Sergio Busquets is a club legend and is arguably the best holding midfielder of his generation. However, for a couple of seasons, the veteran has been far from his best. Is it time for Barça to realise that the Spaniard should not be an undisputed starter anymore?
For almost a decade, Sergio Busquets was the consistent and dependable anchor in a world-class midfield. At just 20 years old, Busquets made his debut under Pep Guardiola. He would go on to be a crucial part of two treble-winning sides and form one-third of the greatest midfield trio ever with Andrés Iniesta and Xavi. Busquets was the perfect holding midfielder for the Catalan side.
In recent seasons, however, his performances have deteriorated, and he has not been at his level best. Or even at an adequate level for the Blaugrana. While he managed to redeem himself with the first half of last season, this campaign, Busquets has found it even tougher with having to adapt to the double pivot system. His partnership with Frenkie De Jong is not working as the two do not seem to understand each other’s game. After another poor display against Real Madrid, and with other talented midfielders on the bench, should Busquets still be starting for Barça?
The brilliance of Sergio Busquets
It would be unfair to write an article solely criticising Sergio Busquets. As one of the greatest servants in the club’s history, Busquets deserves a huge amount of respect from Culés. The La Masia graduate broke into the first team at a young age and has been an ever-present since his debut season. He has gone on to become Barça’s fifth-most capped player in history and will likely take over Carles Puyol who is in fourth.
The Spaniard has been a key figure in the most successful period in the club’s history too. The same can be said for his time with the national team, winning the World Cup in 2010 and the UEFA European Championship in 2012. In total, the midfielder has won a behemoth 31 trophies with Barcelona including three Champions Leagues and eight league titles.
Busi has had several moments of celebrations at Barça. (Photo by AFP PHOTO/LLUIS GENE)
At his peak, there has arguably never been a better defensive midfielder. He redefined the role by showing that it was not just about tackling and breaking up play, but how the holding midfielder can be heavily involved in the build-up play and can dictate the tempo of the game.
Opponents quickly learned that it was almost pointless to press Busquets while Barcelona were in possession. His composure on the ball was and still is for the most part unmatched, while the passes were extremely accurate, progressive and have the ability to break the lines of defence.
He had exceptional awareness and ability to read the game, which was second to none; however, they have taken a massive toll. What once allowed him to take over the game with the utmost ease is slowly becoming his weakness at Barcelona.
Busquets was exceptional in every team, every year. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Sergio Busquets has not been at his best for several seasons now, and the time may have finally come when the team realises that his starting spot is no longer undisputed. This campaign especially, the 32-year-old has not managed to adapt to the new system. He is used to playing at the base in a midfield three.
Now, he shares the defensive midfield role with Frenkie de Jong in a double pivot. Neither player has performed close to their best, and it seems as if this partnership, that should work on paper, is not compatible.
Unfortunately, the problem reeks past just the structure of the team; the World Cup winner is struggling with some of the basics as well. His passing has started to him down every game, and his sloppy possession is giving away the ball in dangeorus areas of the pitch too many times. For his high standards, he is losing the ball far too often.
Busquets is lacking, and it is hurting the team. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)
Against Real Madrid, Busquets made a criminal error in his defensive duties. The veteran knows how important this match is and was one of the most experienced players on the pitch. But, whether due to a lack of awareness or complacency, he failed to track Federico Valverd’s run. It resulted in Barcelona conceding an early goal. The experienced midfielder should know better, especially in a game as important as El Clásico.
Age or Complacency?
As one of the Barcelona captains, Sergio Busquets should be a leader on the pitch and set an example to the rest of the team. However, his level has significantly dropped, and he has been involved in several catastrophic defeats. The game against Los Blancos is part of a growing list of big games where the #5 has let down the fans and his teammates.
Busquets was never the most athletic midfielder, but he always made up for this with his intelligence. His age could be a reason for his poor run of form as his physical attributes begin to decline naturally. However, he should grasp a better understanding of the game as he loses more of his pace.
One can always argue that is complacency catching up with the 32-year-old for his innumerable trophies and his world-class performances in the last decade. But, the likes of Gerard Pique, Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta or Xavi never went through this despite being part of the same era of Barcelona’s generational team.
Busquets has managed to maintain his high level for the Spanish National Team. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Moreover, somehow, Busquets continues to perform at an exceptional level for the Spanish national team, playing under former Barça manager Luis Enrique. Maybe Lucho is more tactically adept, and maybe the dressing room for the national team is far less toxic. We can only sit and speculate. That said, with competition for places in the Blaugrana squad, can Ronald Koeman continue to justify Busquets’ starting role in the team?
Can Alexander Isak be the firepower Barcelona need in their attacking arsenal
With incoming presidential elections and the resulting anticipation of a rebuild, more and more players are being linked to Barcelona. Besides big names like Erling Haaland and David Alaba, Real Sociedad centre-forward Alexander Isak is reportedly on the Catalans’ radar. A new striker is an absolute must for the club and Isak’s €70 million release clause is turning heads. His stock is rising and he has a bright future ahead of him, but should Barcelona pursue him?
