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Sergio Busquets: The underrated cornerstone of Barcelona

The forever underrated Sergio Busquets is turning 32 today. Happy birthday, Busi

Anurag Agate

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Header Image by Cordon Press / Diario AS via Imago

As Sergio Busquets turns 32, we look back at what has made him so special yet underrated through his Barcelona and football career.


Sergio Busquets, one of the most subtle and one of the smartest footballers to ever grace the game. The Octopus of Badia, as he is called, is one of the most important players in whichever team he plays. For Barcelona and for Spain, he has been a crucial part of these sides. He’s like a small cog in the system, hardly noticeable unless you actively watch him, but without him the entire team would fall apart.

He has proven this time and again, winning the World Cup and Euros once, the Champions league thrice, the FIFA Club World Cup thrice, La Liga eight times, the UEFA Supercup thrice, the Copa del Rey six times and the Spanish Super Cup eight times. Apart from these accolades, he has always been regarded as one of the best midfielders ever.

“The first time I saw Busquets playing, I called a friend and said: ‘I saw a player from an extinct species’. He’s a star”

César Luis Menotti

To put it concisely, Busi is a wonderful footballer. He is an excellent midfielder. His technique is impeccable, his passing creative and as accurate as possible, his awareness and game-sense some of the best ever. Under Pep Guardiola, Busquets went from being a young prospect to a household name throughout the world. Since then, many managers have come and gone. All of them understood what makes the Spanish midfielder such a special player.

Busquets’ attacking talent is mostly thanks to his line-breaking passes and intelligence. A master of la Pausa, he waits for his teammates to make the move, and just when the opposition is weakest, Sergio pulls the trigger. Very rarely is he the one making the killer pass like Andrés Iniesta or Xavi Hernández, but the attacks very often pass through Busquets. He dictates the tempo perfectly.

Knowing when to pass laterally, when to break the lines and when to pass backwards is very difficult. You have to be aware of the layout and current positions of both teams to make this decision. The fact that Busquets has been doing this consistently for a decade is ridiculous. Because of him, his team can sustain attacking play with him ready to recycle possession in the final third.

Sergio Busquets underrated Barcelona

Since his debut in 2008, Sergio Busquets has always been pivotal in Barcelona’s first team | Photo by Imago

A lot of people state that Busquets is a liability in defence because of his lack of pace. His pace isn’t and has never been the best, agreed. But thanks to his excellent game-sense, Busquets still manages to contribute a lot defensively. When recycling possession in the opposition’s half, if the rivals do gain possession and look to counter, Busquets simultaneously covers the passing lanes while pressing the opposition.

The number of counters he has stopped and occasions in which he has helped Barcelona defensively is huge. His interceptions are one of the reasons he is called the Octopus of Badia, and rightly so. As a player who always knows where the opposition wants to end up, the defensive midfielder is superb in getting into position quickly and stopping the attack before it can begin.

As the Spanish veteran turns 32 on 16th July 2020, he is still a major part of the blaugranas. Maintaining such a high level for so many years, Busquets is an example for any young footballers, especially midfielders. As the popular quote by former Spain head coach Vicente del Bosque goes, “If you watch the game, you don’t see Busquets. But if you watch Busquets, you see the whole game”. This quote is accurate even now.

The shear grace, intelligence and awareness with Busquets plays is not matched by any other player. However, for some reason, there is a huge number of people who think that Sergio is not a good player or that he isn’t useful for Barcelona anymore. To those people, no response is needed, just the fact that the same person who they worship, Pep Guardiola, said the following: “If I was reincarnated as a player, I’d like to be like him”.

Sergio Busquets is one of the symbols of the very principles that FC Barcelona is based upon. His contribution to the club and the supporters is unimaginable. The day that he hangs up his boots will be one of the saddest days not only for Barça, but for the entire footballing community. But for now, as Barcelona face Osasuna in a few hours, the prospect of watching the genius midfielder play must remind us fans how lucky we are to witness Busquets play for Barcelona.


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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

How Zidane’s Real Madrid beat Koeman’s Barcelona

Anurag Agate

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Photo via Imago

The highly anticipated day of El Clasico, the clash of eternal rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid finally arrived. The Blaugrana were just two points ahead of Los Blancos with the same number of games played. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid are at their most vulnerable right now; recent losses to Sevilla and Chelsea had already demoralized the team. Additionally, Luis Suarez – their top scorer -, is injured.

El Clasico has incredible importance on its own. Add to that the fact that it will be pivotal in the title race, and it becomes apparent how much it means to both sides. In this tactical analysis, we take a look at how Real Madrid managed to conquer Barcelona in a 2-1 victory.

The systems

Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona lined up in a 3-5-2 as expected. This formation is one that has contributed to Barcelona’s recent positive results significantly. Though this could be viewed as a 5-3-2 or even a 3-5-2-1 at times, the basic principles remained the same. Barcelona would look to build up from the back. The backline of Ronald Araujo with Clement Lenglet and Oscar Mingueza on either side of him was the platform upon which the team would build-up.

