscielny is the safest central pairing along whilst Clichy and Sagna pick themselves.
When fit, Wilshere and Song play centrally behind Fabregas. Walcott plays RW and Arshavin plays left but wanders in centrally. Even at home, Arsenal rarely play Chamakh and RVP together not forgetting Bendtner. Considering how outstanding Arsenal were against Wolves, he will likely pick the same lineup with only Nasri replacing Arshavin if fit (still tbc).
I want to briefly go over the goal expectancy stats as they are for the most part incorporated into the price.
Arsenal score 2.15 gpg and concede 1.03 gpg. At home Arsenal score 2.23 gpg and concede 1.30 gpg
Barca score 3.09 gpg and concede 0.5 gpg. At home Barca score 2.83 gpg and concede 0.58 gpg.
Arsenal score 3 gpg and concede 1.16 gpg. At home Arsenal score 4.66 gpg and concede 0.66 gpg.
Barcelona score 2.33 gpg and concede 0.5 gpg. At home Barca score 3 gpg and concede 0.33 gpg
What do these stats tell us?
Due to the limited sample of Champions League games and my unwillingness to trawl through previous seasons, as there have been a number of player changes, it can be clearly seen that whilst both teams score, Barca have the better defence. In addition, Barca are not inconvenienced in the slightest playing away from home in La Liga whilst in the Champs league their goals dip. However, this can be excused since they played Rubin, Copenhagen and Panathanaikos. Anyone who has watched any of these teams play will understand how defensive they play. Rubin’s match against Copenhagen at times was appalling.
Arsenal only score marginally better at home and in fact concede more goals at home than away. I believe this is because teams have started to adapt to an ‘all or nothing’ attitude when playing Arsenal away from home whilst this is not the case with teams against Barca although there have been exceptions. Teams will defend for 0:0s with Barca slowly (and sometimes devastatingly quickly) breaking them down. You may be interested to know that home advantage in La Liga is historically higher (5%+) than the EPL meaning that Barca’s away stats are all the more impressive notwithstanding the possibly poorer quality of the league. Some might blame this on the quality of opposition but it is Barca’s mindset I am interested in. To clear this first point up of La Liga being hugely inferior, Villareal and Sevilla’s Europa League performance this year and Atletico’s victory last year may go some way to dispel this myth.
Some potential matchups
Fabregas vs Busquets
These two will be meeting at some point during the match. Fabregas is the key through the centre and Busquets is the key buffer. The following image shows how many successful passes Busquets completed. If he completes this many again, he is winning the battle with Fabregas. Please compare his number with Arsenal’s DMCs. This leg was with Arsenal at home. In the second leg Fabregas was missing and we know what happened there.
Whilst this graphic proves little besides how incredible Xavi is (he thoroughly dominates this category in every match), Busquets league stats show something interesting.
In 16 matches in La Liga, he has committed just 19 fouls and drawn 48 fouls. As a DMC, no one comes close to this statistic (for instance Alex song has committed 52 fouls compared to drawing 26 fouls). Fabregas has similar stats but he is of course more attacking minded. This shows that Busquets is able to break up the play fairly and has more opportunities to make passes and is fouled in the process leading to more attacking situations. His stats in the champs league are similar.
Villa and Messi vs Koscielny/Djourou
These stats show many things. Villa gets the opportunity to shoot an extraordinary amount of times. Increased shots always lead to increased goals when examining statistics. I argue he can gets this many shots due to the accuracy of Xavi and Iniesta and Busquets passing, often well judged and into space. Who has had the most shots in Arsenal’s champs league games? Andrei Arshavin (who you do not want as your most potent attacking player) with 12. Messi has had 33, Villa 21. No longer can we ignore statistics blaming the league of the two teams. There is no question that Villa and Messi are given more opportunities to score than RVP and or any combination of Nasri/Arshavin/Fabregas. Arsenal as a team do take quite a few shots with people popping up from all places but let’s face it; You want your shots concentrated to your best players. In Barca’s case, Messi and Villa who have outstanding conversion rates from shots to shots on goal, to goals are given a disproportionate amount of chances.
