Stop us if you have heard this somewhere before: Busquets is a La Masia graduate who plays for a Catalan club called Barcelona. He is a prospect of the famed academy in a defensive midfield or a “pivot” role but can also slot as deep as a centre-back due to his versatile skill-set as well as height. Busquets is mostly known for his excellent close control, calmness on and off the ball, tactical awareness of his surroundings and ability to break down opposition’s play as well as orchestrate his own’s.
Clearly, if you told someone of such a player, they would instantly think of Sergio Busquets, arguably the best pivot in world football. Well, you, and they would be close but not really there because we are talking about Busquets, just not Sergio but Oriol.
Funnily enough, they do not share a blood bond, but everything else looks to be an exact copy. Even their fathers occupied the same positions. Sergio is the son of Carlos Busquets, the goalkeeper, and Oriol is the son of Jordi Busquets, also a goalkeeper in his own time. An amusing coincidence, so to speak, but not much more than that.
But it seems that the surname of Busquets does hold some Barcelona pedigree since both Sergio and Oriol have similar attributes, and while one already has a legacy of his own, the other is destined to make his in the not-so-distant future.
This tactical analysis will use statistics and insight to determine what makes Oriol Busquets the perfect heir to his namesake, Sergio, and whether the latter’s replacement is already at the club, regardless of Barcelona’s urgency to find one in someone else’s “backyard”.
We already mentioned some of Oriol’s key aspects but let’s delve into that a bit deeper before we actually start dissecting his play. At the age of just 19, he is yet to fully transform into a complete persona on the field. And yet, as early into his footballing career as he might be, he is often described as the “mature one” on the field.
Whether you need him in defense or attack, you can count on his work rate to be absolutely astonishing. Although he is 6’1” (185 cm), Oriol is neither particularly strong nor physical but is also not afraid to commit to a duel. This does, however, help him in aerial battles but limits him when it comes to speed and agility.
Still, on the ball, he is as safe and reliable as you would expect from a Busquets. Vision, anticipation, close control, passing capabilities and overall technicality cannot be questioned and are of highest quality but also, it needs to be pointed out, still in development.
On the field, in a dominant 65% of the time, he will occupy that pivot position but can also be deployed as a more aggressive right midfielder (9%) or even as a center-back, among other, not so prominent roles, and in those, he was used 26% of the time.
The Little Octopus
Sergio Busquets got his nickname, “The Octopus of Badia” because it always seems like he has a solution for every problem presented to him. It was so much so that you could say he has eight legs because that is the only way how he is able to do what he does. Oriol is not really there yet but how could he be, at 19 years old and with only crumbs of first-team football to his name.
Still, ever since he made his Barcelona B debut in the 2016/2017 season, Oriol has been gathering pace and hype to his name. As a Catalan born and raised, albeit in Girona, he had La Masian DNA even before entering the pitch. It did not take long for others to notice that, as well.
One of his most important traits is his ability to orchestrate games, just like Sergio. In a usual setup, Barcelona B, as well as their senior team, will build all the way from the back, starting with the goalkeeper. Although this was not fully utilized in the Copa game against Cultural Leonesa, the emphasis was, for the most part, always there.
Notice how even though the away team did press high up the pitch, Oriol drops in-between the two center-backs, giving Cillessen an extra option to pass to. The Dutchman opts for Chumi instead but the effect was still there.
When he does receive the ball in that area, Oriol tends to carry it forward, from defense to midfield and then from midfield to the final third.
Here, he is almost the last line of defense when Barcelona are attacking. He gets the ball in his area, makes a slight turn to re-adjust and then sends a pinpoint ball into the feet of his forward, breaking two opponent’s lines in a single move.
And this is no coincidence, either. On average, Oriol sends 9.14 passes into the final third with an astonishing accuracy of 86.9%. Usually, his overall passing accuracy is just under 90% with an average of 89.8%. The numbers really do not lie and for a La Masia student, especially the one who’s dubbed to be the next Sergio, this comes as second nature.
Recycling possession and retaining it is just a part of the job. His work in tight areas is commendable as well. He has this skill to get out of a high press and distribute the ball further to his teammates with ease.
We don’t have to look further than his last game with the senior team in Copa del Rey. As soon as he gets the ball, Oriol is immediately pressed and surrounded by two Leonesa players. He takes a second to turn, shrugging off the attacker, and once he is free, he sends the ball to the free man on the wings.
