No Barcelona player could hold their head up high after the side’s 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League last week, but few produced a more anonymous display than André Gomes.
It was a performance which summed up Gomes’ difficult start to life in Barcelona: he didn’t necessarily do anything wrong, rather he didn’t really seem to do anything at all.
The gifted 23-year-old midfielder was signed from Valencia for an initial €35million fee, potentially rising to as much as €55milion, last summer. His capture was quite the coup for Barça, as rivals Real Madrid were reported to be mere hours away from signing the highly-rated playmaker, supposedly pulling out of the race to sign Paul Pogba in preference of securing Gomes.
However, six months into his stay in Catalonia, the Portuguese has frustrated many fans with his inability to affect games in the way he had at the Mestalla.
Against PSG, Gomes produced a respectable pass completion rate of 90.3 per cent, with 28 of his 31 attempted passes finding the feet of a colleague.
However, only two of those passes were made in the final third, while he only managed to successfully play the ball forward four times, with 10 going sideways and 14 backwards. This lack of incision is indicative of a timidity that has plagued Gomes’ performances all season.
The above image, courtesy of Stats Zone, shows Gomes’ attacking output and passing against PSG.
In 28 appearances, he has registered one assist, which is perhaps unsurprising given he averages just 0.4 key passes per game. With Valencia last term, despite the side’s struggles and chronic inconsistency, Gomes was a high performer.
Almost everything good that Los Che did in attack ran through the young midfielder, who averaged 0.9 key passes per match on his way to registering three assists in 31 La Liga appearances.
Of all the Barça players to have played 10 or more league games in 2016-17, Gomes ranks 11th when it comes to total passes per 90 minutes, and 14th in chances created per 90 minutes.
Gomes also scored three times for Valencia last season, including a stunning 25-yard strike against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, which, at the time, showed just how confident the young player was. He is yet to register his first strike for the Blaugrana, and is shooting half as much as he was at his previous club, with an overage of 0.7 shots per game for Barça, down from 1.4.
The drop in efforts at goal can perhaps be explained by the fact that, with world class talents such as Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar ahead of him, Gomes is not required to contribute offensively quite as much as he used to for Valencia.
However, his lack of shots does, in some part, betray his unwillingness to take risks. Time and again this season he has forgone the opportunity to play an incisive pass or aim for goal, in favour of deferentially playing a simple ball to a more established member of the Barça team.
Although Barcelona have been a more dynamic outfit under Luis Enrique, possession is still king inside the Camp Nou, and the Spanish champions have, on average, enjoyed a whopping 62 per cent share of the ball in La Liga fixtures so far this season.
Last term, Valencia averaged just 46 per cent possession, but still Gomes managed to get on the ball more often in the white of Los Che, making 43.1 passes per outing compared to 38.6 for the Blaugrana.
Of course, Gomes was the key playmaker in the Valencia side, whereas now he is one of many, sharing the creative duties with Andrés Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Messi. But the fact that Iniesta averages 80.2 passes per 90 minutes to Gomes’ 58.3, shows that the Camp Nou newcomer is perhaps a little too willing to allow his more experienced colleague to take responsibility for making Barça tick.
Luis Enrique has kept faith in Gomes, and rightly so. There are others, such as Rafinha and Denis Suárez, who have made a stronger case for regular selection in midfield than the Portuguese. However, at 23 and still coming to terms with his price tag and new surroundings, the best is surely yet to come from the former Benfica man; patience will be key to the fulfilment of his true potential.
Gomes does, though, need to step up and make his mark on games. He appears to be slightly in awe of his new team-mates, and that’s understandable. But Barça signed him to someday take Iniesta’s place in the first-team, not to be too intimidated to fully utilise his own skill set rather than constantly deferring to the Spanish legend.
It would be senseless to jump the gun and write Gomes off as a flop so soon into his time with the Catalan giants; he is good enough to develop into a key player for them so long as he is integrated properly.
However, Barça fans can be forgiven for wondering when they will see the skilled, well-rounded and confident midfielder they thought their club had signed.
Risk and responsibility: two things Gomes needs to take more often if he is to avoid fading into the background at Barcelona.