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Tactical analysis: Oriol Busquets, from La Masía to Twente

Anurag Agate

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Header Image by Jeroen Putmans via Imago

After having been touted as the heir to Sergio Busquets, this tactical analysis will look to review the evolution, characteristics and potential of current Barça loanee at Twente FC Oriol Busquets.


Oriol Busquets is a very well-known player to those following La Masía and Barcelona. His similarities to Barcelona’s first team player Sergio Busquets stretch far beyond just their last name. A defensive midfielder with passes that break the lines, stone-cold nerves, excellent positioning, legs that tackle with pinpoint accuracy with a huge range, intelligence that becomes the spine of the whole team etc. It’s eerie how many similarities these two have.

Oriol has been sent on loan to Dutch team FC Twente where under Gonzalo García, he has started playing as a centre-back rather than a defensive midfielder. However, at Barcelona he is still viewed as a player for the future. He is expected to come back to the first team next season and might either go on loan to a good team or act as a backup to Sergio Busquets. In this article, we’ll take a look at Oriol’s abilities, analyse his performances as both a defender and midfielder and go through the best next steps for him.

Who is Oriol Busquets?

Oriol Busquets Mas is a 21-year-old defensive midfielder was born in Girona, Catalonia. He joined Barcelona at the age of nine. He progressed through the ranks rapidly. His progress was rewarded by Valverde with his debut in the Copa del Rey against Real Murcia in November 2017. Since then, he alternated between the B team and the first team. Nonetheless, he played more for the B team as playtime is crucial at that age.

Oriol was unfortunately injured towards the start of February 2017 and spent the majority of the year on the sidelines. This was unfortunate and his lack of playtime was tough on him. However he returned and even scored towards the end of the same year. This injury did keep him away from training with the senior team which would have resulted in him transitioning to the first team.

Following this, Oriol joined Eredivisie side FC Twente in August 2019 in a one-year loan deal. With him set to return to Barcelona and potentially undergoing preseason with the first team, in this article we shall take a look at how he has changed at Twente and what his ideal next steps should be.

Oriol’s role at Barcelona

Oriol has played as a central defensive midfielder at Barcelona under Gerard López and García Pimienta. In the Youth League, García Pimienta played him as a defensive mid and Gerard López followed with the same. With Gerard’s sacking, Pimienta and Oriol were reunited. Pimienta plays possession-based, attacking football. He utilises a 4–3–3 for most of the time.

Oriol was deployed as a defensive midfielder here, acting as a pivot. Often the defenders would drift apart when the goalkeeper had possession and Oriol would drop into the space created. This helps the team play out from the back more comfortably as it offers two lateral passing options instead of one. On top of this, Busquets’ superior passing range only adds to the efficiency.

Oriol Busquets Barcelona B tactical analysis

In the attack, the Catalan’s major contribution was in starting the attack and making sure the possession is contained to the opposition’s half when on the attack. The enter-backs would often drift apart allowing Oriol to drop back. From here, he acted as the starting point for the attack. His technique and awareness allowed him to play this role. As a La Masía midfielder, scanning the field before receiving the pass and shoulder-checks are natural to Busquets. He would then have the two centre-backs as passing options but most frequently he would pass the ball forwards.

Oriol Busquets Barcelona B tactical analysis

One of Oriol’s strongest abilities, if not his strongest, is his ability to break the opposition’s lines. This is what makes him such a reliable option to pass to. In the example shown, we can see him with the ball near the halfway line. Here, the options are to make a laterally to the far side of the pitch, pass backwards to the defenders or to play a risky ball between the opposition lines forward.

The first choice is not ideal since two opposition players will immediately try to dispossess his teammate. Passing backwards is not a problem but Oriol’s confidence in his passing ability leads him to choose the third one. He breaks the oppositions lines passing to his teammate. In the process he eliminates four to five players. This showcases not only his technical ability, but also his confidence and awareness.

