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Analysis

Sergio Busquets, reborn after the break

Anurag Agate

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Header Image by Imago

While the form of Sergio Busquets had substantially improved with manager Quique Setién compared to Ernesto Valverde’s tenure, the coronavirus break has had in the defensive midfielder one of its greatest beneficiaries.


Due to the unfortunate circumstances we found ourselves in for a large portion of this year, football was just another one of the things which was absent. Since the return of the league, some players have stood out way more than others. It’s clear that Atlético de Madrid’s Marcos Llorente or Barcelona’s Iván Rakitić have been some of those, but one of the best and overlooked players has been Sergio Busquets.

“If I was reincarnated as a player, I’d like to be like him”

Pep Guardiola
on Sergio Busquets

The Spanish midfielder is one of the smartest players in the world. His positioning, calmness, awareness, decision making are just some of the things which make him a truly special player. He personifies all Cruyffian ideologies perfectly. Throughout his hugely successful Barcelona career, he has always been an integral part of the team. The defensive midfielder is still world-class and his form after the resumption of football has been a reminder of just that.

After a match against Real Betis, Busquets signed a shirt for the then Betis manager Quique Setién. On it, he expressed his admiration for Setién’s footballing philosophy. Since Quique’s appointment as Barcelona manager in January, Busquets has been a crucial part of the side. Barça are the team with the highest possession percentage per match in La Liga, maximum goals scored and most big chances created. Setién has played a possession-based attacking style of football, and Busquets has been at the heart of this.

Tactical importance in the build-up

Busquets has started in all four matches since the resumption of La Liga. In all these, he has played his usual defensive midfield position as a pivot. His primary duties have been in the build-up and offering support for both the midfielders as well as defenders.

When building up from the back, the central defenders drift apart, allowing Busquets space to receive the ball. Barcelona’s number 5 is excellent when receiving under pressure as well, which makes him a very reliable choice to pass to. With a passing accuracy of 90%, it is quite widely known that Sergio simple yet efficient passing is one of the best in the world.

After receiving the ball in defence, he then usually passes forward. The full-backs as well as the midfielders are the preferred passing options for Busquets. He never fails to help in transitioning the ball from defence to midfield, with a 92% passing accuracy in Barcelona’s half.

“In the end you just stop pressing him, because it’s so frustrating. You just can’t get near him”

Steven Gerrard
on Sergio Busquets

Playing the short passing game is what Busquets does most often. But his long passes are still exquisite. With 3.4 attempted on average per match and a 72% success rate, these allow him to quickly relieve the pressure on the team. While transitioning from defence to attack, for a while Busquets will stay between the central defenders. However, once the ball reaches the final third, he drifts forwards and occupies the defensive midfield position in a 4–3–3. Busquets influences most of the game from this position.

A disguised asset in attack

Throughout the build-up, Sergio Busquets is the player who always looks to get into space and circulate the ball. His constant participation in possession allows the two other central midfielders to roam from their position. This helps Barcelona in making more passing options available.

Busquets has an excellent ability of disguising passes with the orientation of his body. This is helpful when two players are marked by one opposition player. Even so, in such cases where the midfielders are roaming, he plays direct passes from between the opposition’s lines and helps Barcelona progress.

Busi‘s ability to pass between the lines is a sort of a trigger for Barcelona to begin link-up play and start progressing vertically. When on the attack, Busquets is deployed outside the box. Here, he recycles possession and collects any lose balls. The Spaniard can either lower the tempo or continue the attack. It’s such decisions which make Busquets a huge threat even in attack. His decision making, which is hardly ever wrong, comes into play here. With this in mind, Setién has also given him the responsibility to make sure the opposition does not counter.

Defensive contributions

Busquets is one of the most overlooked yet important pieces of Barcelona’s defence. Due to his lack of pace, people often think he is a defensive liability. In fact, the Spanish veteran is vital for the defence.

When the opposition get possession while the blaugranas are on the attack, Sergio is the first line of defence for Barcelona. In the last four matches, Busi has stopped multiple counters. In the match against Athletic Club de Bilbao, a few minutes summed up his attacking importance. Arturo Vidal misplaced a pass on the right half-space and immediately Athletic started transitioning with multiple players making runs and Iñaki Williams ready to receive the ball.

