A quite two-faced 90 minutes in Camp Nou saw Barcelona claim a comfortable 3-0 win over Jorge Sampaoli’s Sevilla. However, the smooth victory demanded a great sacrifice: just a few minutes into the game, Sergio Busquets left the pitch injured, with Franck Kessié replacing the captain. At the end of the day, it proved to be a great change.
Furthermore, it wasn’t just a simple, post-to-post change, but Xavi’s tweak in the midfield bore fruit. Sergio Busquets’s character is a rarely unique profile, not only among Barca’s ranks but in the whole world of football. Thus, when the veteran star had to leave the pitch in the opening minutes of the game, everyone was concerned about the continuity of the heartbeat of Barcelona.
Though, Xavi handled this problem excellently, tweaking the midfield setup to fill in the void left by Busquets. Instead of putting Kessié in Busquets’s position to partner de Jong in the double pivot, swapped the positions of the Ivorian and Pedri, pulling the Spanish starlet back as the second pivot, while Kessié was pushed higher, into a more advanced interior role.
Since joining in the summer, Franck Kessié has been underwhelming in the Blaugrana colors, and he was already linked with a possible move away from Camp Nou in January. His profile seemingly didn’t fit the system, especially not in the single pivot position – indeed, he didn’t have much time to prove himself.
However, this was one of his better games, and it can be assigned to the change in the system, where he played in a more advanced position, with a greater impact on the play. Also, the time has helped him to understand the system and surroundings better, and he was visibly more familiar with his role. His final pass was on point as well, creating 2 chances, worth 0.42 xA and providing a lovely assist to Alba’s opener.
Busquets’ proper replacement was, however, Frenkie de Jong. The Dutch maestro filled in the veteran Spaniard’s place brilliantly, showing positional maturity he lacked so much previously playing as the ‘6’. Moreover, his long balls were excellent, for example, he pre-assisted Raphinha’s goal with such a launch to Alba.
Despite not playing in his usual position, Pedri González produced another great performance as Frenkie’s partner in the double pivot. Secure in possession as always, he excelled at playing the ball upwards, and even though playing from a significantly deeper position, he created the most chances (6) in the game, worth an xA of 0.36.
All in all, this game was a testament to Xavi’s quick thinking and adaptiveness, while the players also reacted well to an unfortunate change. With this performance, especially bearing in mind Busquets’s absence in the coming weeks, Kessié might have secured his place in the starting XI as this setup can be the one facing Manchester United in the crucial Europa League tie next week.