Gerard Pique at Barcelona was and remains to be one of the pillars of Barcelona’s success in the past. He has played in most El Clasicos in the 2010s and has won 2 trebles as a defender, the most in the world. Pique at Barcelona and at Spain has shown his ability to fit into most tactical sides and adapt to each manager. Pique has played under managerial greats like Sir Alex Ferguson and Pep Guardiola while playing for Vicente Del Bosque in the World Cup. He has played both ends of the spectrum while playing for defensive and attacking sides.
Pique’s role in this team is very advanced. He mostly defends near the halfway line, and needs to be fast and have the ability to cover a lot of ground as quickly as possible to get to the ball and intercept or tackle pacy wingers. Attacking-wise, Pique has to play a lot of progressive passes and find passing channels quickly, requiring tactical acumen. Pique’s ability to multitask and remain at a high level is astounding and is the reason he is an undisputed starter for Barcelona. The image below helps us understand Pique’s roles, responsibilities and positional ability.
The peach rectangle above shows Pique’s positioning and where exactly he is positioned to play under Setien. This advanced position is normal of Pique under the various systems he has played in and is playing the same under Setien. The dotted arrows show the positions he has to track back to cover the ball in case of counterattacks and in case of teams that prefer to hoof the ball up the pitch.
The bold lines show the passing options that Pique generally has to find to progress the play. This means that he is heavily involved in the starting of a new attack as Barcelona and Setien prefer to play out of defence. This plays into Pique’s main strength in his arsenal: Passing. Pique attempts 65.93 passes a game, the 3rd most in the league for centre backs. He attempts mostly forward passes as the play starts from him. The pinpoint accuracy of his passes is also crucial. 91% of all his passes connect and start a new attacking play. Pique makes 4.71 passes into the final third, showing his ability to pass well into the box and create goal-scoring chances. This is on the higher percentile for centre backs, as Barcelona play with a system that allows for more movement of the system.
Pique acted as a passing option under Valverde, where he used to get the ball only to distribute it to the RB, Sergi Roberto.
Pique was thriving under Ernesto Valverde, who helped improve the backline for Barcelona in his first season with the 4-4-2. However, from 2018/19 onwards, Pique has been shaky in defence, with moments of brilliance. A lot of goals that Barcelona have conceded so far this season come from individual mistakes from both centre backs as they lack that decision making skill required as a centre back in Setien’s system.
Pique’s main problem is maintaining the positional discipline required of him. This means that pacey strikers or wingers are easily going past him. To compensate for weakness, Pique attempts more tackles, but with lesser success.
The radar chart above perfectly compares Pique with his counterparts in other leagues. He is strong in attacking but has weakened in terms of defence.
Pique still retains some of his strengths as he grows older. But, he is defensively and offensively weaker than the Pique between 2010 to 2015. He lacks that mentality and aggression he had in the early 2010s to win back the ball. Barcelona will have to see if Pique’s problems are just a dry patch, or if it becomes a consistent weakness. However, seeing that Pique is already 33 years old, it would be advised for Barcelona to look for replacements as early as possible.