Barca Blaugranes Awards: Most Improved Player

MUNICH, GERMANY - JULY 26: Alcantara Thiago (R) of Barcelona celebrates the first goal with Sergio Busquets (L) Adriano during the Audi Cup match between FC Barcelona and International de Porto Alegre at Allianz Arena on July 26, 2011 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

After the weekend off, the Barca Blaugranes Awards are back, with the next category arguably going to be the most hotly contested of all. In each category I have my assumptions about who or what candidate will likely run away with the voting, but for the life of me I just don’t know which way this one is going to go. Just who exactly has improved the most as a player over the past season?

However, before we find out the nominees, there is just one piece of criteria for a player to be eligible for this award: they had to play for the first team last season on at least 15 occasions. That rules out the likes of Cristian Tello and Isaac Cuenca both of whom have improved markedly, but were contracted to the B team last season and also Alexis Sanchez who has probably had his best ever season as a professional footballer. It’s just as well they don’t qualify though, purely because I can’t separate these three guys anyway!

Just in case you missed the Best Player award, or you would like to vote again, here's a link to the nominees.

Sergio Busquets

Having already been nominated for the Best Player award, Busquets clearly had an impressive season in the middle of midfield. Despite Barcelona playing less matches then the previous season, Busquets was involved in more games, equalling his record number of appearances in a single season (curiously enough with the only other non-UCL winning season in his time with the first team) with 52 matches under his belt. Tactically, Busi has proved time and time again that he amongst the most astute in the team, using his physique and technical ability to draw countless numbers of fouls – 78 in La Liga alone which is just two less than Lionel Messi who featured in six games more than the Catalan. Not only that, but Busquets’ ability as a midfield destroyer is thoroughly underrated, as he made the third highest number of tackles for the team in league play. Forget about Cesc Fàbregas, never mind about Thiago Alcântara, this season has proved that Sergio Busquets is the true heir to Xavi’s throne.

Season

Games Played

Minutes Played

Goals Scored

Goal Assists

2011/12

52

4066

2

3

2010/11

46

3815

1

6

Javier Mascherano

Just like Busquets, Mascherano was also nominated for the Best Player of the Season award, and just like Busquets, Mascherano started the season as a defensive midfielder and both ended the season as first-team regulars. However, that’s where the similarities end. For example, while Busquets is nigh-on guaranteed a starting berth next season, Mascherano’s may be under threat with Gerard Piqué’s return to form and Tito Vilanova’s preference to buy a centre-back in the summer transfer window. But let’s not let that overshadow what has been a magnificent season for the Argentine. Making the transition to centre-back, Mascherano defied the critics who suggested he was too small to ever truly dominate at the back by doing just that. Compared to his debut season, Masche played more games; with fewer appearances off the bench and led the team in not only tackles per match, but in interceptions as well. Perhaps his overall level of performances have not improved drastically, but as a footballer there is no doubting that Mascherano has progressed leaps and bounds this season.

Season

Games Played

Minutes Played

Goals Scored

Goal Assists

2011/12

51

4406

0

0

2010/11

45

3069

0

0

Thiago Alcântara

Thiago started last season with the B team, and now some 18 months after his promotion to the senior squad he is mounting a serious claim for a place in the starting XI. There has never been any doubting his potential, especially after his immense showing in last year’s under-21 European Championship and then his hugely impressive pre-season, but just who would have guessed that Thiago would make over 40 appearances in his first full season with the first team bearing in mind the players ahead of him? Thiago has all the attributes of your typical La Masia graduate such as super-human vision and pinpoint passing accuracy, but he combines it all with Brazilian flair and athleticism, which all together forms an exceptionally well-rounded midfielder. In terms of passing, he averages the second most passes per game, and was even more accurate than Xavi in league play (by 0.3% anyway). Statistically, he is the third best dribbler in the squad behind a certain Argentine forward, and Andrés Iniesta, while he also averages the fourth most tackles per game. Did I mention that he is also decent in the air? Put simply, Thiago has evolved into a solid all-round midfielder in the space of one year. Imagine what the future holds...

Season

Games Played

Minutes Played

Goals Scored

Goal Assists

2011/12

45

2947

4

8

2010/11

16

1025

3

3

NB: All stats courtesy of transfermarkt.co.uk

Be sure to vote for your winner, or via this link if the form has not loaded or you are on a mobile device.

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