Here’s how Frenkie De Jong silenced his critics and secured his spot in Xavi’s Dream Team.
Table of contents
A Sour Start To The Fairytale
The Dutch international arrived at Camp Nou as a superstar signing in 2019 from Ajax. With his arrival to the club, many cules believed he was destined to replace Sergio Busquets in that famous pivot role at FC Barcelona. Every Barca fan wanted him to be the successor of “El Pulpo”. But, is it still the case with Frenkie De Jong?
Credit: Getty Images & thesportsrush.com
Frenkie had a rough start to his Barcelona career. Throughout his years he was forced to play with 3 different managers (before Xavi) where he had different roles and different responsibilities under each one in his short period as a player. Because of that, it was complex to adapt and play matching the great expectations of the fans.
Last summer, he was even placed on the transfer market, with Manchester United having a rumored €85mn bid on him which got accepted by the Catalans. He was made a scapegoat because of his high wages and obtained constant criticism, yet he was determined to stay and succeed at his dream club under Xavi.
From the recent games we have seen, the number 21 has become a big part of the victories and plays a key role in the ‘dream team’ Xavi is creating. Has Frenkie De Jong turned his Barcelona career around?
A Change in The Destiny
With more games that progress, it’s starting to be evident that De Jong is not the ideal person to succeed Busquets in the pivot role. He undeniably has the potential to be his replacement but at a single pivot, he will be more restricted. He doesn’t look confident when he needs to defend alone while maintaining his position at a single pivot. Frenkie looks much more comfortable playing in a double pivot where he has the license to move forward, provide line-breaking killer passes and get into the box to meet crosses.
We can name his role as “The Controller”. The difference between these two roles (i.e. pivot and the controller ) can be their defensive and offensive responsibilities. While a pivot has the duty of acting as an anchor and maintaining his position while cutting off passing lanes, the controller will be more adventurous and progressive.
This can be somewhat observed from the way Pep Guardiola manages the roles of Rodri (Pivot) and İlkay Gündoğan (Controller) at Manchester City. Frenkie played a similar role with Lasse Schöne at Ajax during their epic run in the Champions League, where we saw the best version of him. He was consequently named Midfielder of the Season for the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League as well.
It’s safe to say that Xavi will be able to get the maximum out of Frenkie by playing him in a double pivot role. He has the skill set to carry the ball and run into the final third due to his underrated pace and physicality. The reason we can name this role ” The Controller” is that he has the ability to control the tempo of the game.
He’s excellent with possession and at the same time can put long passes, break lines if needed or just make a solo run with the ball from one end of the pitch to the other. He has much more freedom and versatility playing in that role than a pivot.
De Jong played that role against Atletico and Real Madrid in recent games and he dominated the pitch alongside Pedri, Gavi and Busquets. Busquets was the pivot, Pedri was maintaining the balance and creativity while Gavi making runs behind the defenders playing more advanced similar to a forward. Frenkie was in charge of controlling and maintaining the rhythm of the game and they completely bossed the pitch.
The Double Pivot: De Jong And Busquets
Now, both have their weaknesses in a 4-3-3 setup (as a single pivot). Frenkie is not that good defensively, and he often leaves his position. Busquets on other hand lacks the physicality to cover enough ground. When playing together as a double pivot, these things change. Frenkie has the freedom to combine and go forward. Why? Because Busquets covers for him.
When defending, Busquets has to cover less space as Frenkie is there with him. In games where we sacrifice width for control, starting Frenkie & Busquets (or his successor who is yet unknown) is the right choice. Busquets keeps the game fluid, while Frenkie is allowed to be creative.
Heir of the Famous Barca Pivot?
This is an interesting topic we can discuss in deep later because that role is yet unknown. Barca will definitely need to sign a successor to Busquets next summer as he is rumoured to leave the club at the end of the season.
Xavi and Jordi Cruyff are of the belief that the best option is Real Sociedad’s Martin Zubimendi. There aren’t many modern footballers who are capable of playing that role except for Manchester City’s Rodri, but Wolverhampton Wanderer’s Ruben Neves, Bayern’s Joshua Kimmich, Boca’s Varela or even one of our own, Nico Gonzalez (currently on loan at Valencia) remain as alternatives.
The world is not yet ready to see a midfield with the likes of De Jong, Pedri, Gavi and whoever the successor of Busquets will be. We are about to witness a midfield dynasty (again). A midfield that will colour and conquer Europe.
In your opinion what is the best role for Frenkie at Barca?
Who should replace Busquets?
Comment down below 🙂