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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

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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