Isak is currently in the midst of his second season for Basque-outfit Real Sociedad. The 21-year old started his career at the Swedish club AIK before moving to Borussia Dortmund’s youth setup in 2017. Lacking first-team opportunities, he was loaned to Dutch club Willem II, where he tallied an impressive 14 goals and 7 assists in 18 appearances. Isak then moved to Sociedad in the summer of 2019 and scored 16 goals in his debut season. This season, he has 12 goals in 29 appearances.
He has been dubbed the “next Zlatan Ibrahimovic” by some, and with the Swedish national team, Isak has scored five goals in 18 appearances.
Tactical and Statistical Analysis
Isak has all the attributes of a classic “target man”, one whose main role is to win aerial duels and play off of creative teammates, but his game is much more than that. He stands tall at 190 cm, or 6 foot 3 inches, but has incredible speed and balance. Despite his height, however, he is only winning 42% of his aerial duels this season.
Isak likes to play off the shoulder of the defence, eagerly waiting for through balls from creative midfielders like Mike Merino or David Silva. Alternatively, he can also hold the ball up. With his combination of speed and dribbling ability, he is a constant threat on the counter-attack, capable of getting past defenders or dragging bodies and creating space for runners. He also has decent vision and passing acumen for a centre forward, but Sociedad’s set up doesn’t allow him to maximize these qualities.
Statistically, he is averaging 1.36 dribbles per 90 minutes this season at a clip of 64.8%. According to fbref.com, when compared to forwards in Europe’s top five leagues (Spain, England, France, Germany, and Italy), Isak stands out in terms of his successful pressures rate (93rd percentile), pressures in the attacking third (81st percentile), and carries into the penalty area (87th percentile).
In front of the goal, Isak is dangerous with both his feet and his head. He is unpredictable with his finishing, always keeping defenders and goalkeepers on edge. This campaign, his 12 goals are fairly evenly distributed: six with his right foot, three with his left, and three with his head. Most of his goals have come from through balls or passes over the defence. He carries the ball in his stride and finishes with confidence.
His goalscoring record was rough to start the season, scoring only four goals across 20 appearances, but he’s picked things up in 2021. The forward has been in rich vein of form, already scoring nine goals this calendar year. Furthermore, in La Liga, he has scored in each of his last six appearances, not to mention a hat trick last time out against Alavés. He could have a breakout season if he continues scoring at this rate, attracting offers from teams across Europe.
Where would he fit at Barça?
Naturally, Isak fits a need for the Blaugrana at centre forward. The team has no natural “number nine” –other than Martin Braithwaite — and with Messi entering his twilight years and potentially leaving in the summer, they desperately need goal-scorers. The Swedish international is well adapted to playing as a lone striker in a 4-3-3 system and is already accustomed to playing in La Liga, so Barça won’t need to worry about adaptation along those lines.
Tactically, his height and runs into the box could bring a different dimension to a fairly one-dimensional Barça attack. While he could fit in well with the team’s patient and possession-oriented approach, his game is more suited for runs into open spaces and spearheading counter attacks.
The question is, would he start for Barcelona? Messi is best suited for a false nine role, and Isak would not displace Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembélé, or Ansu Fati in the front line. On the contrary, he could be an extremely productive squad option, but his potential transfer fee would be too high to warrant such a role.
Should Barcelona pursue him?
There are plenty of intriguing reasons for Barça to pursue Isak, but he should not be their number one transfer target. He undoubtedly has a bright future ahead of him and is showing immense quality this season, but he might not be ready to carry Barcelona’s front line.
There will be a lot asked of him, and he will be expected to perform on the biggest stages in world football, and his zero goals in the Europa League this season are not reassuring. Despite his incredible form over the last few games, Barça need to see more consistent output if he is to be their number nine for the next decade.
He would also cost the club around 70 million euros, and that money could serve the team better by investing that in other areas like centre back or centre defensive mid.
While he is still young and has time to improve, Barcelona should focus on more refined and finished products.
On the one hand, Isak could bring a lot to the Blaugrana and offer much-needed variation to their attack. On the other hand, there are signs pointing to the fact that he is not yet the calibre of player Barcelona need to lead their frontline, especially for that sum of €70 million. He could be a more than sufficient squad option and someone who could develop in the long term, but once again, that transfer fee warrants caution.
Also, facilitating his move could be quite difficult given that his ex-team Borussia Dortmund have a reported €30 million “buy-back” clause attached to his name. If (and when) the German club are to lose Erling Haaland, they could easily opt for Isak as his replacement.
Isak is a solid striker and has a lot of potential, but he is not yet the player capable of leading Barcelona’s front line. That paired with his potential transfer fee means the club should focus on other transfer targets first.