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Player Analysis

Sergio Busquets’ genius and the impact on Barcelona’s season

Lewis Shankie

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Photo via Imago

In 1949 engineer-turned-economist Bill Phillips created the revolutionary Monetary National Income Analogue Computer (MONIAC). The first of its kind, the computer model, attempted to explain how the UK economy functions. Pink water was pumped around a see-through water tank to represent Paul Samuelson’s Circular Flow Diagram.

As people provide their labour, they receive wages which they then spend back into the economy. As businesses make more profits, the economy continues to grow. Governments then tax the workers and businesses to provide public services. Banks hold people’s savings and, in return, make investments. Finally, exporting and importing goods through trade can also improve profits. The key to this is the drive for production and consumption to keep the money flowing through the economy.

However, 21st-century economists criticise this model. The MONIAC overlooks many important aspects in the economy, such as society itself. Simply flicking the switch where the computer model is powered stops the electric pump pushing the water around. Without energy, the system halts. Energy is critical to any economy, and it is often overlooked.

Though Barcelona is nothing like an economy or science, in fact, it is closer to an art form, the MONIAC system can represent what Sergio Busquets is to Barça. Often underappreciated, the midfielder is that vital energy source for Barcelona that allows the system to flourish. His constant control over the game, recycling the ball and progressing his team seems so simple yet is so crucial.

Why Sergio Busquets is so important

Sergio Busquets has never been the strongest or most athletic. Many fans outside the club question whether he could ‘last in the premier league’ or that he ‘just passes backwards and sideways’. These doubts are just myths, and strength and physicality – though it can be useful – is not something Barcelona players need.

Busquets’ strengths come from his intelligence and positioning. Combined with the ability to read the game almost flawlessly, precision in his passes and his composure, the Spaniard is tailor-made for the orchestrating role with the Catalans.

His ability to dictate the match with limited running is what makes his game seem so simple. Sergio Busquets knows when to join the play and is always available to create superiorities in the midfield. This is what allows Barcelona to be so dominant in possession. As the 32-year-old can play quick passes and is so press resistant, Busquets makes the opposition do the running.

Busquets is always a step ahead. (Photo via Imago)

His anticipation and positioning are also essential to the team. Throughout the game, Barcelona’s attacks break down, and the opposition look to clear it. And many times, the midfielder is there to pick up the loose ball or win it back just as quickly as it was lost. Again this skill can go unnoticed as it seems simple, but it is essential to Barça’s system. It allows the team to keep on the front foot, stops counter-attacks and can quickly spread the play creating spaces for others.

It is not just his defensive duties that benefit the team, Busquets is just as important to the attack. Whether deep inside his own half or high up the pitch, the Spaniard’s passes are reliable and always have a purpose. He can break the opposition’s press, thread a pass through the defence or find that teammate in space; it is no wonder he is nicknamed The Octopus of Badia.

The Real Sociedad match

The fixture against Sociedad on the 21st was possibly one of the best team performances Culés have witnessed in years. Barcelona were superior in every area against a talented Real Sociedad team. It is no coincidence then that Barça’s number five was pulling the strings.

Sergio Busquets showed just how intelligent he is during the game. The obvious moment of magic came as he assisted Lionel Messi for his first goal on the night and Barcelona’s fourth. The beautiful pass over the opposition defence fell perfectly into the Argentine’s stride. The weight of the pass and timing of both players is incredibly difficult to get right, however the Blaugrana veterans made it look easy. Route one football Barça style.

It was not just the wonderful assist that was so impressive, but his impact on the first and second goals too. For the first goal, the Spanish giants were having a sustained period of pressure against the home side, though their defence was holding on.

No getting past Busi. (Photo via Imago)

As the attack fizzled out and the ball is passed back to Busquets just inside the Sociedad half, the relentless pressure looks to have taken a breath. It is at this moment the midfield maestro strikes and breaks two lines of defence with one pass. His pass, as it does so often, finds Messi in a dangerous area with space and time. The goal comes as Barcelona’s captain can turn and lay the ball off to the overlapping Jordi Alba, who has a free cross into the box.

