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The startling statistic that ranks Barcelona below Brighton and Aston Villa - and further underlines their reliance on Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi

At first glance, Barcelona appear to be enjoying an excellent season. Ernesto Valverde's side occupy top spot in La Liga. They are through to the knockout stage of the Champions League and remain in the Copa del Rey.

Dig a little deeper, though, and there are several signs that all is not well at the Camp Nou.

Barcelona have already lost three times in La Liga this term. They drew with Slavia Prague and were fortunate to beat Inter in Europe. The team is noticeably less than the sum of its parts, and Ernesto Valverde remains highly unpopular with sections of the Blaugrana's support.

Results do not always match performances, and one statistic in particular suggests that Barcelona's displays have been unconvincing for much of 2019/20.

As of January 7, the La Liga champions are averaging 12.2 shots per game, as calculated by journalist Thore Haugstad. That is an unimpressive figure which ranks the table-toppers below Real Madrid, Villarreal, Sevilla, Real Betis, Atletico Madrid and Osasuna, the latter of whom are down in 12th place.

The picture is even worse when you look at the numbers for Europe's top five leagues. Aston Villa, who are outside the Premier League relegation zone by a single point, average 12.8 shots per match. Brighton and Southampton, two teams who are also involved in the battle against the drop, also take more attempts than Barcelona.

In the Bundesliga, it is not just Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig that take more shots than Valverde's side but also 16th-placed Fortuna Dusseldorf and 17th-placed Werder Bremen.

Genoa, second-bottom of Serie A after 18 matches, have taken 12.9 shots per game this season. SPAL, the only team below them in the standings, average 13.1. And in Ligue 1, Dijon are just a point above the bottom three and yet have managed 12.4 shots per league fixture. 

Of the 98 sides in Europe's top five divisions, Barcelona rank 57th for shots per game this campaign.

The situation becomes even more worrying when you consider that Lionel Messi is responsible for 3.6 of Barcelona's attempts - which works out as almost 30% of the team's total. Just where would the Blaugrana be without their Argentinian captain?

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