Analyzing Sergio Busquets' masterclass against Chelsea
Guided by Antonio Conte's masterful tactical setup, Chelsea outperformed Barcelona as a collective unit. However, they still ended the night with a 1-1 draw having conceded a crucial away goal that could have huge implications on the outcome of the tie.
Many would point out that if it weren't for Andreas Christensen's individual error, the Blues would have won the game. This is why Barca's high tempo, possession-based style is so effective.
Even when they do not directly harm the opposition team by creating attacking chances, they create an indirect impact by stretching the opponent's physical and mental capacities to the limit.
This is where the damage was done as Christensen, in a moment of lethargy, dreadfully misplaced the pass that led to Barcelona's goal. It is not easy to have 73% possession of the ball at the home of the reigning champions of England.
However, the man who deserves the most credit for executing this complex task with effortless precision is none other than Sergio Busquets.
Unsurprisingly for Cules, the defensive midfielder was at the heart of almost all of the Catalans' most constructive moments during the game. His near-perfect performance in the centre of midfield ensured that the Blaugrana pinned the Stamford Bridge side in their own half for long spells and stopped any attempts at launching counterattacks.
Certain highlights in the game that help capture Busquets' key contributions have been identified.
Min 2:58: Cesar Azpilicueta won his first 1v1 against Lionel Messi and a speedy counterattack was launched. Willian was running at full pace with the ball at his feet down the right wing and Busquets intervened to make an excellent tackle to stop Willian from cutting in.
Following this, he calmly combined with Samuel Umtiti and Andres Iniesta to play the ball out from the Barca half and brought stability to the state of play.
Min 46:32: Chelsea played the ball out from the back and Willian was in possession on the right wing. With no passing option available, he cut in towards the centre of the pitch and was dispossessed by an inch-perfect tackle from Barcelona's number 5.
Min 54:09: Jordi Alba, who was in possession of the ball on the left wing, played the ball squarely to Busquets who was in the centre of the pitch. Willian came racing off the block and tried to pressurize him from behind.
With great vision, the midfield wizard anticipated the press and calmly played a one-touch pass back to Ivan Rakitic with the outside of his right foot.
Moments like these set him apart from other central midfielders as he is so aware of his surroundings that he would never lose the ball even in the most precarious of situations.
Another aspect of his game which is not appreciated enough is his ability to break counterattacks before they could even materialize into a threat.
Min 63:59: Iniesta made a darting run forward close to the Chelsea penalty area. Azpilicueta dispossessed his countryman brilliantly and looked for a release pass for the counterattack.
However, Busquets perfectly positioned himself and blocked the pass; hence, completely nipping the counterattack in the bud.
Min 86:15: Messi was dispossessed close to the Chelsea area and the ball was collected by Eden Hazard. The Belgian went past Rakitic with a lovely bit of skill and as he found some space to run into, he ended up running into Busquets instead. The experienced midfielder, once again with a perfectly timed tackle, helped to launch a counterattack in the Chelsea half.
By the end of the 90 minutes, the midfield maestro had an astonishing 151 touches, 128 out of 139 passes completed and 6 successful tackles made (the most by any player in the field).
Despite all of this, the Catalan had an imperfect game as he failed to close down Willian in time on two separate occasions which eventually led to two shots on goal with one of them finding the back of the net.
However, to criticize him solely for the goal would be too harsh yet befitting of the high standards that he has set for himself.
The brilliance of Busquets' game was that he releases the ball in as few touches as possible. This enabled Barca to circulate the ball swiftly in different areas of the field and hence pushed Chelsea further into their own half.
His defensive positioning meant that he was ever present to stop counterattacks in the opposition half itself and thereby protected the team's defenders.
This further helped the Blaugrana to obtain territorial domination and with their backs against the wall for most of the game, the Blues were eventually caught out by a single individual error.
This will go down as one of the better performances of the highly decorated midfielder's illustrious career. Surely, his individual highlights from this game will be played for years in La Masia as a reference point for young kids on how to play the Barcelona way.