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Analysis

The new situation for Sergio Busquets: A reduced role

Hariharan Balaji

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Header Image by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce / Getty Images

The biggest humiliation in Barcelona’s European history has resulted in some radical changes within the club. Major revamps like selling players who are past their prime and reducing their roles are necessary, if not paramount. Here, we look at the likely reduced role of club legend and second captain, Sergio Busquets might have moving forward. 


Barcelona, as a club, has been under free fall for some years now. Skyrocketing wage bills, abnormally high average squad age, poor transfer policies and, on top of that, an incompetent board, the perfect recipe for failure. Making decisions with a blindsided view on the future has resulted in financial instability of the club. The problems have been prevalent for years now, the defeat just exposed it to the eyes of the general public.

It is safe to say that the club has reached rock-bottom now in its modern era, and there is only one way now, up. A proper rebuild is essential, involving a few painful goodbyes and a few unpleasant calls from the new gaffer. According to reports, Ronald Koeman has already called a few players from the squad and let them know about their futures. The topic of discussion here is Sergio Busquets, and about his reduced role from next season.

The Busquets role

Sergio Busquets came into the first-team scene alongside Pep Guardiola, from Barça B. And ever since, he has been a quintessential part of the club and how Barcelona play football. At a very young age, the Spaniard replaced the experienced and already world-class Yaya Touré in the base of Pep’s midfield. He sat in front of the centre-backs and just in behind Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández, making passing triangles with everyone around him. 

The 32-year-old may not be the quickest or had a menacing physical presence in the pivot role, but he had the all-important positional intelligence injected in him. Most modern defensive midfielders are associated with hard tackles, constant running and high work rate. But Busquests was an octopus linking the defence to midfield. He was the open man helping in playing out from the back, but also the orchestrator of the pressing game of Barça. 

What changed?

Now, the modern game has changed with many successful teams playing with high intensity and high pace. Many Barça players are not the quickest, and with age catching up to them, it hasn’t helped. When Barcelona have the ball, control the tempo and pin the opposition in their half, Busquets shines the brightest. He can control the passage of play and directly involves himself in the attack. Busquets is a specialist in pinging balls over the backline towards runners. At present, though, there is little off-ball movement from the front line. 

Sergio Busquets could become a more regular substitute for the first time since his promotion to the Barcelona first team in 2008 | Photo by Paco Serinelli / AFP via Getty Images

Over the years, Barcelona have moved away from this model little by little. While the possession is still there, the impact of it on the game is minimal. The team is more prone to counter attacks and seem very little under control. The above tactic has resulted in more running back and chasing attackers than pressing them and getting the ball in their half. Busquets is not suitable in this regard.

Both Ernesto Valverde and Quique Setién rarely played him for 90 minutes every game. With age catching up to him, he has been prone to mistakes leading to threatening turnovers. In this campaign, especially, a lot of silly mistakes and a loss of concentration have hurt the team directly. 

The De Jong–Koeman connection

The new manager Ronald Koeman has always advocated for playing Frenkie de Jong in his natural position. In the national team, he deployed him in the defensive midfield with the freedom to progress the ball up the pitch. He acted a similar role in his previous side, Ajax dropping beside centre-backs in the build-up phase. In his first season with the Catalans, he was an interior with further freedom to roam up and down the pitch. 

“He has shown at Ajax and with the Dutch national team in which position he feels best and that is where he will also play for Barcelona”

Ronald Koeman on Frenkie de Jong

Now with Koeman at the helm, De Jong will get back to his natural position. As a signing for the long term, the Dutchman wants his fellow countryman deployed in the right spot. Therefore, Busquets might not enjoy an unhindered starting spot next season according to the gaffer. While the blaugranas have been used to a single pivot structure, the new boss might opt for a double pivot approach like he used in the Dutch national side. 

The two pivots system might employ both De Jong and Busquets, but the latter has always been comfortable acting as a single pivot and not beside another. It hinders the verticality in his passing and reduces his passing options. Thus, the plausible solution in this system would be to deploy a more attacking Miralem Pjanić alongside Frenkie. Instead of cancelling out each other, both can complement each other. 

Why keep Busquets, then?

A significant part of a rebuild is to know which players to cut and which to keep. A complete cleansing of the old guard might not only be disrespectful but also diminishes the experience and leadership in the dressing room. Youngsters can learn a lot from a legend of the game like Busquets, who has mastered the position.

Frenkie has a lot to learn about not leaving a position and being better in anticipating opposition movements. With Busquets around in the dressing room, both he and Barça B’s Jandro Orellana can develop significantly. The mentorship could turn into a possible future coaching job at the club. And with less minutes and increased rest, whenever Busquets plays, Barcelona can expect him to at his full powers. 

Making Sergio Busquets take up a lesser role is essential now because replacing an integral part of the team is extremely hard. Barça have learned it the hard way with Dani Alves, Xavi, and Iniesta. The slow phasing out of the World Cup winner might be the smart option for all parties involved.

I got into watching football for the emotions of it. A goal followed by a crazy celebration from the player gave me goosebumps. But, watching the beautiful game over the years, I realised it was much more than just goals. The passing, the movements, the positioning and the effort involved behind the scenes opened my eyes to what football was. I keep trying to learn more about this incredible game and pass on what I learnt with a tinge of passion attached to it.