Here, again, he receives the ball in a tight area but proceeds to opt for a far more riskier pass through two of his markers and succeeds. As Busquets-esque as it gets, one might say.
Even when he is put to the test in a 1v1 situation, he comes out on top in 76.9% of the time with 1.6 successful dribbles per game. While that may not be a lot when compared to some other, more prominent, dribblers in the game, for such a young defensive midfielder to perform more than one every single game is still impressive.
Here, he does not hesitate to pull the trigger, get past his marker and recycle possession and orchestrate the attack. The key is to always have options to pass to, and by removing one of the opposition’s pieces off the board, he does just that.
When you are playing as a pivot, your role has to be somewhat versatile. Oriol is often tasked to orchestrate attacks, constantly providing the forwards with passes and fueling the attack. His creativity and technicality are part of what makes him so good at that but he is also “built” for the other, “dirtier” part of the job.
We know that Sergio is often the one getting booked by the referee but more often than not, those kind of challenges are tactical more so than accidental. Sergio and Oriol act as safety triggers or last resorts. Not the most grateful of jobs, granted, but one they also excel at.
His height allows him to win over 50% of aerial duels (54.5 %), which is something Barcelona are always struggling at, being a club that prefers technicality over physicality. But Oriol offers both.
In many situations, you will see him shield the ball with his body, and use it to make a simple yet effective turn (as already seen above) to move away from his marker. This is something we often see Sergio do, as well.
Other times, he will just be there to break off the opposition’s attack. In the image below, Oriol loses the ball due to a bad pass but then fights for it and gets it back immediately with an excellently timed tackle.
Here, against Cordoba, Barcelona B lose the ball and the opponent has an ideal chance to break on the counter quickly. Oriol presses the man in possession as soon as the ball starts making progress up the pitch.
He might have not made a successful attempt at regaining possession but it slows the attackers down just enough to let Barca get back into their defensive shape.
Tactical And Spatial Awareness
One of the key ingredients of every La Masia graduate is the ability to see moves ahead of time, even before they happen. You can usually see this if you keep track of their head movement. Even though it may sound funny, it can actually tell you a lot about the player.
The players that always have their heads up are scanning the environment, looking for possible solutions even before they are needed. Thinking about the next move before the opponent makes his.
Similarly, Oriol tracks the movement of the opponent who’s on the ball and intercepts them to regain possession. Notice, however, how he won’t kick the ball out of play but his task is to retain the ball and continue the attack straight after.
The transition between defense and offense is done in a single move, and it works beautifully.
One step to the left or to the right can mean a world of a difference in those situations. Whether it is to intercept or to make himself available to pass to, Oriol is not afraid to receive the ball in almost any situation and will make himself present whenever just to get the ball.
On average, he receives 43.75 balls but plays 61.28 as the true cog of the squad. Just this last game, he made a remarkable achievement. 90% of his interventions during the match (passes, recoveries and including a lost ball) were done in one or two touches. In the first half, that was as high as 96% but dropped in the second half just a bit.
Still, long balls are something he’s struggling with. He only makes 2.69 long passes per 90 minutes on average with only 61.7% accuracy.
The same can be said about his through balls (0.41 per 90 on average) and crosses (0.15) but he doesn’t get into many situations to send many, either.
As a youngster, Oriol is as good as they get but there are a couple of things he does lack. Still, being a pivot, some of those remarks can and will be overlooked in the future. His goal threat, for example, is not really present in his skill set.
He doesn’t score many goals nor does he assist. He scored just one goal for Barcelona B team so far, hence his basically non-existent xG and xA of 0.03 and 0.01 respectively.
Oriol is the build-up machine and not the final product guy, that much is obvious so far. Still, when he does get a chance, he can score a screamer or two, just like he did in Barcelona B’s latest draw against Valencia (2:2), where he buried a beautiful free kick into the back of the net.
One shot on target, one goal, and it was more than enough for him.
It is maybe too early to be talking about “Sergio 2.0” but Oriol is currently the next best thing if we are looking solely at the La Masia graduates. Sure, Barcelona have Rakitić who can cover for Busi more than well but those two mostly play alongside each other, and besides, they are both over 30 years old.
While it may not be alarming just yet, Barcelona will have to start thinking about rejuvenating the squad, and why not start trusting La Masia once more?
Oriol Busquets has already made his senior team debut, and in most games he played, he produced a wonderful performance. He might not be ready to make a permanent step-up already but he is well on his way.
Oriol Busquets might just be the next big Busquets Barcelona need, and the future does look bright.
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