So far it’s been a good season for us. We’re on the track to willing La Liga, la Copa del Rey, and we’re still alive in the Champions League. Certainly the defense has been good, and Messi has been spectacular. However, one of the unsung heroes (or villains, however you want to look at it) for Barcelona this year has been the post. Love it or hate it, it’s had an impact this year. Never was that more plain to see than against Chelsea, in which Antonio Conte’s London side hit it four times. But beyond that, it’s become an important part of the season since it began.
In the first leg, despite a 1-1 draw that left us in good position with an away goal, Chelsea were the better side. The chances were frequent, and while Barcelona had possession, Chelsea seemed more comfortable. Willian scored the first, a curling shot straight to the bottom corner. I don’t fault Marc-André ter Stegen for letting it in, though. I don’t think he even saw it clearly. Either way, it was a sublime finish from Chelsea’s best player over both legs.
But before that, Willian had hit the post twice. Chelsea’s best two chances had thus far been nullified not by the defense, but by the upright.
Flash forward to the second leg. Another Messi masterclass, with a Dembélé rocket sandwiched between, saw us through to the next round. The defense was better last night as well, but the post was there for us too. It turned away a Marcos Alonso free kick and deflected Antonio Rüdiger’s header.
Chelsea pushed us as no other team this season has done, and much respect and credit to them. Even after going down so early last night, they didn’t give up. Maybe an unpopular opinion, but Busquets outplayed N’golo Kanté in the first leg, with Kanté returning the favor in the second. He was everywhere. Willian was great, as was Marcos Alonso. Not that we wouldn’t have passed without the post, but it certainly helped.
However, as the post giveth, the post also taketh away. By December 20th, Barça had hit the pole 26 times in all competitions, Messi alone 14 times. Paulinho, Luis Suárez, Gerard Piqué. By that time, we had an 8 point lead in the league. One can only imagine, had only half of those shots gone in, what the lead would be. Since then, Messi has hit it once more and Suárez has hit it twice more. Just off the top of my head, Jordi Alba has also hit it and Phillipe Coutinho hit a curler off the post against Espanyol.
To put it in perspective, Messi still leads the Pichichi race with 24 goals – even while hitting the post 16 times so far. Quick math leads us to believe that just half that amount would have seen him score 32 goals so far. Cristiano Ronaldo, even with his bad run of form in the beginning of the season, has hit the post 7 times.
It’s not easy to explain why we’ve missed by so little so much. It might just be a statistical anomaly (i.e, a coincidence), which happens every so often, given a large enough sample size. However, I don’t remember a season in which we or our opponents have done it this much.
Oh, well. It hasn’t affected us as much as it could have, and in some cases, it’s even helped us. It’s good to know that even with this weird occurrence, we’re still in pretty good shape. And hey, maybe if ter Stegen can’t get there in time, the post will.