I have to admit I was one of those who felt miffed when Pep Guardiola preferred Sergio Busquets over Yaya Toure when all three were at Barcelona. It did not take me long to see the error of my thoughts.
Sergio Busquets is a special footballer. High noon on Saturday was the meeting between Real Madrid and Barcelona in the Spanish capital. At the end of the match Barcelona left clutching the 3 points so gleefully and easily plundered and with it a 14 point gap over their bitter rivals.
After Real had won the league and retained the UEFA Champions League many observers – looking in the mirror here – believed that a change of the baton was sorted with Los Blancos about to rule the roost over Spain for long.
The battering administered by Real in the Super Copa at the beginning of the season seemed to confirm this feeling of Barcelona in decline. What we have now seen is that the result – 5-1 aggregate to Real – had opposite effects on both clubs.
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For Barcelona, it cleared their vision that they had to go back to the basics and work hard otherwise they will be inhaling the fumes of the departing Real Madrid side. For Los Blancos, it seems that the manner dulled their drive, the players and the technical crew perhaps believed that they were at the top to stay.
Back to Busquets and the match on Saturday. On paper, Real had everyone fit and available and had just been crowned World Club champions – they paraded the trophy before kick-off even. Predictably they started the match on the front foot with Ronaldo, Luka Modric and Marcelo taking the match to Barcelona. The visitors stood firm and it was only a flash header by Karim Benzema that hit the foot of the post that threatened them really.
What is usually taken for granted when successful footballers are talked about is the mental strength it requires to keep playing at the very top. Barcelona have in Andres Iniesta, Gerald Pique and Busquets, three footballers who have won EVERY honour available for them yet they are still playing at this same level. In that first half when Real wanted to put the game to bed Pique stood firm at the back. Iniesta helped in keeping possession, prodding the team forward in tandem with Lionel Messi.
Busquets seemed to be struggling, although at some point late in the first half surrounded by 3 Madrid players, he scooped the ball up and over them into the path of Iniesta. The kind of nonchalant actions in a football match that he does regularly.
Into the second half and Busquets seemed to have had enough of the running around the hosts were doing so decided to take control. He did. Emphatically. The thing with Barcelona is that they have a system of playing that has been for years, so with Busquets and Andres Iniesta there they can still employ this system. It is ball possession.
I was on live tweetcast duties of the match on @acl_sports and I noted how Busquets had started to run the start of the 2nd half match. He is very good at recovering possession by taking up positions that allow a stretch of his telescopic legs to gather a pass; he is absolutely sensational at recycling possession. As Thierry Henry (once of Barcelona but more of Arsenal) remarked “the Barcelona players like Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets hate losing possession even in training..”
Not for him the passing range of Xabi Alonso or the playmaking style of Xavi but in his role right in front of the back four, Busquets has his own unique style. In the 54th minute Busquets picks the ball near the edge of his penalty area, Toni Kroos and Modric converge. Three touches of the ball, a turn and a pass later he had taken out 4 Real players allowing Ivan Rakatic a run into the heart of the Real defence. The first goal followed. The match effectively ended there and then.
A cursory look at highlights of the match online and I found only one that showed the work of the Barcelona no 5 in the lead up to that all important first goal. Not surprising as players like him are rarely seen in highlights show reels but his team mates and especially the opposition are well aware of his importance.
In this fixture last season, Messi ran amok and won the game for Barcelona but this season, by taking control of the midfield in the second half, Sergio Busquets subdued Real Madrid.