There was a moment six minutes into Barcelona’s improbable goalless draw against Borussia Dortmund which stood out for its rarity.
Then, ten minutes later, that same oddity caught the eye once again, screaming ‘LOOK AT ME’ like an ageing ventriloquist queuing for the 112th series of Britain’s Got Talent.
But it wasn’t a flash of skill from Jadon Sancho, briefly transporting the Signal Iduna Park faithful, as well as Nelson Semedo, back to the cages of Camberwell. Neither was it an implausible show of tactical maturity from the 16-year-old Ansu Fati.
Nope, the collector’s item on show was Sergio Busquets being caught unaware. Not once, but twice.
Sergio Busquets, the man with two eyes in the back of his head, kneecaps and heels- in addition to wing mirrors either side of his temple- caught dithering in possession.
Of the 22 players who started the game only Fati lost possession more times than Busquets. While Fati could put his wastefulness down to the naivety of youth, what was Busquets’ excuse?
Busquets has never been a player that relied on pace or athleticism. If the first yard is in your head, Busquets’ brain routinely operated from the penalty spot.
The Spaniard is in his twelfth season at the heart of Barcelona’s iconic midfield trio and hasn’t dipped below 31 La Liga appearances since the 2010/11 campaign, in which he still clocked up 28 games.
In that sense Busquets has been Barcelona’s Peter Pan- seemingly never ageing, never injured, never anything but pivotal to his side’s relentless success.
But against Dortmund, as was the case against Osasuna last month, the game passed Busquets by. The tempo specialist for once found himself in a spin, unable to break free of Marco Reus, Thorgan Hazard and Reus’ fervent press.
Father Time appears to finally have caught up with the previously ageless pass master.
That Barcelona noticeably improved when Busquets was replaced by Ivan Rakitic was hard to ignore.
Rakitic’s arrival allowed Frenkie De Jong to migrate inside from the outskirts of Barcelona’s midfield three, where he found himself marginalised by Busquets’ presence, and become the beating heart, as he was at Ajax last season.
De Jong and Arthur clocked up 73 and 77 passes respectively, easily eclipsing Busquets’ tally of 35. Rakitic, who was only on the pitch for half an hour, ended the game with just six fewer passes than the man he’d replaced.
Ernesto Valverde now has a major, and potentially very uncomfortable, decision to make.
De Jong’s best position is undoubtedly the one Busquets is currently occupying. De Jong is also undoubtedly currently operating at a higher level than his 31-year-old team-mate.
Barcelona can probably get by with a midfield trio of Arthur, De Jong and Busquets. Indeed, the trio would be the envy of most clubs in Europe.
But, to really kick on and evolve, De Jong needs to be given the keys to Barcelona’s engine room on a permanent basis.
The ease with which De Jong clicked with Lionel Messi, both passing to and receiving the ball from the Argentine more than any other Barcelona player, may well speed the transition up.
It increasingly feels like we’re witnessing the beginning of the end for Busquets’ run as Barcelona’s chief ringmaster.
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