Despite the inconsistent collective performances that have cost Barcelona the La Liga title, several players have improved or, at least, been holding the team on their back since the restart of football.
While Barcelona may have failed to acquire the La Liga title, it wasn’t all doom and gloom for the blaugranas after the restart, since several players in the squad put out a statement with their monumental contributions. In this article, we rank the top 5 most impressive performers since football resumed in June.
5. Iván Rakitić
Notwithstanding Iván Rakitić has been critiqued heavily for his lack of creativity on previous occasions, it is an undeniable fact that he had been one of the club’s most faultless interiors since football has returned. The Croatian seemed to have upped the ante and had been playing much more creative football as of late.
Rakitić is known to be really effective at retaining possession and that is something which he has continued to do without any difficulty whatsoever. However, him making runs into the box, pressing the opposition in their half or making forward passes to the wingers in space was a refreshing change to see in the 32-year-old’s gameplay.
The importance and level of Iván Rakitić have increased after the break | Photo by Manuel Blondeau / Aop.Press via Imago
The former Sevilla man showed appreciable form against Sevilla, Leganés, Athletic Club and Celta de Vigo, where he contributed massively in the centre of the park. Whilst he gradually began to show signs of weariness and fatigue towards the end, he was one of Barcelona’s better players over the last month or so.
4. Sergi Roberto
Sergi Roberto, a man who is constantly lambasted and excoriated from Barça’s demanding fanbase, came up with a few scintillating displays to silence countless doubters.
The Catalan has usually been deployed at the right back position, where he has excelled and created a name for himself. Nonetheless, in the closing stages of the season, coach Quique Setién decided to start him in midfield, which, at first, seemed like a dubious call. In Valverde’s regime, Roberto rarely impressed in the centre of the park, often failing to link up with Nélson Semedo or knowing where to station himself. Even so, being deployed in a left central midfield role paid the club dividends as his creativity and tactical intelligence truly came to light.
“We have a player so versatile that he can play in various positions. He is absolutely willing to do what you ask him. Having players like that is a relief. I like him in all positions”
on Sergi Roberto
Sergi had to compete with Semedo at the right-back spot for a majority of the season as well, but even led in that category, producing some impeccable exhibitions where he effectively carried the ball forward and accommodated the forward-line. Despite being unfit for a week or two, the 28-year-old maintained an imposing figure whenever he was given the nod to start, excluding one subpar game against Leganés. The jack of all trades proved that he is an undisputed asset for his side and will always be there for the team in whatever part of the field they need him in.
3. Gerard Piqué
Yet another individual who faced innumerable criticism during certain parts of the campaign, but he casually silenced every doubter after football’s hiatus came to an end. Gerard Piqué, in spite of being 33 years old, started every single game for Barça, and still managed to marshall his side’s defence effectively. In addition, the Spaniard was able to salvage four consecutive clean sheets in a row after the restart.
Although Barcelona’s defensive woes became increasingly noticeable towards the end of the campaign, Piqué’s inefficiency was never the sole reason for conceding goals since the full-backs were, on most occasions, caught off guard with their advanced positions in attack.
Piqué, above all, demonstrated that he’s a technical genius. He doesn’t need to please the audience with inch perfect tackles or clearances. What makes him unique and tremendously underappreciated is his positional play. Geri can go all the way to the front line, and still be back in time to save his side from danger. He’s always in the right place at the right time, which allows him to be one step ahead of opposing strikers. Piqué‘s proficient performances in the last few weeks reminded fans that he is always going to be a vital member of the starting XI.
2. Riqui Puig
Riqui Puig is living the dream: free, exuberant, jaunty and euphoric. Everything he does on the ball reminds fans of how football really should be played-with irrepressible feelings of happiness. Puig’s breakthrough has to be one of the biggest positives from this, not so pleasing, campaign.
His influence, even without consistent gametime, was simply laudable. With colourless players often surrounding him, he effortlessly adds vibrance to the pitch. In metaphoric fashion, the youngster splits defenses and seeks his partners in crime. A poet and a magician with the ball at his feet, which he proved to be in Barcelona’s last game, against Deportivo Alavés.
Riqui was, by far, one of the most enjoyable players to watch. Despite his style of play involving several risk-taking plays, he never seemed to put a foot wrong. How a player can be so perfect and precise at such an age is baffling. Then again, La Masía’s talent has always been limitless. Riqui’s growth was a huge positive to behold and he played a key role in fixtures against Atlético de Madrid, Alavés, Celta de Vigo and Leganés.
1. Lionel Messi
Was there any doubt? It’s always an expected sight seeing Lionel Messi at the top of categories, but it is also painful to see him head and shoulders above everyone else, considering the support he has is often so little.
In spite of this not being his best goalscoring season, Lionel Messi secured his seventh Pichichi trophy | Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce via Getty Images
Leo’s goalscoring rates had been substantially low, but he kept striving to get his side past the finish line by enduring a number of roles on the field, which he played with utmost perfection. Messi had absolutely no rest after the restart and looked exhausted from time to time, yet, he provided assists almost every time he stepped foot on the pitch. Along with that, he produced consistent performances and was always a menace for oppositions.
