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How predictive is Barcelona’s perfect start?

Lionel Messi

FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi from Argentina looks on against Granada during the Spanish La Liga soccer match at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)


It wasn’t easy, but thanks to a late Xavi Hernández goal, Barcelona beat Granada this weekend, running their La Liga record to a perfect 15 points in five games. What does that kind of start mean for Barça’s chances to reclaim Spain’s title?

As AS tells us (taking the data from Twitter’s Mister Chip), this is the seventh time Barcelona have been perfect through five rounds. On four of those occasions, Barça went on to win the title.

Is that a good ratio? Or what you’d expect from teams who start perfect through five rounds? Somebody needs to write a script that runs those scenarios. We don’t know. The stat sounds interesting though not very informative about 5-0-0 starts in general.

So AS/Mister Chip looked at more 5-0-0 starts. A team has started 5-0-0 on 24 other occasions in La Liga history. Ten of those sides went on to win the title, a much lower success ratio than Barcelona’s. No team has started 5-0-0 and finished outside the top four.

It’s not much, but the 31 cases gives us some perspective. Perhaps it doesn’t tell us anything useful, but it hints there might not be anything useful to be told.

But even without looking at past data, we dig a little (only a little) deeper on Barcelona’s season to see if we can find something more descriptive than just “perfect start":

  • Barcelona seems to have played an pretty easy schedule, so far (Real Sociedad, Osasuna, Valencia, Getafe, Granada). None of their opponents sit higher than 14th. Another way to put it: Barcelona’s five matches have all been against teams Spain’s bottom seven.
  • However, those five teams are 4-4-6 (W-L-D) when they’re not facing Barcelona, suggesting Barça’s great start is making their schedule seem superficially weaker than it actually is.
  • In attack, Barcelona’s 14 goals look nice (it’s the highest total in the league), but let’s look at how Barça’s scoring rate compares to other sides performance against the same competition. Crunch the numbers and Barcelona’s scored 113 percent more goals (per game) than the rest of the league against those five opponents.
  • Use the same logic and look at goals allowed and Barcelona’s defense has performed 40 percent better than the rest of Spain (against those five).

The defense has been the big concern for Barcelona. Though the numbers are good (only allowing three goals in five games), Barça’s back line passing isn’t the eye test. This weekend against Grenada, they almost gave up a late winner after two impetuous Granada players lept out the windows of their parked bus. Stats help paint a more rounded picture, but when Javier Mascherano and Alex Song are allowing Fabian Orellana an uncontested shot on Victor Valdes with the game in the balance, that’s cause for concern.

And although Barcelona’s done a good job of containing their opponents, those five teams aren’t putting up numbers that suggest they’re the most meaningful tests to Barça’s possession-hogging style. Barcelona’s only allowing 0.60 goals per game, but against the rest of the league, their opponents have only managed one goal per game.