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Andreas Christensen: Not Busquets’ replacement but Barcelona’s best bet right now

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Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Sergio Busquets’ departure from Barcelona at the end of last season was among the biggest talking points among fans in the summer.

Barça had failed to reinforce the positions despite warning signs for multiple seasons. The over-reliance on Busquets’ availability, coupled with complacency from the club, who often resorted to more ‘attractive signings’ instead of a No. 6 spelled trouble.

However, stuck in a financial crisis, Barcelona did not have enough money to shell out on a replacement, either. Xavi believed Martin Zubimendi was the ideal choice, while reports claimed that the board was day-dreaming about Ruben Neves for a while.

Eventually, though, the Catalans were priced out of both operations and had to make an emergency move for Oriol Romeu from Girona, who cost them ±€3.5 million.

And for a while, the La Masia graduate did step up. He looked composed, sharp, and was doing a lot more than most fans would have expected from him. The veteran even came awfully close to scoring a banger or two, as well.

As soon as Frenkie de Jong got hit with his first injury of the season, though, things fizzled out for Romeu.

The ex-Chelsea and Southampton man’s flaws in possession, and on the turn were exposed, and even after De Jong’s return, Romeu became a pressing trigger for most teams. This led to a lot more turnovers for Barcelona, and eventually goals.

The 3-1 loss against Real Madrid, for example, stands testament to this. Once Xavi substituted off Fermin Lopez in favour of Romeu, Madrid gained a lot more control of the midfield, and eventually created better chances.

Not quite Barcelona level, through no fault of his own. (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)

This is not to put all the blame on the Spaniard, though. But at the time when the defence was severely underperforming, the security from the holding midfield should have been a way out of trouble for Barça, not more trouble.

Xavi opted to use Ilkay Gundogan in that role for a while after this, and while the German did a lot better in possession, the final third started looking depleted without him. Not to forget he is not quite a defensive wall.

Enter Andreas Christensen

With the season looking out of Barcelona’s scope at this point, a solution had to be found. The first step was Xavi announcing his resignation following the 3-5 Villarreal defeat at home, which surely relieved some pressure off the players.

However, soon after that, the coaching staff went ahead with one of their biggest experiments so far with the club — deploying Andreas Christensen as the No. 6, starting with the game against Deportivo Alaves.

A modern centre-back by trade, Christensen had played in that defensive midfield role previously for Borussia Monchengladbach, Xavi reminded the press and fans.

Comes from experience. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

And realistically, it could not be much worse than whatever Romeu and Gundogan were offering in that role.

Cut to more than a month later, Christensen has started in that role for eight games in a row, including both legs in the UEFA Champions League against Napoli. Barcelona are also undefeated during this time.

Of course, a large part of the credit also needs to be given to the rest of the squad, who have really stepped up to the plate since Xavi’s departure announcement, but the Dane has been instrumental in this run.

Sharp, simple, and smart: The Christensen way

Christensen has never quite been a player that would stand out in a team. He was arguably Barcelona’s best defender last season, as well, as the team went on to break multiple defensive records in the league.

Despite that, Christensen’s performances often went under the radar as compared to Ronald Araujo, Jules Kounde, or Alejandro Balde. Even Jordi Alba to some extent.

That is largely because Christensen keeps things sharp. He is in the right place at the right time, and often does not need to make the last-man tackles or goal-line clearances that would earn social media plaudits.

He breaks lines with ease, and wins most of the aerial duels and second balls that come his way.

All that has been put into practice superbly in his new role, too.

Firstly, while Christensen does not boast of quite the agility you would want in your No. 6, he is not a pressing trigger, either.

He is able to ease his way out of pressing traps by scanning his passing options beforehand. A simple one-touch pass back to the right-back, or finding Gundogan or De Jong in midfield, who are often unmarked in deep areas, and Barcelona are through.

Christensen is also a rather impressive physical specimen. With his back to goal near the halfway line, it is very difficult to dispossess him from behind. And while Romeu is rather strong as well, he could not offer this to the Catalan midfield.

Don’t let the lanky build fool you. (Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images)

Christensen’s experience as a centre-back also helps him win duels in midfield a lot more easily, especially when the opposition has possession for longer periods.

The ex-Chelsea man is positioned superbly to cut off passing lanes and does not shy away from resorting to the Busquets/Fernandinho-esque dirty work that De Jong or Gunodgan did not offer out of possession.

Eight games in, Barcelona have kept three clean sheets with Christensen playing as a No. 6, and have conceded seven goals.

Not ideal, but a massive improvement from how the season was going before that. Further, the signs of improvement are also evident, with the Dane an unsung hero in that 3-1 win vs Napoli.

Conclusion

Unlike Busquets, Christensen is not quite the deep-lying playmaker Barcelona will be looking to sign.

Beggars cannot be choosers, though. Barcelona cannot make up the €3.5 million they gave to Girona for Romeu, nor can they bring back Busquets.

What Christensen is, fortunately, a player who understands his role. He understands space. He understands his limitations. And he understands what to do with the ball at almost every step.

Christensen is not the full-time solution to the role, or the Busquets’ replacement, or the John Stones’ unbelievable archetype.

Taken for granted. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

But he is the best solution Barcelona have right now, and unless injuries prevent it, he should be stuck there till the end of the season. And of course, credit where credit is due, there should not be any doubts about his place in the summer window, either.

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