What was so remarkable was that, even though the Argentine wasn’t at his brilliant best, he was still an unstoppable force. The burden towards him may have exceeded to a point that his performances were getting affected severely, Messi still bamboozled oppositions smoothly.
Sergio Busquets’ form: Age or complacency?
Sergio Busquets is a club legend and is arguably the best holding midfielder of his generation. However, for a couple of seasons, the veteran has been far from his best. Is it time for Barça to realise that the Spaniard should not be an undisputed starter anymore?
For almost a decade, Sergio Busquets was the consistent and dependable anchor in a world-class midfield. At just 20 years old, Busquets made his debut under Pep Guardiola. He would go on to be a crucial part of two treble-winning sides and form one-third of the greatest midfield trio ever with Andrés Iniesta and Xavi. Busquets was the perfect holding midfielder for the Catalan side.
In recent seasons, however, his performances have deteriorated, and he has not been at his level best. Or even at an adequate level for the Blaugrana. While he managed to redeem himself with the first half of last season, this campaign, Busquets has found it even tougher with having to adapt to the double pivot system. His partnership with Frenkie De Jong is not working as the two do not seem to understand each other’s game. After another poor display against Real Madrid, and with other talented midfielders on the bench, should Busquets still be starting for Barça?
The brilliance of Sergio Busquets
It would be unfair to write an article solely criticising Sergio Busquets. As one of the greatest servants in the club’s history, Busquets deserves a huge amount of respect from Culés. The La Masia graduate broke into the first team at a young age and has been an ever-present since his debut season. He has gone on to become Barça’s fifth-most capped player in history and will likely take over Carles Puyol who is in fourth.
The Spaniard has been a key figure in the most successful period in the club’s history too. The same can be said for his time with the national team, winning the World Cup in 2010 and the UEFA European Championship in 2012. In total, the midfielder has won a behemoth 31 trophies with Barcelona including three Champions Leagues and eight league titles.
Busi has had several moments of celebrations at Barça. (Photo by AFP PHOTO/LLUIS GENE)
At his peak, there has arguably never been a better defensive midfielder. He redefined the role by showing that it was not just about tackling and breaking up play, but how the holding midfielder can be heavily involved in the build-up play and can dictate the tempo of the game.
Opponents quickly learned that it was almost pointless to press Busquets while Barcelona were in possession. His composure on the ball was and still is for the most part unmatched, while the passes were extremely accurate, progressive and have the ability to break the lines of defence.
He had exceptional awareness and ability to read the game, which was second to none; however, they have taken a massive toll. What once allowed him to take over the game with the utmost ease is slowly becoming his weakness at Barcelona.
Busquets was exceptional in every team, every year. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Sergio Busquets has not been at his best for several seasons now, and the time may have finally come when the team realises that his starting spot is no longer undisputed. This campaign especially, the 32-year-old has not managed to adapt to the new system. He is used to playing at the base in a midfield three.
Now, he shares the defensive midfield role with Frenkie de Jong in a double pivot. Neither player has performed close to their best, and it seems as if this partnership, that should work on paper, is not compatible.
Unfortunately, the problem reeks past just the structure of the team; the World Cup winner is struggling with some of the basics as well. His passing has started to him down every game, and his sloppy possession is giving away the ball in dangeorus areas of the pitch too many times. For his high standards, he is losing the ball far too often.
Busquets is lacking, and it is hurting the team. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)
Against Real Madrid, Busquets made a criminal error in his defensive duties. The veteran knows how important this match is and was one of the most experienced players on the pitch. But, whether due to a lack of awareness or complacency, he failed to track Federico Valverd’s run. It resulted in Barcelona conceding an early goal. The experienced midfielder should know better, especially in a game as important as El Clásico.
Age or Complacency?
As one of the Barcelona captains, Sergio Busquets should be a leader on the pitch and set an example to the rest of the team. However, his level has significantly dropped, and he has been involved in several catastrophic defeats. The game against Los Blancos is part of a growing list of big games where the #5 has let down the fans and his teammates.
Busquets was never the most athletic midfielder, but he always made up for this with his intelligence. His age could be a reason for his poor run of form as his physical attributes begin to decline naturally. However, he should grasp a better understanding of the game as he loses more of his pace.
One can always argue that is complacency catching up with the 32-year-old for his innumerable trophies and his world-class performances in the last decade. But, the likes of Gerard Pique, Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta or Xavi never went through this despite being part of the same era of Barcelona’s generational team.
Busquets has managed to maintain his high level for the Spanish National Team. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Moreover, somehow, Busquets continues to perform at an exceptional level for the Spanish national team, playing under former Barça manager Luis Enrique. Maybe Lucho is more tactically adept, and maybe the dressing room for the national team is far less toxic. We can only sit and speculate. That said, with competition for places in the Blaugrana squad, can Ronald Koeman continue to justify Busquets’ starting role in the team?