Photo courtesy of FC Barcelona Website
This weekend, Barcelona thrashed Real Madrid 4-0 in El Clasico at the Santiago Bernebau as they were in the driving seat from start to finish. In a match, where Argentinean magician Lionel Messi started on the bench, it was a chance for the other components of Barcelona’s star studded lineup to come to the fore.
It was a magnificent team performance where players like Neymar and Andres Iniesta stole the show but one must also spare a thought for Sergio Busquets.
He has long been shielding the Barcelona defence but as the role of the defensive midfielder becomes more pivotal in World football, it is intriguing to see him continue to prove he is the best at his role. The defensive midfielder no longer just clears up opposition attacks but is now a deep-lying playmaker and at times, an auxiliary defender. Busquets’ performance in El Clasico was a masterclass in all these roles as he was clean and tidy with his marking, played the ball forward with intent and gave his teammates the security to express themselves.
The only time when he seemed in bother was in the first half when he was caught in possession on the edge of his own box by Toni Kroos which led to a sloppy pass to a Real Madrid player. One blemish in an otherwise fine performance as Real Madrid’s midfield for the rest of the match were outgunned and out-manned as Barcelona strolled to victory.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images
In modern day football, the defensive midfielder has more ground to cover as he has to drop deep to receive the ball and play it forward, know when to stay deep or push forward (especially during the pressing phase) and still be available to sweep up opposition attacks. In European football, defensive midfielders tend to drop in between their centre-backs to work the ball forward which makes it easier for the opposition to press them and costs their team space as more players have to drop deeper to covet the ball forward.
On Saturday, Busquets didn’t fall into this trap as he kept a safe space between himself and his centre-backs as he used great spacial awareness to remain as free as possible during the buildup phase of play. He also played deft one-touch passes to allow fluidity to Barcelona’s play and tire the Madrid attackers who were chasing the ball. When Barcelona pressed he made sure he wasn’t caught too high but was still high enough to compress play.
In the build-up for the first goal, he had multiple touches of the ball before he layed on a neat pass for Sergi Roberto to make a surging run and mask a pass for Luis Suarez who finished well. A defensive midfielder’s head should constantly be on swivel, analysing and choosing situations a split-second at a time as they bring continuity to their team’s play. Busquets was patient, surgical and precise as he picked his passes and movements, as were Barcelona.
Busquets also managed to excel in terms of his defensive responsibilities as his tidy tackling style put an end to many Real Madrid attacks and were the catalyst for some Barcelona attacks. His lanky frame and wonderful positioning allowed him to constantly be attuned to the needs of his defence as he protected them with valour. His meticulous and methodical approach to defending was a breath of fresh air as he managed to cover large amounts of space with such little hastle as he rarely let any Madrid attackers get the better of him.
Busquets’ sense of team ethic and studious mentality has made him a constant in Barcelona’s side since Pep Guardiola’s trophy laden tenure. He has gone from strength to strength at club and international level since as he has made that position his own as most managers can only wish for a player like him on their side. He has added an elegance to a position known for its rugged, fist clenching athletes, heart-pumping tough challenges and brutally tough characters. With the brilliance of Neymar, Suarez and Messi, it is tough to wonder at the genius of Busquets.
In a role that is becoming a premium and more integral in top level football with every passing day, there needs to be a recognition that Busquets is head and shoulders above the rest. His calming and secure presence in midfield is and will always be one of Barcelona’s biggest strengths.