The second goal of the evening, and Sergiño Dest’s first in La Liga for the Blaugrana, again came from a pass between the lines from the midfielder. As the home side had 10 men behind the ball, they looked comfortable as Barça passed around the midfield. One glance from Busquets is all it took.

As he received a pass, the Spaniard flicks the ball first time through the Sociedad midfield and finds Messi in the space between the midfield and the backline. It gives the Argentine time to turn, drive at the defence and play Dest clean through on goal. So often in football, it is just about doing simple things well.

These line-breaking passes are common for Sergio Busquets and are so important to the Barcelona system. The team can pass backwards and sideways all game long, but these intelligent and brave passes between the lines are what often leads to goals.

What next for ‘Busi’?

There can be no denying that Sergio Busquets has received some criticism for his performances in recent years. Many thought he was slowing down or had lost his usual sharpness. And search for replacements was inevitable, with David Alaba also coming up as one of the names. However, the La Masia graduate has replied to these criticisms on the pitch.

A big part of this could be to do with Ronald Koeman and the new formation. In particular, the 3-5-2 seems to allow Busquets to thrive. As the full-backs act almost as wingers and there is an extra centre-back, this stops the central midfielder from being dragged out to the wide areas where his lack of pace can be exposed.

The team are also looking to dominate the ball more, meaning they play through the midfielder. This is where the 32-year-old is at his best with the ball at his feet. Against one of the best possession sides in La Liga this season, Barcelona completed over two and a half times more passes than Real Sociedad and had 69% possession. This is ideal Busquets-ball.

The Sergio Busquets that we know and love is here. (Photo via Imago)

Sergio Busquets is that spark, that injection, that energy that is so important to the system. The slender midfielder is the one that can click Barcelona up a gear or two. His experience and composure is still indispensable to the team. With talented youngsters such as Jandro Orellana and Nico González coming through the academy, who best to teach them than the master himself, Sergio Busquets.

Football is the greatest sport in the world. There is no sporting event that is watched more and is as passionately followed. Any football fan should try and watch Barcelona to understand how football should be played. At Barcelona, football is all about keeping the ball, movement, passing and playing great football above all else. I am a Barça fan from Scotland and have been following the team for over a decade now. I have been lucky enough to watch possibly the greatest era on football ever, and hope it continues.

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Analysis

Spotlight: Pedri and Busquets put up a midfield masterclass for Spain

Anurag Agate

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Photo by Jose Luis Contreras via Imago

International breaks are often despised by the fans. Though there are many reasons to this, the aptest example at the moment would be the one facing Bayern Munich fans. Their talisman, their top scorer, their best player Robert Lewandowski got injured playing against Andorra, a team ranked 151st in the world by FIFA. The Polish striker will now miss a match against RB Leipzig as well as both legs in the Bavarian’s Champions League tie against Paris Saint-Germain. International breaks are usually regarded as a nuisance. However, the current one has given Culés every reason to be happy.

Of the 14 players called up, eight had at least one goal contribution. A total of 14 goal contributions. This small hiatus from club football has been fruitful. Out of all these players, few have had an international break as productive as that of Pedri and Sergio Busquets’ have had with Spain.

Against Kosovo, both of them were at the top of their game. Though Jordi Alba got an assist, and it was a good performance from him, it was unfortunately not as much of a masterclass as it was for these two midfielders.

Following Spain’s 1-2 victory over Georgia, a few conclusions could be drawn. One was less of a conclusion. More of a fact that was just solidified yet again; once you put Pedri in the starting XI, you weren’t getting him out.

The prodigy

Luis Enrique yet again started 18-year-old Pedri Gonzalez in Spain’s midfield against Kosovo. In Spain’s 4-3-3, Pedri occupied the left interior position. A performance overflowing with confidence and personality, displaying both maturity and inventiveness.

In the 70 minutes that he played, the Spaniard got an assist. In all honesty, he could have gotten yet another assist if not for Ferran Torres’ shot being saved. However, what makes Pedri special is how he manages to stand out even without necessarily playing a direct part in the goals. It’s his simple style of play, his composure, his positioning, everything combined to make him a player who looks like he has been playing at this level for a decade.