Oriol Busquets Barcelona B tactical analysis

Oriol is not the best player when it comes to skilful or flair-filled dribbling. That said, he is sufficiently agile on the ball which allows him to often twist and turn with the ball to shake off his marker for a short interval in which he can play a clear pass.

Something he does very well is judge his opponent’s momentum and use it against them. This is certainly something that allowed him to adapt to the centre-back position at FC Twente. In this example, the opposition is double-teaming him with a player in front of him as well as behind him. What Oriol does is, judging the opponent’s momentum he shifts backwards a bit but when the player pressing him comes closer, Oriol nudges the ball forward and avoids being dispossessed. This is a very common skill, but Oriol’s execution is admirable is it allows him to progress freely and it showcases his composure as well.

Oriol Busquets Barcelona B tactical analysis

Now, we will take a look at some examples which show why Oriol is chosen to drop between the defenders when the goalkeeper has the ball. In the first image, we see the Spaniard receiving the ball in the middle of Barça B’s half. Thanks to his excellent awareness and constant scanning of the field, Oriol sees the two opposition forwards looking to press him. But he has already angled his body and he lets the ball run past. He then passes it to his teammate towards the near side.

In these five seconds, Oriol has advanced the ball from his goalkeeper to the opposition’s half. He also eliminates four or five opposition players in this situation allowing his team to get the numerical advantage up the pitch. This is a perfect example of what makes Oriol such an incredible player. He uses the smallest of individual contributions and propels the team forward incredibly well. 

Defensive abilities

It was an unexpected move by FC Twente manager Gonzalo García when Oriol was played at centre-back considering he always impressed at defensive midfield at Barcelona. Notwithstanding, now that I recall watching him play for Barcelona B, he used to perform quite a few good tackles and mostly when stopping counters. Thinking about that and his composure, it seems possible that he could adapt that to being a central defender comfortably. Now we will take a look at some examples of his defensive abilities and talk about how he has adapted at the Dutch club in his new position.

Barcelona B play sustained attacking football which can leave them vulnerable to counter-attacks. Oriol stays back and has the job of ending any counter before it gets momentum. Here, we take a look at his defensive abilities. In the first image, Oriol is advancing looking to tackle the ball-carrier. He has to take into account the passing options and plan his approach so as to cut those passing lanes and simultaneously progress.

He charges forward but angles his run as to cut out the closest passing options. It is not possible to cut out the remaining options in this case, but by cutting out the closest option, Oriol gives his teammates time to mark any other passing options. Fortunately, he ends up landing a successful tackle. This example goes to show why tackling alone isn’t enough for a great defensive player. He demonstrates positional ability, intelligence and spatial awareness in making this interception. This is one of the examples of why Oriol is an incredible defensive asset as well.

At Twente, his defensive abilities have been more composed. He demonstrates the same tackling ability that he showed earlier but here, his involvements are of many forms. His interceptions have been very helpful with 1.5 per match and has the second highest interceptions per 90 minutes at Twente. Oriol’s composure is well-developed thanks to his past as a defensive midfielder. This assists him as he often makes clearances while retaining possession. At 2.1 clearances per 90 and 88% passing accuracy, it’s safe to say he is a very reliable option even in defense. He also wins 51% of his duels which is decent for a player new to the position.

Conclusion

To sum it up, Oriol is a very talented player who is capable playing m=both in defense and midfield with an inclination towards the latter. For him, playtime is highly important. With Barcelona having plenty of midfield options, Oriol should only continue at Barça next season if two or more midfielders depart the club. Otherwise, the young Spaniard should look to play for a First Division team in a loan deal. His technique makes him more suitable for Spanish football which would also help him ease into Barcelona in the future. If he makes the right decisions, we could see someone truly worthy of wearing the Busquets shirt in front of the Camp Nou in the future.


See also

La Masía, priceless, could save Barça lots of money

A brief overview of the remaining fixtures of Barcelona

Three La Masía youngsters to lead Barcelona in the future

• Comparing the attacks of Barcelona and Manchester City

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

A Detailed Look into Barcelona’s defeat against Getafe

Soumyajit Bose

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Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

Barcelona fell to defeat in Madrid, and Barça Universal brings a detailed analysis of how the visitors fared against the relentless Getafe.