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Analysis

Can Alexander Isak be the firepower Barcelona need in their attacking arsenal

Jan-Michael Marshall

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Photo via Imago

With incoming presidential elections and the resulting anticipation of a rebuild, more and more players are being linked to Barcelona. Besides big names like Erling Haaland and David Alaba, Real Sociedad centre-forward Alexander Isak is reportedly on the Catalans’ radar. A new striker is an absolute must for the club and Isak’s €70 million release clause is turning heads. His stock is rising and he has a bright future ahead of him, but should Barcelona pursue him?

Player Profile

Isak is currently in the midst of his second season for Basque-outfit Real Sociedad. The 21-year old started his career at the Swedish club AIK before moving to Borussia Dortmund’s youth setup in 2017. Lacking first-team opportunities, he was loaned to Dutch club Willem II, where he tallied an impressive 14 goals and 7 assists in 18 appearances. Isak then moved to Sociedad in the summer of 2019 and scored 16 goals in his debut season. This season, he has 12 goals in 29 appearances.

Isak is Sweden’s next star. (Photo by JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images)

He has been dubbed the “next Zlatan Ibrahimovic” by some, and with the Swedish national team, Isak has scored five goals in 18 appearances.

Tactical and Statistical Analysis

Isak has all the attributes of a classic “target man”, one whose main role is to win aerial duels and play off of creative teammates, but his game is much more than that. He stands tall at 190 cm, or 6 foot 3 inches, but has incredible speed and balance. Despite his height, however, he is only winning 42% of his aerial duels this season.

Isak likes to play off the shoulder of the defence, eagerly waiting for through balls from creative midfielders like Mike Merino or David Silva. Alternatively, he can also hold the ball up. With his combination of speed and dribbling ability, he is a constant threat on the counter-attack, capable of getting past defenders or dragging bodies and creating space for runners. He also has decent vision and passing acumen for a centre forward, but Sociedad’s set up doesn’t allow him to maximize these qualities.

Isak has the speed and strength to bully players anywhere on the pitch. (Photo via Imago)

Statistically, he is averaging 1.36 dribbles per 90 minutes this season at a clip of 64.8%. According to fbref.com, when compared to forwards in Europe’s top five leagues (Spain, England, France, Germany, and Italy), Isak stands out in terms of his successful pressures rate (93rd percentile), pressures in the attacking third (81st percentile), and carries into the penalty area (87th percentile).

In front of the goal, Isak is dangerous with both his feet and his head. He is unpredictable with his finishing, always keeping defenders and goalkeepers on edge. This campaign, his 12 goals are fairly evenly distributed: six with his right foot, three with his left, and three with his head. Most of his goals have come from through balls or passes over the defence. He carries the ball in his stride and finishes with confidence.

Isak’s goal scoring locations for the 20/21 season, retrieved from understat.com

His goalscoring record was rough to start the season, scoring only four goals across 20 appearances, but he’s picked things up in 2021. The forward has been in rich vein of form, already scoring nine goals this calendar year. Furthermore, in La Liga, he has scored in each of his last six appearances, not to mention a hat trick last time out against Alavés. He could have a breakout season if he continues scoring at this rate, attracting offers from teams across Europe.

Where would he fit at Barça?

Naturally, Isak fits a need for the Blaugrana at centre forward. The team has no natural “number nine” –other than Martin Braithwaite — and with Messi entering his twilight years and potentially leaving in the summer, they desperately need goal-scorers. The Swedish international is well adapted to playing as a lone striker in a 4-3-3 system and is already accustomed to playing in La Liga, so Barça won’t need to worry about adaptation along those lines.

Tactically, his height and runs into the box could bring a different dimension to a fairly one-dimensional Barça attack. While he could fit in well with the team’s patient and possession-oriented approach, his game is more suited for runs into open spaces and spearheading counter attacks.

Isak is built for the modern game with immaculate pace and power. (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

The question is, would he start for Barcelona? Messi is best suited for a false nine role, and Isak would not displace Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembélé, or Ansu Fati in the front line. On the contrary, he could be an extremely productive squad option, but his potential transfer fee would be too high to warrant such a role.

Should Barcelona pursue him?

There are plenty of intriguing reasons for Barça to pursue Isak, but he should not be their number one transfer target. He undoubtedly has a bright future ahead of him and is showing immense quality this season, but he might not be ready to carry Barcelona’s front line.

There will be a lot asked of him, and he will be expected to perform on the biggest stages in world football, and his zero goals in the Europa League this season are not reassuring. Despite his incredible form over the last few games, Barça need to see more consistent output if he is to be their number nine for the next decade.

Isak is incredible, but he has a long way to go. (Photo via Getty)

He would also cost the club around 70 million euros, and that money could serve the team better by investing that in other areas like centre back or centre defensive mid.

While he is still young and has time to improve, Barcelona should focus on more refined and finished products.

Closing Thoughts

On the one hand, Isak could bring a lot to the Blaugrana and offer much-needed variation to their attack. On the other hand, there are signs pointing to the fact that he is not yet the calibre of player Barcelona need to lead their frontline, especially for that sum of €70 million. He could be a more than sufficient squad option and someone who could develop in the long term, but once again, that transfer fee warrants caution.

Also, facilitating his move could be quite difficult given that his ex-team Borussia Dortmund have a reported €30 million “buy-back” clause attached to his name. If (and when) the German club are to lose Erling Haaland, they could easily opt for Isak as his replacement.

Maybe in a few years. (Photo via Imago)

Isak is a solid striker and has a lot of potential, but he is not yet the player capable of leading Barcelona’s front line. That paired with his potential transfer fee means the club should focus on other transfer targets first.

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