Sergio Busquets Marc-André ter Stegen Barcelona break

Sergio Busquets has also played a big part in Barcelona keeping five straight clean sheets | Photo by David Ramos via Getty Images

Within a second, Busquets had arrived near the ball and, with a perfectly timed tackle, regained possession. He played a quick pass to Lionel Messi, and with the opposition on the counter, Barcelona had a very good chance on goal.

When the opposition have possession in Barça’s half, Busquets has the responsibilities of intercepting the ball as well as providing back-up to the defence. With his exceptional understanding of the game, he cuts passing lanes very quickly and efficiently. While defending, if the opposition striker has the ball, Sergio will look to press him. Barcelona have their centre-backs contain the attackers and not immediately press if they are on the back foot. This is possible only due to the defensive midfielder.

Conclusion

Sergio Busquets is undoubtedly one of the best midfielders to ever grace the game. Due to the enigmatic nature of his play, a huge percentage of football fans fail to notice his brilliance. This is the kind of player who would be the most important player in most teams. Unfortunately for Busi, he plays alongside a certain six-time Ballon d’Or winner, namely Lionel Messi.

Under Quique Setién, Busquets’ influence has been further amplified. Since the resumption of football, he has been on great form. For the remaining games, if Barcelona are to challenge for the league, it is really important for the Catalans to have Sergio Busquets sustaining this level of play.


See more

How does the Arthur – Pjanić deal work from an economical point of view?

• What can Miralem Pjanić provide to Barcelona?

• A positive for Barcelona: an improved defence

• The silent resurgence of Iván Rakitić

18, living in India, obsessed with Barcelona and Spanish football. I am into football in any form: watching, playing, reading about, writing about...In particular, I'm very interested in youth football, especially La Masía. I try to learn more about the tactical side of football as well.

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Analysis

Using Machine Learning to predict Barcelona’s 2021/22 league season

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Photo via Imago

Johan Cruyff famously said, “I’ve never seen a bag of money score a goal.” It is indisputable that money is not the only deciding factor behind a football club’s success. Time and time again, we have seen that football is chaotic and absurd. Anything can happen.

That being said, it is evident that statistically, the clubs with more money are usually the more successful ones. While one cannot predict the unpredictability that is engraved within football, an outcome that is statistically probable can be predicted. This article will explore the relationship between the points a club accumulates in a league season and the total value of the club’s squad. Then, Python will be used to build a linear regression model in order to predict the number of points Barcelona will obtain in the 21/22 season based on the club’s hypothetical squad.

Let us begin with visualizing the relationship between the total league points obtained by a club and the club’s total squad value. Since the amount of money spent on transfers has increased tremendously over the course of the last decade, in this article, only seasons 2014/15 – 2019/20 will be considered. Upon plotting the total points against the total squad value, it is evident that there is a positive correlation between the two. Granted, the correlation is not extremely strong, but it exists nonetheless.

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A line of regression has been generated. The line’s gradient is approximately 0.05138986, and its y-intercept is approximately 44.5470726. There is only one dependant variable in question, club value/total value of squad, and so our line of regression can be modelled by the equation:

P = (0.05138986 )V + 44.5470726 where P is the points and V is the total squad value.


club_values = np.array(df['Values']).reshape(89,1)
club_points = np.array(df['Point']).reshape(89,1)

from sklearn.linear_model import LinearRegression
linear_model = LinearRegression()
linear_model.fit(club_values,club_points)

In order to predict the points accumulated based on Barcelona’s squad value next season, the squad value won’t directly be inputted into our equation above. The coefficient and the y-intercept have been rounded up after a certain number of decimal places, and so, to preserve the precision of the prediction, Python’s LinearRegression predict method will be utilized.