In midfield, Sergio Busquets would be the deepest player, with Frenkie De Jong and Pedri Gonzalez as the two interiors. These two youngsters would operate in the half-spaces as their roles entail, but they would drop back and join the attack as well. Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest, the two wing-backs, would look to stretch the opposition and would be positioned high up the field.

In attack, Lionel Messi was joined by Ousmane Dembele. The Frenchman would operate through the centre as Messi would usually drop back and have the freedom to move across the pitch.

Zinedine Zidane has often been labelled as someone who manages big egos well but doesn’t have tactical expertise. Purely a misconception, this match was an example of how well the retired midfielder sets up his team. What was most admirable was how Zidane finds the perfect role for his players’ profiles.

Real Madrid were deployed in a 4-1-4-1. Casemiro would play between the lines, with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos just ahead oh him. This formation could also be viewed as a 4-5-1, which would be a 4-3-3 when attacking. In defence, Eder Militao and Nacho were the centre-halves with Lucas Vasquez and Ferland Mendy as the full-backs. To support the midfield as well as the attack, Vinicius Junior and Fede Valverde would act as wide midfielders.

Karim Benzema, the number nine, would drift into the channels or drop a bit deeper as required. He was the key to Madrid’s fluid attack. There would be a constant staggering between Benzema, Vinicius, and Valverde. When Benzema dropped deep to fight for the second ball, Vinicius and Fede would move forward and provide passing options. At times, Vasquez would overlap, which was Valverde’s cue to drop back. The players would also switch roles.

Madrid’s defensive organization

After getting a lead, Real Madrid were still proactive but to a lesser extent than earlier. They would even have five players defending at times, transitioning into a 5-4-1. Their timing and organization was impressive nonetheless. As we see in the image above, Ousmane Dembele is about to receive the pass. Immediately, Casemiro presses him, while other players start moving forward to close the distance to possible passing options. This meant Barcelona had little time on the ball deep in Madrid’s half.

The pressing shown by Los Blancos was very fine-tuned. The players were unsurprisingly not hesitant to play a physical game as well. As the earlier image shows us, Ousmane Dembele would receive the ball ahead of the defense and attempt to involve other players. Pedri and de Jong were the most obvious passing options. However, for them, the passing would more often than not be out wide. This was forced due to Madrid’s structure which prevented them from playing through the middle.

Arguably one of Barcelona’s strongest moves is when Messi plays Jordi Alba through between the full-back and centre-halves. Though it was effective at some points in the match, this was clearly something Zidane expected. When either full-back would have crossing options, the full-backs would look to block the cross.

Simultaneously, the centre-halves would track Barcelona’s attackers Messi and Dembele. These two being the only two forwards, Mingueza’s goal was one of the few times the team actually had more players looking to attack. Casemiro would be in the box looking to clear the ball or cover for any defensive holes.

What went wrong for Barcelona?

Ronald Koeman’s team selection was well-thought-out. Shifting de Jong to midfield was a smart choice. However, as the scoreline clearly shows, some issues persisted.

One of the main ones being the lack of attackers in the final third. This was a formation with two attackers on paper, but one of them was Messi. Expecting the argentine to make runs off the ball and act as a target man is highly unrealistic. He does best when he’s on the ball. This would leave Dembele alone upfront. The Frenchman isn’t a classic number 9 who takes shots on the swivel and can establish himself in the box. Against a defence that was sitting very deep, he was unable to run onto the ball between the full-backs and centre-halves the way he likes to.

The image above shows a common scenario observed in the first half. Receiving the ball in the final third, Dembele turns to face the defenders. As they don’t lunge in, rather trying to contain him. he is unable to beat them in a 1v1. There is plenty of space with no Barcelona players highlighted in the image. This lack of attackers was one of the reasons Koeman switched to the 4-3-3. Shown below, the 4-3-3- allowed Pedri and Dembele to be more involved.

Statistical analysis

Below, we have a visualization showing the PPDA stats for both teams. A lower PPDA means a higher pressing intensity. As we can see, Barcelona were clearly pressing much more than Real Madrid throughout the match. Despite this, they failed to create enough chances. To demonstrate this, we can observe the xG graph.

As the xG graph shows, there were some situations when the Catalans had a chance to change the score-line in their favour. Among other reasons, Dembele’s inability to play as a striker and inefficiency in finishing was clearly affecting the team. The visualization below the xG graph shows the shot map. It further reaffirms the observation that Barcelona need to improve in front of the goal and in terms of the quality of chances created.

With a higher number of shots, Barcelona still had a lower xG than their rivals. Another indication of low-quality chances is the size of the circles in the box for both teams. The smaller the circle, the less likely it is to end up in the back of the net. The stark contrast is one of the many indicators that there are major issues to be resolved in attack for Koeman’s side.

Conclusion

This loss will hurt Barcelona, even more so as it strengthens the notion that his team doesn’t show up in big matches. If Koeman’s side wants to be Champions, now is the time to give their all. One cannot ignore the fact that the Blaugrana have a lot of work to do to be deserving of the La Liga title. Whether or not they will be able to do this remains to be seen.

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