Matchweek four saw FC Barcelona travel to Coliseum Alfonso Perez to take on yet another difficult opposition – Getafe. In recent years, Getafe have seen an uptick of fortune under manager Jose Bordalas, by opting to play a straightforward counterattacking style of football while staying defensively compact. It is easy to not classify their game as pretty. Still, they are highly effective – with constant disruptions to the game with a very physical style of play, they forced Barcelona to stay out of their box very effectively. The game indeed was gruesome to watch and ended in Getafe eking out a narrow 1-0 victory – their first over Barcelona in the league since 2011-12.

The Shape of the Teams

As the team returned from the international break with many of the players having played 180+ minutes, Ronald Koeman rang in some interesting changes. However, one could always argue if there were, in fact, enough changes and whether they made a lot of sense. Neto, Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet, Sergi Roberto at right-back, and Sergino Dest as the makeshift left-back formed the back-five, with the usual double pivot of Sergio Busquets of Frenkie de Jong.

Ousmane Dembele was back in action on the left-wing, Antoine Griezmann started in a false 9 role, and Lionel Messi as the nominal ‘right-wing’. The biggest surprise perhaps was the first start handed to 17-year-old Pedri at central attacking-midfield.

From the pass-maps and the following touch-based heatmaps, you can see that Messi did stay a lot wider than the “false RW” role he had under the previous two managers. Still, he kept interchanging slots with Griezmann quite a bit as well, especially in the deeper zones. The Frenchman had a lot of touches in the wider zones while tracking back. As such, and combined with his highly ineffective combination play with the midfield and the forwards, it does the beg the question as to whether it makes any sense to put Griezmann up top, or for that matter, as a starter in the team at all.

Also, de Jong’s role and influence in the game was in sharp contrast to the previous games and Busquets’ as well. Busquets influenced a lot of the central zones, while Frenkie tried to rattle wider, and deeper areas more, partly due to the absence of Jordi Alba.

Getafe came up with a highly asymmetrical 4-4-2, with very distinctively different lines of midfielders in possession, and very different roles of the wide players on two sides:

It was former La Masia youngster Marc Cucurella, playing as a left wide-mid, who was really the most adventurous of the lot and showed the most attacking prowess. In midfield, Mauro Arambarri had the freedom to drift around a bit while Nemanja Maksimovic stayed deep and patrolled in front of the defence, seldom venturing up.

Offence

This was a game with very little quality and very few clear cut chances. Getafe didn’t allow Barcelona to create a lot with extremely compact and physical defending. Barcelona enjoyed the lion’s share of the possession, but to no avail. They could have easily scored at least once in the first half through Antoine Griezmann, where they were clearly the better side. The biggest chances they conceded came in the second half – the unfortunate penalty, and counter-attacks in the late stages of the game.

Apart from the shots shown here, there was a dangerous moment where Cucho Hernandez had the opportunity to take a crack at Barcelona’s goal but slipped at the vital moment.

As for the goal, it resulted in a really unfortunate foul in the box by Frenkie de Jong. It came from a set-piece play pattern, and after the ball had pinged inside and outside the box a few times, de Jong tripped Djene Dakonam in the box as they both went for the ball.

Getafe, as was shown in the pass-map before, were not interested in deep build-up at all. They constantly went direct, staying true to their style of play. The attack pattern of swift transitions is clearly visible in the buildup to some of the shots they took, as shown below. These shots either came from forcing high turnovers or from speedy breaks from their own half with just a handful of passes only to transition over a large vertical distance:

In contrast, Barcelona were rambling, slow and sometimes clueless in the buildup, especially in the second half. There were two opportunities following two gorgeous buildups. The first one was intricate and involved a beautiful turn by the youngster Pedri to set up Dest, who cut the ball back for Messi. The Argentine’s left-footed precision shot evaded the Getafe goalie David Soria but cannoned off the post.