OK, ok let’s not carried away with one particular statistic – Xavi’s passing stats. Xavi and co did this against Inter last year seen below.
How did Inter then manage to win? Well firstly, Inter well good enough defensively to be able to concede such incredible possession (72%) without conceding filed position. They pressed high up the pitch and Arsenal unfortunately do not have a player quite like Maicon. Watch his run for Inter’s second gola providing Inter with an extra outlet after Pandev and Milito linked up. Maicon committed two fouls and Zanetti just one, abnormal against Inter. Arsenal concede more proven by stats and their performances this year and are incapable of playing quite like Inter did even if Fab > Sneij.
I am not going to break down individual performances such as Barca’s 5:0 of Real or Arsenal’s capitulation against Newcastle. The stats do, for the most part tell all. For the rest of the match-ups I’m sure you’ll have your own opinions and you should draw from some of the stats and knowledge of some of the games played this season and last.
Let’s move on to some odds now.
On 31/03/2010 with Arsenal playing at home, Barcelona -0.5 were 2.39
. I am quoting this as their odds even though I’m sure slightly better could be had. Today Barcelona -0.5 is 1.92
. The massive question is do the odds take into account the growing disparity between the two teams? Well for the most part they do. Again, there is little point breaking down GE and supremacy. In the most basic of terms, Barca have no question improved with Villa and Arsenal’s defence has been suspect though offensively they have become more consistent. With Nasri not guaranteed as well, Barcelona must be shorter than last year. But could they be a little shorter?
Again, when we compare with Barca’s odds vs. Inter last year, the -0.5 2.46
quote doesn’t inspire much confidence in the odds today of 1.92
. But when was the last time Barcelona were 1.92 away from home? I will tell you when! 19/01/2011 when they played Real Betis away in the Copa Del Rey. They had won the first leg 5:0 and were resting Villa and Iniesta and Busquets with Messi and Xavi not expected to complete the first half. Comparing Betis and Arsenal is slightly ridiculous but it’s just for a brief comparison. Against Rubin in the group stages (who enjoy incredible home adv) Barca were 1.70
-0.5. Against a new improved and defensively competent Copenhagen, Barca were 1.40
-0.5. This goes somewhere to show that the 1.92
is slightly generous but not by much when viewed alongside my match predictions. I have been very pro Barca in this write-up but it has been merely to justify their odds-on status against a team like Arsenal. If there is any value, it is extremely thin and even Nasri’s playing status might move the price either way between fair and unfair.
So where is the value?
Well, I’ve been leaning towards a Barcelona related market for some time now. There is one market that sticks out.
Ordinarily this market carries a large vig but since 7 bookmakers are offering betting a good price crops up from time to time. This market is based on GE but there is some degree of opinion involved. Now, I have combed through every top price correct score and even if you were to dutch (back with different stakes to achieve the same profit) 0:1, 0:2, 0:3 and 0:4, you would still only get 2.78 which excludes Betfair’s commission. 2.75 there is at least reasonable and if you believe in the statistics I quoted and envisage a similar match to what I do 11/4 (3.75) + 275 looks better than most of the other markets offered. It also allows for such unlikely but possible results of 0:5, 0:6 and 0:7!
On a serious note, if Barca lead 0:1 at any point, Wenger will know two away goals will be impossible to overcome at the Nou Camp. Therefore some defensive strategy would need to be applied or at the very least he will not go all out attack. Although Barca could be defensively minded while the match is level, they will know too that an away goal would make a considerable difference. In any event, the possession they will no doubt enjoy and the shots they are likely to have combined with Arsenal’s poor defence and the match up talked about, they will be scoring. Will they concede? Who knows but if they can prevent Ronaldo, Ozil, Benzema and De Maria from scoring all the while banging in five goals, 11/4 seems reasonable.
Sit back, relax and wait for Barcelona to score. Then approach the television, hands clasped, and pray for no Arsenal goals.