On Tuesday, when Barcelona travel to Turin, memories of the 2015 Champions League final will be at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
On that occasion, Sergio Busquets was unplayable alongside Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta. Due to a yellow card against PSG, Busquets will be suspended for the first-leg of this tie, but should make a real impact in the return meeting at Camp Nou.
In La Liga, Real Madrid are currently two points clear with a game in hand over Barcelona. As such, few could blame Barcelona for turning their full attention to reclaiming Europe’s greatest prize from their El Clasico rivals.
Respect the history
Two years ago, Claudio Marchisio and Andrea Pirlo attempted to mark Sergio Busquets in a climactic and enthralling finale.
With the latter playing in a Champions League final at 35, the effects of a long, hard career finally showed. It was a dominant performance from the Catalan club, with a 3-1 win giving Barcelona their fifth European Cup, utterly confounding some the so-called Champions League betting experts.
A younger, and equally talented, Busquets won a majority of tackles and duels against Pirlo that night, prompting Juventus to plan a long-term restructure of the midfield.
Top tackler in Turin?
Today Juventus generally deploy a 4-2-3-1 formation, with the emphasis firmly on counter attack. In central midfield, Juventus’ Paulo Dybala creates around four times as many chances as Busquets on a per-match basis. For tackling, Sami Khedira, Juventus’ other ‘midfield general’, is arguably a better man to compare Busquets against.
Khedira has a reputation for no-nonsense tackling and skilful distribution. However, Sergio Busquets wins almost twice as many tackles as his Juventus counterpart Khedira. This will be a major asset as Barcelona combat Juventus’ direct style.
They shall not pass…
Barcelona’s two midfield generals, Rakitic and Busquets, complete an average of 47 successful passes per game between them. This compares favourably to the average mustered by Dybala and Khedira, with only 34 passes per game between them.
Many will be surprised to learn that Barcelona’s midfield MVP just about wins out over Dybala when it comes to pass length. This thoroughly dispels the myth that Barcelona’s success is entirely reliant on the short passes associated with Tiki-Taka football. Combined with his superior pass completion average, this bodes well for Barcelona.
With chances at a premium, it could easily be this attribute which settles matters in the second-leg when Busquets returns.
Barcelona have what it takes to prevail. But they should not get complacent, lest they face a similar humiliation to these luckless English sides.