Now comes another challenging part of coming up with Barcelona’s hypothetical squad next season. Based on reports, it can be assumed that Samuel Umtiti, Miralem Pjanic, Martin Braithwaite and Phillipe Coutinho will be some of the notable players to leave. To compensate for the outgoing players, it can be assumed that Barcelona will sign Eric Garcia, David Alaba, Georginio Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay. Here is a table that contains all the players in Barcelona’s hypothetical 21/22 squad and their corresponding market values:

PLAYER NAME MARKET VALUE (MILLION POUNDS)
MARC ANDRE TER STEGEN79.34
ARNAU TENAS1.59
RONALD ARAUJO26.45
CLEMENT LENGLET26.45
GERARD PIQUE12.70
DAVID ALABA58.19
ERIC GARCIA21.16
OSCAR MINGUENZA10.58
JORDI ALBA26.45
JUNIOR FIRPO10.58
SERGINO DEST26.45
SERGI ROBERTO26.45
SERGIO BUSQUETS10.58
FRENKIE DE JONG84.63
RIQUI PUIG19.04
ILAIX MORIBA10.58
PEDRI GONZALEZ74.06
GEORGINIO WIJNALDUM37.03
ANSU FATI84.63
KONRAD DE LA FUENTE2.64
OUSMANE DEMBELE52.90
TRINCAO26.45
MEMPHIS DEPAY47.61
ANTOINE GRIEZMANN54.00
LIONEL MESSI84.63
Figures via Transfermarkt

The club’s total value comes up to be £786.60 million. It is important to note that a player’s value is volatile. Transfermarkt updates player values every few months, and so it is extremely probable that this squad’s market value will be drastically different next season.

It is also important to understand that Transfermarkt’s market values are not official and so they are not always an accurate representation of a player’s true market value. Moreover, a player’s value is not always an accurate representation of their quality. Age is a key factor in determining market value, and so while a young player might have a high market value indicating that they are a bright prospect for the future, they might not necessarily be an excellent player at the time when the value is assigned.

Now that all of this has been established, the only thing left is making the prediction.

The machine learning model predicts that Barcelona will obtain 85 points in the 21/22 La Liga season. In the 19/20 season, Real Madrid won the league with 87 points, and in the 18/19 season, Barcelona won the league with 87 points as well. The difference between the points accumulated by the last two winning La Liga squads and the predicted points that Barcelona’s 21/22 squad will obtain is a mere 2 points. This shows that it is possible for Barcelona to win the league next season.

Since the correlation between the two variables, as observed from the data from the last 6 seasons, is not even close to being extremely strong, Barcelona’s 21/22 league points tally may be drastically different from what was predicted by the machine learning model. However, at the end of the day, the model can only work with the data it is exposed to.

Erling Haaland can change the course of Barcelona’s season. It would take forever to make predictions based on Barcelona’s hypothetical squads that include all of the club’s potential transfer targets, however, due to Haaland’s influence, an exception can be made for him. Laporta’s interest in signing Haaland has been widely reported.

However, he will cost a fortune this summer, and with Barcelona’s debt situation, it is unlikely that the Catalan club will pursue him in the upcoming transfer window. That being said like mentioned previously in the article, football is chaotic, and anything can happen.

Oh, Haaland. Oh, you. (Photo via Imago)

Assuming that Barcelona does end up signing Haaland in the summer, Antoine Griezmann will most definitely have to leave (due to wages and the money that can be generated from his sale). Haaland’s current value is £99 million, and so Barcelona’s total squad value for next season, after being corrected for Griezmann’s exit and Haaland’s arrival is £831.60 million.

Haaland’s addition can put 21/22 Barcelona on level with the previous two Spanish champions in terms of total points won. The difference in points between a squad containing Haaland and one not containing him is only two. However, an argument about whether signing Haaland is worth it, is not in the scope of this article.

“Transition seasons do not exist at Barcelona.”

Joan Laporta | Presidential campaign

A club of Barcelona’s stature will always compete for titles. The machine learning model shows that Barcelona is in contention for the 2021/22 La Liga title. Ronald Koeman has done a splendid job at the Blaugrana club this season, and there is no logical reason for him to not do an even better job next season after getting fresh players in the summer.

While football at its core is unpredictable, statistically, it would not hurt to trust Barcelona to win the 2021/22 La Liga title.

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