Jorginho and Busquets: The subtle art of the midfield barons at EURO 2020

Euro 2020: In Tuesday's Euro 2020 semifinal between Spain and Italy, control in the middle of the park will be key in forcing one team’s will on the other, and Jorginho and Sergio Busquets will look to quietly have their say.

Jorginho and Busquets

The perception around the profile of footballers sometimes exists that a footballer must excel in any system, condition or league. It must be normalised that a player with a particular profile may not necessarily fit into every system.

Case in point - Donny van de Beek, a selfless midfielder, who blossomed in Ajax Amsterdam’s total football philosophy, struggled to establish himself at Manchester United; partly due to lack of regular minutes and partly due to United not having a ‘Van de Beek role’ in a largely functional starting XI. Or take Declan Rice, who is successful in a low block or a counter-attacking set-up, but may not find the same success in a possession-oriented football team.

Two deep-lying midfielders, Jorginho and Sergio Busquets, who fall under the same bracket will take the stage at Wembley on Tuesday evening in the first Euro 2020 semifinal showdown between Italy and Spain.

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‘Fraud and exposed’ are the two words often associated with them at the instance they misplace a backpass or get outrun by an attacker or get physically overpowered by an opposition midfielder, who happens to be... physically overpowering. But in the Euros, where the teams which laid big emphasis on setting up around their star names to shine have made an early exit, the duo have thrived or ‘frauded’ in more fluid, pro-active systems, which revolve around the collective work. And they always have done so without much attention drawn to them.

Playing as the deepest midfielder, their defensive numbers and actions may not rank as high as a tough-tackling, lung-busting midfielder. Their attacking output will not rank among the best central midfielders in the world. They might not be pinging 50-yard diagonals while running from one end to another to dictate play. It might even seem like they are just trundling along the pitch but sometimes that might just be enough. But both Jorginho and Busquets facilitate their respective sides with the required balance in both defence and attack to flourish.

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The Brazil-born Jorginho first came into prominence as a 24-year-old with Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli, where he was integral to the team’s progressive, attacking football. In 2018, Pep Guardiola wanted to bring him to Manchester City but was priced out by Chelsea when it brought Sarri to Stamford Bridge. Sarri couldn’t quite replicate the Sarriball with a new team in his first year and Jorginho was quickly labelled ‘the fraud’, who found the going tough in the Premier League. Frank Lampard still wanted him but struggled to find the balance between attack and defence.

Barring a suspension which kept him out of the second leg against Atletico Madrid, Jorginho played full 90 minutes in Chelsea’s Champions League knockout matches. - REUTERS   -  Pool via Reuters

 

Thomas Tuchel walked in and played in a fluid, counter-attacking system that has brought the best out of a talented squad, which went on to win the Champions League. In Lampard’s second season, Jorginho started just eight out of the 19 league matches, while he started in 17 out of the 19 remaining league games under Tuchel. Barring a suspension which ruled him out of the Atletico Madrid second leg tie, the 29-year-old played every single minute of Chelsea’s Champions League knockout matches.

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With Italy, Jorginho has been a near-permanent fixture under Roberto Mancini with 28 of his 33 appearances for the Azzurri coming after Mancini took charge in 2018. Under Mancini, the national team has scored 90 goals in 37 matches, went on a run of a record 11 matches without conceding a goal and is unbeaten in 32 matches.

In all these spells, Jorginho works in the shadows to allow the more creative and expressive players to flourish. It’s easier to think of Lorenzo Insigne, Gonzalo Higuain, Marco Verratti or an N’Golo Kante ahead of a Jorginho.

Spain’s Cesar Azpilicueta, Jorginho’s captain at Chelsea, touched on the comparisons between his semifinal opponent and teammate Busquets. “They’re two great players who move well in short spaces: intelligent, tactically sharp, they judge space well and always choose the right pass for the team. Jorginho is a great footballer, very important for the way Italy play. The less he intervenes the more chance we have of controlling the game. Hopefully, we can control Tuesday: Sergio’s very important for us in that,” he said.

The 32-year-old Busquets has achieved veteran status at being an invisible conductor in the middle of the park for Barcelona and Spain for over a decade. To be fair to him though, when you have played alongside Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andreas Iniesta, it’s easy to get lost in the background and have his work ignored.

Sergio Busquets was a regular fixture and a key player in Spain's 2010 World Cup and 2012 Euros success. PHOTO: AP   -  AP

 

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His job was to keep things simple. Help win the ball back, recirculate possession swiftly and manipulate space for the more creative players to flourish. Between 2010 and 2015, the last season the trio of Xavi-Iniesta-Busquets played together, Busquets averaged 91.65 passes, 2.6 tackles and 2.23 interceptions per game. His success is often used as a stick to beat him with too. Would he be able to adjust to the demands of a more physical domestic league? Probably not. Can our planet quite hack it in another solar system? Again, probably not.

Busquets remains the only remaining player in this squad who had won the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 Euros title, but he is not just there to help transition Luis Enrique’s youthful squad heading into Qatar 2022. As Azpilicueta pointed out, Busquets is key to this Spanish side on the pitch.

For both Spain and Italy to execute its possession-oriented football, the players must work aggressively off the ball to turnover possession. According to Fbref statistics, out of the 44 central midfielders in the tournament with more than 50 pressures affected, Busquets has a success of 36.4 per cent (ranked 6th) and Jorginho 32.1 per cent (9th). Jorginho ranks fifth in interceptions with 11, while Busquets has five from three matches.

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On the ball, Spain dominates the possession charts with 67.2 per cent with Italy ranked third with 55.8 per cent. While the duo do their bit in retaining possession, they also help with progressing the play higher up the pitch. Out of the 33 central midfielders to attempt 150 passes, Busquets has 28 passes (ranked 8th) into the final third and Jorginho has 45 passes (4th).

On Tuesday, control in the middle of the park will be key in forcing one team’s will on the other, and Jorginho and Busquets will look to quietly have their say.

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