Is it time to acknowledge Sergio Busquets as the best midfielder in the world?

The Barça pivot remains criminally underrated despite being integral to their free-scoring season, says Lee Roden...

The persistent lack of recognition for Sergio Busquets’ talents must be one of football’s greatest unsolved mysteries.

Against Valencia on February 3, the Catalan produced an exhibition of offensive and defensive midfield play that was just as impressive as any showing from Barcelona’s forwards. It was one of countless performances from him in that vein this season.

On present form, Sergio Busquets is the best midfielder in the world

If the echo chamber of social media was taken as an indicator of truth, the conclusion would be that acknowledgment of the player’s quality isn’t in short supply. Yet Busquets is someone who is consistently ignored in the awards.

Denied a place in the FIFA/FIFPro World XI, he didn’t even make the last 23 of the Ballon d’Or shortlist for 2015. Both prizes involve voting from fellow professionals, proving there is still a significant group of players and coaches who think he is nothing special.  


Busquets' teammate Lionel Messi constantly dominates the award ceremonies

With the way he is playing this season, the pivot surely can’t be brushed off for much longer. The ultimate provider of balance for a team, he is also flourishing in a creative capacity, quietly becoming the heartbeat of Luis Enrique’s Barcelona side in 2015/16.

On present form, Sergio Busquets is the best midfielder in the world.

Exhibit A: The masterclasses

The no.5 was Gary Neville’s worst nightmare at the Camp Nou, seemingly incapable of making a mistake

The No.5 was Gary Neville’s worst nightmare at the Camp Nou in Barça's 7-0 rout, seemingly incapable of making a mistake. Covering an immense amount of ground, he effectively filled the entire triangle in Barcelona’s midfield on his own, correcting mistakes at the back one minute then forcing them from the away team the next.

RECOMMENDED Neville allowing Peter Lim to think Valencia lost 1-0 to Barcelona

In numbers alone his evening was astounding. Of 106 passes attempted, 97 were completed, while he also won possession back 27 times – around 25% of the occasions that Barça recovered the ball. That ensured Valencia were under constant pressure, and even the solitary foul he made was the correct decision, a tactical effort that broke up a rare away move.

Busquets Valencia

Busquets was instrumental in Barca's midweek 7-0 hammering of Valencia

Always positioned in the right place and arriving at the right time, he kept Barcelona playing in the opposition half for most of the game, combining defensive solidity with ruthlessly effective use of possession.

Particularly noteworthy were what Catalans refer to as passades de merit: the most difficult kind of passes that break opposition lines and arrive at the feet of team-mates. Busquets completed five against Valencia, more than any other player on the pitch.

Two stood out in particular. The first was in the build-up to Barcelona’s second goal; Busquets picked up the ball in the midfield then floated it perfectly over the opposition backline into the path of Aleix Vidal so that the right-back could take it in his stride and cut a pass back into Luis Suarez’s path.

The second came just before the break, when the midfielder split Valencia open with a raking ball from inside his own half that allowed Lionel Messi to force a one-on-one with Shkodran Mustafi. A penalty and red card were the end products.

There was a time when Busquets was relatively conservative, focusing on keeping things simple then allowing other players to do the creative work. That time has long passed. These days, he regularly produces passes that would make Xavi proud, his consistency in a creative capacity allowing Barça to move on from the club legend’s exit. 

Exhibit B: The counterplots

While he attempted to pack bodies at the back to keep Barcelona’s forwards quiet, one of Neville’s biggest errors was failing to specifically target their deepest midfielder, and the end product of letting him play freely was clear for all to see.

More experienced coaches have figured out that a specific game-plan is necessary to deal with Busquets

Other, more experienced coaches have figured out that a specific gameplan is necessary to deal with Busquets, and the better performances against Barça this season have tended to come in those circumstances.

When Deportivo took a 2-2 draw from the Camp Nou on December 12, a huge part of their success was thanks to Victor Sanchez’s anti-Busquets plan. The Depor coach instructed his three forwards to stay up the pitch throughout the game; Jonathan Rodriguez and Lucas Perez applied individual pressure to Barcelona’s centre-backs, and Fayçal Fajr stuck with their midfield pivot.

As a consequence, there were rarely clear passing lines either to or from Busquets when starting play, and his influence was reduced significantly in comparison to other games.

Barcelona influence

Barca's player influence vs Deportivo (left) and Real Sociedad (right)

Silencing the Sabadell native is easier said than done, however, as he is an excellent reader of the game. When Atletico Madrid visited the Camp Nou on January 30, Diego Simeone had clearly instructed Antoine Griezmann to drop off the forward line and pressure Barcelona’s holding midfielder whenever possible.

It worked for about 25 minutes, until Busquets figured out that a combination of sharpening his touch and dropping deeper between Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano would buy him the breathing space he needed. When that happened, his passing became much more fluid, and the home team’s play improved considerably.

Busquets' passing

Busquets' passing vs Atletico

A priceless commodity

The biggest measure of Busquets’ true quality is how irreplaceable he is for his team

The biggest measure of Busquets’ true quality is how irreplaceable he is for his team. Exhaustion is a potential problem for the playmaker just as it is for any other footballer, and in January that briefly threatened to take hold, with his performances dipping slightly and Barça’s dropping with it.