But the best opportunity of the first half fell to Griezmann. Yet again, the creator was Pedri, who met the World Cup winner’s wonderfully timed run with a delectable through ball. Griezmann raced clear of Getafe’s defensive line and with only the keeper at his mercy, shot high into the stands. The buildups are shown below:

(To be noted: neither Antione Griezmann’s shot nor Cucho Hernandez’s shots were on target – they blazed over the goal-post. The visuals above should not confuse the readers.)

The majority of the rest of the shots that Barcelona took came from set-pieces or hopeful crosses into the Getafe box. Apart from the cross that was almost turned into his own goal by Erick Cabaco late in the game and the one where Lenglet failed to connect properly with Messi’s freekick, the rest aren’t even worth discussing.

Barcelona did manage a lot of successful takeons, way more than Getafe, but most notably perhaps, none successful in Getafe’s box. The bulk of these duels were restricted in the wide areas, where Dest and Messi showed good feet. In the central zones, only Messi and Pedri were skilled and silky enough to beat their marker.

Passing

Barcelona’s progressive passing took a bit of hit this game. Here is a compilation of the successful progressive passes by all Barcelona players shown below. Something that strikes out immediately – there was almost nothing down the middle. Frenkie could only exert his influence through passing in the wide areas. Both centre-backs heavily sprayed out the ball wide. The characteristic dagger balls from Lenglet that we have grown used to seeing was missing this game:

Next we take a look at the assortment of most threatening passes that Barcelona put together:

Just like the game against Sevilla, there were barely any successful entries into the box. Many passes were sprayed out wide, which only halted the progress till that point. Simply put, Getafe were just too compact and physical to allow anything constructive to happen.

Shown below are Getafe’s progressive passes by all players, and their most threatening passes. They were either mostly pinging long balls into Barcelona’s third or launching counters from the deep bypassing the entire midfield and trying to catch Barcelona out. Unlike the visitors, there were a lot more entries into the box mostly coming from wide areas.

The two passes that standout are Cucurella’s pass to initiate a fast counter, and Pedri’s ball to Griezmann. Cucho Hernandez led the Getafe side with 3 key passes, with Cucurella and Enes Unal with one each. For Barcelona, Dest had two key passes, and Messi and Pedri had one each.

 

Next we look at switches of play. There is an amazing distinction between the two. Getafe’s switch passes from the wide areas were mainly to attack Barcelona’s 3rd and the box. Barcelona’s switches mainly came in buildup phases, attempting to open up Getafe, almost exclusively in the middle 3rd.

The quantity used here to compare passes into the final third is called field tilt – it’s the number of final third passes completed by a team, divided by the sum of final third passes completed by both teams, expressed as a percentage instead of a fraction. It’s a stat introduced by Statsperform (previously Opta) to measure territorial dominance.

Barcelona completed a greater number of final third passes than Getafe, and yet had a lower number of box entries – this is simply unacceptable in the future. Shown below are the mean field tilts as well as the time evolution. Barcelona overall had much higher territorial dominance with 67%. The only times Getafe enjoyed a better share of the territory was in the first 15 minutes of each half, and they made their territorial dominance in the second half count with a goal within that 15 minutes of the restart.

Defence

As a short side note, PPDA serves as a proxy of pressing intensity. It tells us how many passes the team in possession is allowed to make in their own 3-5ths of the pitch before disrupted with a foul or a tackle or an interception by the defending team. Lower the PPDA numbers, roughly speaking, higher the pressing intensity upfield. Getafe are known as notorious pressers, but they didn’t try to press too high or too much against Barcelona – recording a modest PPDA of 11 as compared to Barcelona’s 5. Also shown is the PPDA time evolution below:

Getafe exhibited their best press between the 15-30 minutes of the first half, and then at the beginning of the second half. It was 15-minute slot when the second half started where they dominated territory and pressed extremely well, and eventually scored. Next, let’s take a look at the defensive activities heatmap:

Barcelona’s pressurizing defensive actions were mainly concentrated on the left courtesy of Dest, Dembele, and de Jong. In the box, Pique and Lenglet held their own for the most part, and Neto was a safe pair of gloves. In fact, the Brazilian stopped a great shot from Cucho late in the second half to prevent Barcelona from going 2 goals down.