Spain were clearly the dominant side yesterday. Not only statistically, but even on the field from what we could see. 918 passes to Kosovo’s 216, Luis Enrique’s side had 80.9% of the possession according to Whoscored. Out of 58 passes attempted, Pedri completed 49 leading to a completion rate of more than 90%. He was reliable in possession, as usual. Shielding the ball well with his body, even against larger opponents playing physically he has no problems.

This is partly due to his shielding, but also due to the fact that the opposition gets nowhere close to him when he has the ball. Receiving the ball, Pedri doesn’t always need to look up as we have seen. He is aware of his teammates’ positions in order to play quick passes to them. The similar was apparent yesterday, but when he did look up, his decision making would take center-stage.

Dani Olmo celebrates his goal. (Photo by Jose Luis Contreras via Imago)

Just because a player is open does not mean he is necessarily a good passing option. Kosovo are managed by Bernard Challandes, an admirer of total football, so much so that he bought an Ajax pennant to place on his car as a youngster. His team was tactically very smart. They would allow the interiors to receive the balls behind the lines after which multiple players would immediately press him.

Pedri was clearly aware of this. He would drop besides Sergio Busquets to receive the ball at times, and so would Koke. The interiors dropping back would allow the pivot, Sergio Busquets, either a simple pass to them or one to the wings to bypass the pressing trap. Pedri would scan the field well and though he saw Koke or Alvaro Morata open to receive many times, he would gauge the situation before pulling the trigger on the pass.

This decision-making when passing was one of the highlights of Pedri’s performance. The right passes with the right timing and with the right weight applied on them.

The virtuoso

At the bottom of midfield in a 4-3-3 lies the pivot. A position that requires the highest levels of awareness, intelligence, decision-making and timing both in and out of possession. In short, a position tailor-made for Sergio Busquets.

The Octopus of Badia, he’s one of the players we will miss most when gone. To encapsulate Busquets’ performance yesterday, one can take a look at the times when the teams were contesting for the second-ball. Technically inferior to Spain, these were occasions for Challandes’ team to dominate Spain physically and play their forwards through on goal.

Sergio Busquets during the game. (Photo by Jose Luis Contreras via Imago)

The teams would scramble and fight to get the second or third ball, the Kosovan players would come charging like a torrent onto la roja. Spain would know where to get the ball to next. Amidst the chaos, they would somehow get the ball to Busquets. A second later, the ball would be past the Kosovan players, past the torrent restoring tranquillity. Having been caught off-balance and the very laws of physics, along with their momentum, against them, the Kosovans could do nothing.

Sergio Busquets had one of his best games of the season yesterday. Deputizing at the base of midfield, he would be the first player the defenders would look to get the ball to. Possession through build-up at the heart of the team, Busquets at the heart of the build-up, he was indispensable. Through optimal positioning, he was always a passing option for his teammates leading to him having 7.5% of the team’s possession. However, his strongest asset yesterday? Line-breaking passes.

By playing the perfect line-breaking pass to his Spanish teammates, the veteran midfielder would make it look as if Spain had way more space than they actually did. Despite the risky nature of these passes, a 94% success rate with 87 passes attempted is very impressive. Out of the eight long-balls attempted, he completed seven. Busquets also had four key passes, the joint-most with three other Spain players.

Kosovo would often look to launch balls forward and attempt to win aerial duels. Yesterday, Busquets had to step in often in these situations. Though not very dominant with a 43% success rate, he attempted 14 aerials duels. On the ground, however, he was unbeatable. Four tackles attempted; four tackles won. What made these yet more impressive was the timing. Most, if not all tackles and duels were such that they stopped the opposition’s counter-attacks.

To sum it up, Serio Busquets, Jordi Alba, and Pedri have essentially cemented their spot for Spain in the Euros. All three Barcelona players have shown to play at a very high level in these past few matches. This form carried over to the club’s matches presents a big reason to be optimistic for the fans.

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