Football Features

“Maximum impact for minimal effort” – Spain suffocate Switzerland in the Nations League

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:36, 9 June 2022

Spain suffocated Switzerland with a 1-0 win in the Nations League thanks to a superb display from Sergio Busquets.

The Barcelona midfielder didn’t start the weekend’s draw against the Czech Republic but brought a sense of serenity to the display tonight, dominating midfield with all his usual panache and poise.

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Busquets strolled abouit the pitch at Stade de Geneve looking like he owned the place, picking off passing lines, beating men in individual duels and then spraying the ball around with customary accuracy.

He protected the Spain defence by helping the midfield dominate the game. He was ably assisted by the dynamic Marcos Llorente and teenager Gavi, who once again shone bright despite his tender years.

For his part, Llorente helped create the goal. A superb bit of counter-pressing from Ferran Torres sent Llorente away down the right, allowing him to cross for Pablo Sarabia to tap home. It was a nice goal, born of the intensity and drive and tempo Busquets had set.

Of course Spain couldn’t add to their lead, but that will remain an issue for Luis Enrique’s men until they can get Ansu Fati fit enough to feature regularly (or Ferran Torres and Marco Asensio step their games up). They will nearly always control games thanks to Busquets, but killing games off will remain an issue until they can find a proper goalscorer.

Busquets made 5 interceptions against Switzerland, which is the most Spain have seen in a single game under Luis Enrique and the joint-most in League A of this edition of the Nations League. He was so attuned to where the ball was going it was like he was living in the future.

He directed Spain to make over 700 passes, played 9 long balls himself while maintaining a 91% pass accuracy.

“The glorious thing about Sergio Busquets [is] his ability to have time on the ball no matter where he is, to not look like he ever gets into a position where he’s overextended,” said the commentator during the broadcast.

“He just seems to allow the game to revolve around him. That’s the real genius of the man. It’s maximum impact for what looks like minimal effort but he’s a glorious footballer to watch.”

“For the way we want to play, Busquets is fundamental,” said Barcelona manager Xavi back in April. And the same can be said for Spain as well. With Luis Enrique preaching control, Busquets has to be the man. Rodri is a fine understudy, as fine as you’re likely to find, but Busquets is still number one in the world in terms of passing pivots.

Add the superhuman Pedri to Busquets and Llorente, or Koke, allowing young Gavi to be a superbsub (or to play alongside Pedri and Busquets for maximum control) will give Spain such a potent level of control.

The same kind of control that helped them to the semi-final of Euro 2020 and the final of the 2021 Nations League. Can they go one better at the 2022 World Cup? They’ll need to score more, and keep showing the kind of defensive solidity they did today.

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To be fair, the entirely changed back four was also a great help for Busquets and Spain’s defensive solidity.

Against the Czechs, Unai Simon lined up behind Dani Carvajal, Eric Garcia, Inigo Martinez and Marcos Alonso. Quite predictably this unit was less than solid with both Carvajal and Garcia committing massive mistakes in judgement trying to play offside, letting the Czechs in to score twice and miss other chances besides that.

Tonight, however, Spain had Cesar Azpilicueta, Diego Llorente, Pau Torres and Jordi Alba. This XI is far more solid and capable of handling itself defensively, and with Azpilicueta has a genuine leader in it too and that showed.

Sure, Leeds United’s Diego Llorente is an obvious weak link, as we saw at the end when he panicked trying to clear a long pass. But in Llorente’s defence, that came just a minute after Unai Simon’s second walkabout.

That their goalkeeper’s erratic sweeping was the biggest threat to the Spanish goal says everything about how well they defended besides that. In an ideal world they would have a right-sided centre-back better than Llorente, but Spain don’t live in an ideal world.

Luckily for them, they do live in a world where Sergio Busquets exists.