Getafe pressured the middle third to great effect and targeted Dembele’s wastefulness on the left flank and Roberto’s lack of support on the right. The unsuccessful passes tell the story of very curious pass weights by several Barcelona players, but most notably Dembele who couldn’t seem to get anything right in the first half. Misplacing so many short passes – for a team like Barcelona- should be a crime.

In terms of turnover creations, Barcelona managed a few handfuls on the left flank, helped by a reasonably good left-back outing by Dest. Getafe created turnovers in the middle and defensive thirds mostly.

Of course, you can’t describe a Getafe game without mentioning fouls. Fouling is an extremely effective strategy by Bordalas’ men, and an obliging referee meant they got away with almost everything. Getafe committed twice the number of fouls as Barcelona – 20 to 10, and yet had only one more yellow card than Barcelona. Allan Nyom should have easily seen the red card – if not direct, at least by accumulation – but escaped with just yellow.

Issues

There were several issues. The passing weight remains an issue. It was an issue against Sevilla, at the Camp Nou. It was an issue against Getafe. Dembele had a torrid showing. This was his first start and the first bunch of meaningful minutes. But nothing on display was encouraging, and it remains to be seen how much faith Koeman puts in him in the upcoming matches.

The midfielders were mostly solid – and that’s about it. They failed to influence the game with incisive passes. De Jong was pushed deep and wide. Busquets had one good pass, and the rest were all simple.

In the absence of Alba, the left side is almost as dead as the right. Dest tried a lot, and he was along with Pedri, the only standout performer for the travellers. He had two key passes, and a couple of really admirable dribbles, going toe-to-toe with Nyom. But he wasn’t nearly close enough to being the marauding Jordi Alba. The Messi-left wing connection has been a super fruitful one over the last few years, and that was sorely missed yesterday.

Speaking of, Messi was not utilized well at all in this game. He wasn’t allowed to drift as much and stayed wide a lot more. He was also not a part of the buildup as much as Barcelona would have preferred. If this was a conscious tactical decision not to involve Messi too much, it is much better to let him rove near the goal so he can make the most of his stellar finishing.

One way or the other, Messi looks really uninvolved and it’s costing Barcelona. (Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images)

Griezmann continued to be underwhelming for Barcelona. He did nothing notable from the right-wing in the previous games, and he did nothing notable as the false 9 against Getafe. Barely involved in possession, he did make a good run only to smash a shot into the stands. At this point, it’s a fair call to try other attackers on the wing, especially with Fransisco Trincāo and Konrad de la Fuente waiting for quality minutes.

The refereeing was questionable, to put it mildly. Cucho Hernandez ran into Pique’s elbows and won a foul, with the Spaniard on the receiving end of a yellow. To even things a bit, the referee gave Mata a yellow for a soft foul on Lenglet. But nothing was more contentious than the elbow in the face of Messi by Nyom, who amazingly enough, escaped any card at all. He kept committing several fouls and was only shown a yellow after his 7th foul of the game, when in fact, he was lucky to survive that long.

The substitutes

For the first time, Ronald Koeman’s substitutes made no sense and brought no spark to the game. In theory, bringing Ansu Fati for Ousmane Dembele made sense, but it changed nothing in the broader context of things. Pedri did not deserve to get yanked before Antoine Griezmann given how well he was playing. Pique moving up to play striker late in the game meant there was no midfield bar Riqui Puig (getting his first minutes of the season) and Barcelona were easily countered. The subs were too late and made little sense.

Conclusion

It was an ugly game and required real motivation to keep watching. Barcelona needs to be much more direct – like the first two games. The Griezmann experiment probably needs to stop, and the excessive fluidity is coming at the cost of too many people trying to do the same set of things and occupying the same zones.

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