Barcelona desperately need Sergio Busquets at his best but is he in decline?
A combination of factors mean that Sergio Busquets’ form has dipped but Barcelona need him more now than ever, writes Pete Jenson.
Some holding midfielders would take a one-man open-top bus victory parade through the streets if they clocked up Sergio Busquets’ stats on Tuesday against Manchester City.
No one ran more than he did, covering 10.9 km, and his pass completion rate was 92 per cent. But being Barcelona’s pivote is not like being anyone else’s pivote. He was a little bit off of his game but you can’t be a little bit off of your game playing in that position for Barcelona. It’s like leaving the submarine door a little bit open – stuff tends to flood in and City swamped Barcelona in the second half with Busquets helpless to do anything about it.
Manchester City's Sergio Aguero in action against Barcelona's Sergio BusquetsReuters
He was singled out for criticism in the Barça inquest though eight years of incredible service inevitably mean he also gets a huge vote of confidence. Some, however, are suggesting that this is not the first time ‘Busi’ has looked less than the greatest exponent of his art.
The tendency to give the ball away or to give a foul away has become a feature. He did it against Borussia Monchengladbach and Thorgan Hazard made him pay. Barça were lucky to come away with the points in a narrow 2-1 win. He was sloppy in the league defeat to Celta Vigo too.
One major factor in the loss of form is the company he now keeps. When he first played for Barcelona he had Andres Iniesta to his left and Xavi to his right. Dani Alves was always on for a pass and in the company of those three keeping possession was a lot easier than it is now. With Xavi and Alves long gone and Iniesta injured it’s more difficult to play himself out of trouble aided and abetted by Sergi Roberto – who on Tuesday was struggling to keep his own head above water – and Andre Gomes who has just arrived at the club.
Xavi (L) of Spain's Barcelona celebrates a goal against Brazil's Santos with his teammates Sergio Busquets (2nd L), and Andres IniestaReuters
Positioning and passing were always Busquets’ strengths. He was never about hunting down opposition midfielders and winning crunching tackles. Perhaps now that Barcelona lose possession more often he could do with some of that search and destroy aggressive mobility.
It’s also true that teams have got wise to stopping Barcelona playing by smothering Busquets as soon as he receives the ball. That makes it double jeopardy – he’s is challenged more than ever, and has fewer options than ever.
When Iniesta and Gerard Pique return from injury Busquets will benefit. He might also benefit from more game time. Luis Enrique has taken him off in six of his 14 starts this season and regularly rests him before big matches. It doesn’t seem to be helping. Maybe a player as mechanically clockwork as Busquets needs the consistency of playing every minute that Pep Guardiola always seemed to afford him.
He will have to play on Sunday because Barcelona go to Sevilla who have been the revelation team of the season so far. Gym fanatic, most tattooed coach in La Liga, and all-round breath of fresh air Jorge Sampoali has them playing fearless attacking football and the Champions League Group Stage doesn’t lie – they are unbeaten and yet to concede, just like Leicester who they would love to emulate by winning the domestic competition.
It will not make for an easy comedown for Barcelona and Busquets – as irreplaceable as he is suddenly, shakeable - will need to be at his best.
Pete Jenson - on Twitter: @petejenson