The problem for Luis Enrique is that he is almost impossible to rest. When Mascherano is used in his position, Barcelona look like a completely different side, and not in a good way. Keep in mind that the Argentine has been a World Cup and Copa America finalist while playing in midfield – and his clear inferiority says something about the quality of his team-mate.


Mascherano has struggled to perform as an adequate stand-in for Busquets

If Barcelona want to keep winning trophies, they need to keep Busquets in optimal condition. They also need to keep him happy. In contrast to the ignorance of some of the voters for football’s awards, PSG are more than aware of his unique quality and willing to throw endless amounts of money at the Catalan.

Manchester City’s next manager happens to know a thing or two about him too. If Barça are wise they will hurry up with a contract renewal that has been promised to the player, but yet to be put on the table. Signing a replacement for him wouldn’t be costly – it would be impossible.


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Nope, Iniesta is still the best. He's the standout performer in all the big games. Just recently, he's been MOTM in the Champions League final and the Clásico back in autumn.

First rate analysis coming up with the correct answer. The lack of acknowledgement of Busquets is almost a throwback to the days of when Xavi and Iniesta were at their imperious best and Busquets was only the "water fetcher". He's always been a key to Barcelona at their best. Neutralise him and you're on the road to containing the Blaugrana. How he didn't get into the FifPro Team of 2015 is a mystery .. but there were a few of them around the team Sergio Ramos anyone?

Anyone who watched Argentina in the last world cup will agree that Javier Mascherano is one of the best defensive midfielers in the world. Actually in my opinion, the Little Boss, and not Messi, made the difference on the pitch that brought Argentina to the finals. He destroyed opponents attacks and created the plays game after game with stunning regularity that allowed his team to go straight to the final. Superb championship for Mascherano, for me, he was the Argentina's MVP. His 14th position in the 2015 Ballon d'Or voting polls reflects that.

Busquets wasn't anywere in that list. If an alien landed in the Earth right now with a bazillion Euros to bring the best players in the world to compete in his home planet, he would pick Mascherano as his pivoting midfieler before many of the best in the world, certainly he would'n bother trying to pick Busquets. "¿Not even one vote in the Ballon D'Or? Meh, give me this argentinian bald little guy" he would say in his native galactical language where bald and bold doesn't sounds alike and drives to confussion.

Then you watch FC Barcelona playing and you notice something. Take for example the last game in Camp Nou against Athletic de Bilbao in Copa which I was lucky enough to witness from the stands. Busquets was on the bench and Mascherano playing in the midfield. ¿Not a big deal, right? You have one of the best midfielers in the pitch, and Piqué, Neymar, Messi, Suarez... Barça should totally dominate the game.

But Barça totally fu**ed up the first half: 0-1 against in the first 15 minutes, unable to bring the ball from the defense to the forwards, horrific drives by Piqué and Vermaelen. A dangerous 1-1 in the half time. Then Busquets jumps to the pitch. Camp Nou goes crazy (Barça supporters are fully aware of the quality and big role of Busquets in his team's game), Vermaelen takes his way to the bench and Mascherano to the central defender position which he plays most of his games when Busquets is on. That second half was totally insane, Barcelona finally found its way to move the ball from the defense to the forwards, and that way was BUSQUETS. 3-1 was the final score, but it could been more goals from the Barcelona side. Busquets dominated the field. Without him in the pitch, Neymar, Messi and Suarez simply didn't showed up. Without him in the pitch, Piqué, Alves, Vermaelen and Matthieu didn't found its way to move the ball beyond the first line of Bilbao's pressure.

That's the importance and huge difference between Busquets and Mascherano. And in the end, Busquets received 0 votes in the Ballon d'Or while Mascherano finished on 14th position. Oh my god, you should force Ballon d'Or voters to watch some FC Barcelona tapes before they send their vote and make their ignorance be of public knowledge. I don't know if Busquets should be on the top 3 Ballon d'Or nominees, but at least he should be ahead of Mascherano, Touré or even Pogba next year or I would start thinking that most voters just vote according to FIFA's videogame stats.

Iniesta is showing amazing skills year after year, and his performances in the last year are superb for a 32 years old offensive midfieler. He looks like the late Zinedine Zidane, he's one of the best in his position EVER. But if you watched enough Barcelona games you'll notice that Barça can win and play good football without Iniesta on the pitch, but I don't remember many good games by Barcelona without Busquets on the field.

Many give most of the credit to Guardiola in the making of the current Barcelona dinasty, but Guardiola is long time gone and the dinasty goes on. You can give this credit to Xavi, but he was before Guardiola and wasn't playing much in the last treble. You can also talk about Iniesta or Messi, but they were there before the current almighty Barcelona. The only player that arrived the first year of Guardiola and still on the team is Sergio Busquets. For me, he's the hidden true symbol of the current Barcelona's dinasty.

I must say that, of course, Messi is maybe the best player of history and even with 10 Busquets on the field Barcelona wouldn't be half of the team they are now without the Argentinian, but I would totally bet my savings in the fact that when Busquets leaves Barcelona (either by retirement, either by transfer) it would cripple the team and titles will be much much harder to win, like in the pre-Guardiola era, when Ligas and Champions League didn't come to Barcelona as peanuts.

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