Sergio Busquets and Casemiro go head to head on Sunday in the first El Clasico of the season as they entertain a global audience of more than a billion in one of the biggest fixtures in sport. We build up to this key battle ahead of what promises to be a thrilling game.
Creation and destruction
Both Busquets and Casemiro are defensive midfielders – but their roles couldn’t be more different.
The Spain international has his defensive duties split across the entire midfield three, with Ivan Rakitic and Arthur tracking back and attempting to dispossess the opponent the instant Barcelona lose the ball. Ernesto Valverde has milked every drop of sweat out of Rakitic, which has subsequently allowed Busquets to play higher up the pitch and attempt risky passes.
The 30-year-old enjoys more freedom than his Brazilian counterpart at the other end and makes great use of the same.
On the other hand, Casemiro is burdened with extra defensive duties by Real Madrid, which allows the likes of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos be more experimental with their passes. The Brazilian provides good cover as he lashes onto dead-balls and attempts to win 50-50s. Casemiro identifies himself in more of a Makelele role and is very crucial when the opponents are in position.
The 26-year-old does circulate possession and contribute to the build-up as he shuttles between wings, but his cardinal duty is to prevent the opposition from breaching Madrid’s defensive third.
Apples cannot be compared with oranges but a look at the numbers paints a clearer picture portraying the distinct roles of the two players.
The Brazilian has 2.7 tackles every game in La Liga so far this season and 1.2 interceptions to go along with it. Busquets falls behind here with just 2.3 tackles and 0.7 interceptions per game. Casemiro fouls the opponent more often than the Spaniard, with most of those coming off as tactical fouls. Busquets’ 0.7 fouls per game portrays him as a saint next to the Brazilian’s numbers of 1.2 fouls per game.
Busquets enjoys more key passes per game and more passes with a slightly higher accuracy. The 30-year-old passes the ball about 76 times every game, 15 times more than Casemiro. Both enjoy an accuracy of about 89 per cent, with the Spain midfielder slightly ahead in a photo-finish. The fact that Busquets maintains these numbers despite playing riskier passes places him on the pedestal in this aspect.
What to expect?
It’s unlikely that there will be any changes to their roles in the Clasico. Casemiro will be looking to prevent any breaks from the other end and act as a screen between the neutral zone and Madrid’s defensive third. Philippe Coutinho might find himself man-marked by his international team-mate as he picks up the mantle as Barcelona’s talisman in Lionel Messi’s absence.
Casemiro’s sense of positioning will be tested by Luis Suarez, who likes to play between the lines. Lapses in concentration can open up space in midfield and gifting this to a team like Barcelona will cost Madrid dearly. Hence, Casemiro will play a crucial part in maintaining the defensive shape and transitioning into attack while providing cover to Modric and Kroos.
Busquets will put his highly admired press-resistance to the test against the likes of Kroos and Modric. Should Valverde employ a pragmatic approach like he has done in big games such as the infamous 3-0 defeat against Roma, it wouldn’t be surprising if Los Blancos enjoys more of the ball initially until the Catalans turn it up in the second half.
Busquets’ ability to occupy the likes of Benzema and Isco and switch gears instantly will be key to Barcelona’s fortunes in the Clasico. The 30-year-old’s knack of transitioning from defence to attack unexpectedly can blend in well with Valverde’s cautious approach, as demonstrated in the Clasico at Bernabeu last season which the Catalans won 3-0.
He defeated Real’s high press with a few twists and turns, before playing the killer ball to Rakitic that led to Suarez’s opener. Another moment like that could put an under-fire Julen Lopetegui out of his misery on Sunday.
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