Sergio Busquets is a player familiar to audiences worldwide. While a very few number of people scratch their head thinking, “how does this player make both the Spanish National team and Barcelona 11?”, others are thinking, “Surely, they could upgrade in his position”, another set think he’s a top top quality player while plenty consider him to be an irritating and generally unsporting.
Sergio Busquets plays as a holding midfielder for Barcelona in the side’s starting 11. Tactically, I consider him to be one of the best in the world in this position. Here’s what I see when I watch Busquets: A technically sound player (reliable passing ability), whose main function is to set the tempo for his side. Here’s why, Barcelona’s game is based around possession football and for this reason, the defensive midfielders and even the centre-backs have to be highly composed on the ball. I believe Javier Mascherano, a player made for the tackling game is wasted at Barcelona. He’s a superb midfield terrier but his main function at Barcelona is that of rotating play, something he’s only decent at. In Barcelona’s short build-up play, Busquets usually receives the ball from the defenders, goalkeeper and passes it on to the midfielders, back to the defenders or to the wide players. His positioning just ahead of the defence also means when Barcelona have to “go back to go forward”, he also usually receives the ball to continue the ball’s rotation around the pitch.
Tactically, one of the very best
To be able to accomplish this, Busquets must be able to gauge the ability of his teammates to handle the ball in particular situations before deciding to pass the ball on. At this, his decision-making is spectacular. A key duty of his is to readily make himself available for the pass. This means proper movement to evade any close markers. At this also, he is superb. Another important aspect to his game is his anticipation. He has to be able to predict to the moves of his teammates and that of the opposition. The latter enables him to intercept and end opposition attacks before they begin. A constant facet of Barcelona’s game is the evolution of the defence into a back-3 to allow both full-back become wing-back i.e allow them push forward and in Daniel Alves’ case, perform as a winger who retreats when needed. Busquets possesses the positional sense to allow him act as the 3rd centrally-positioned centre-back in this set-up. This positional sense coupled with superb anticipation reduces the need for him to tackle though he is a good tackler and a superb marker also as seen with his man-marking of Mesut Özil in the Spain vs. Germany 2010 World Cup Semifinal
Mentally, an effective bag of tricks
While the duty Busquets performs is usually one the underplayed ones in the side, he’s a player who’s rarely out of the thoughts of opposition fans especially during big games. He has a way of getting under the opposition’s skin. Peekaboo is just one of the seemingly unsporting acts he performs on the pitch. Harassing match officials is another thing he does on the pitch, as well as diving. While all these make for a distasteful feeling in the minds of fans, the thing is he does it for the team and he’s darn effective at it. Busquets is one of those that you’re probably bound to hate if you’re a rival fan, while the feeling he leaves in the minds of fans of his side is dictated by individual prejudice. Personally, I like him because players like him make football a lot more interesting (for the added controversy) and as I already said, he’s darn effective at it
What separates him from others
Putting aside the unsporting gestures, there are a number of players similar in style to Sergio Busquets. Michael Carrick comes to mind. Criticized for his one-to-many short passes by many Manchester United fans, the player like Busquets possesses a superb positional sense relying on his anticipation to intercept chances. While Carrick is a superb footballing player, his criticism comes as a result of being seemingly out of place in Manchester United’s 4-4-2 where a deep playmaker who likes to open up play with Paul Scholes-esque passes would be more appreciated. Carrick would be a superb substitute for Sergio Busquets at Barcelona (a purely tactical inference). Another example is Mikel Obi whose style is very similar. He is frequently criticized for failing to provide creativity for Chelsea. The major issue is this type of player plays to rotate the ball not to get 15 assists/season. Most Chelsea fans would probably prefer a player like Yaya Toure who’s very progressive on the ball to play as their defensive midfielder. Most other players similar to Busquets have to add a long range to their passing game to be valued more by fans ex: Xabi Alonso, Rafael Márquez. Sergio Busquets finds himself in a situation where he is valued and utilized for what he is – a thinking play-rotator.