While it’s a familiar sight in other sports like the NBA, it’s not often that a world-class footballer ends up on the free market. With the recent news of contract talks breaking down between David Alaba and Bayern Munich, the Austrian international looks set for pastures new, and there is little to no reasons for Barcelona to deny him a contract. Born to a Nigerian-Austrian father and Filipina mother, Alaba has been an integral part of The Bavarians since his emergence in 2012.
For the past couple of seasons, it’s been evident that Barcelona are in dire need of reinforcements in the backline. With Gerard Piqué and Jordi Alba at the tail-end of their careers and Samuel Umtiti’s recurring injuries, the Catalan giants lack quality and depth across the back four.
Aside from his elite ability, the soon-to-be most valuable free agent in football history has all the necessary traits that will make him an invaluable asset in the Garnet and Blue. His versatility, tactical awareness, and overall ability would make him a perfect addition to the team, and he would assuredly shore up the Catalans’ defence.
Alaba can add versatility to Barcelona
In regards to versatility, Alaba has played all over the pitch. With the Austrian national team, he is often employed as a defensive midfielder but has played as a winger as well. For the first few years of his club career, he played mostly as a left-back, but his role shifted when Pep Guardiola took over in 2013.
The current-Manchester City manager played him as an inverted full-back, operating in the space of a number 6, as a conventional central midfielder, and even as a wide midfielder or winger.
“He’s an unbelievable talent. He can play anywhere. He’s quick, is good in the build-up, and is always 100 percent focused.”Guardiola on Alaba in 2016
“Without a doubt, he can be one of the best center backs in the world.”
Due to injuries, Alaba was shifted to centre back last season. Nonetheless, he proved to be one of the first names on the team sheet for Hansi-Dieter Flick, as well as a vital peg as Bayern Munich attained their second treble.
David Alaba celebrating his Champions League final match against PSG. | Photo by Matt Childs/Pool via Getty Images
At Barça, there are a multitude of roles that the eight-time Bundesliga champion can fit in. First, he can effortlessly slot in at centre back alongside Piqué, Clément Lenglet, or Ronald Araújo. Although a partnership with Lenglet would pair two left-footed players alongside each other, Alaba’s ambidexterity could see him easily slide over to the right.
The three-time UEFA Team of the Year player could also operate at left-back in place of Jordi Alba. He offers a lot more defensively than the Spaniard and is at worst, equally threatening going forward. He lacks Alba’s pace, but makes up for it with his vision and eye for goal. A rotation of the two players would also oust current backup Junior Firpo, who has struggled since his arrival to Barça in 2019.
Alaba could also fit in Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona, in which he prefers a double-pivot or even as a number 6 in a classic 4-3-3. His versatility allows him to play all over the pitch, and he can be the solution to many of Barça’s problems. Imagine Sergi Roberto – but better.
Alaba’s ability, and a statistical approach
Above all else, David Alaba feels tailor-made for Barcelona. With his tactical awareness, playstyle, and overall ability, he would fit right into the team. He’s played under some of the greatest tacticians in football history, including Guardiola, Jupp Heynckes, and Carlo Ancelotti, and has undoubtedly learned a lot from them.
In terms of style, Alaba plays with poise and composure, some of the most important traits in a Barcelona player. As a ball-playing defender, Alaba’s comfortable with patient build-up from the back, hitting long balls to wingers, and even carrying the ball up the field. If put under pressure, he can confidently dribble or pass his way out of trouble; and if faced with a stout defence, he can play a variety of passes to break it down.
He’s often the catalyst for Bayern’s high-flying offense, and his influence can be felt throughout the entire pitch. Last season, he was the fourth most targeted player in the Bundesliga and had the fifth-most touches.
“Alaba doesn’t just perform to 100 percent of his abilities at the back, but he closes the space, pings passes about, and runs with the ball at speed. Usually, players can only manage to do one or the other.”Lothar Matthäus (Germany Legend) | Bundesliga
The Austrian-international is also a leader in the backline, something the Catalans desperately need.
“I’m very happy because David’s a player who leads the back four and always gives instructions to his colleagues. He takes the initiative, takes charge.”Hans Flick (German Manager) | Bundesliga
Statistically, he matches up well with the best defenders in Europe. Compared to Barça’s preferred pairing of Piqué and Lenglet, Alaba outperforms them in various aspects.
In the 2019-20 season, he averaged 68 completed passes per 90 minutes with an impressive 90.7% completion rate, outperforming Piqué and Lenglet (66.8 and 65.9, respectively). He also completed a staggering 8.41 passes per match into the final third, the most of any player in Europe’s top five leagues, which speaks volumes about his brilliant vision. In comparison, Piqué and Lenglet averaged 5.20 and 5.07.
Similarly, he was runner-up in the German league in completed progressive passes with 6.51 per game, nearly equaling Piqué and Lenglet’s combined value of 6.73.
On the other hand, his aerial duel win percentage falls behind the Barça pair. Last season, Alaba won 50% of his duels compared to 76.4% and 62.2% from the Spaniard and Frenchman. Pique and Lenglet also boasted higher tackles plus interceptions per game with 2.06 from the Spaniard and 2.19 from the Frenchman, compared to Alaba’s 1.20.
Alaba, despite the own goal, marshaled the defence extremely well against Barcelona last season. | Photo by Rafael Marchante/Pool via Getty Images
Throughout Bayern’s dominant Champions League run last season, Alaba stood out. The following graphic puts the defending champion in comparison to the top-five center backs in the tournament.
The length of each wedge corresponds to the selected player’s percentile rank for the stat. They are then compared to top-5 league players who play in a similar position. Each “slice” represents a relevant stat, and a bigger bar represents a higher percentile rank.
Evidently, the 28-year-old was a tournament-leader in all of the passing categories (yellow) and most of the defensive categories (blue) as well.
David Alaba would bring much-needed quality and leadership to the Barcelona backline, and his versatility makes him even more valuable. Whether from a statistical outlook or purely the eye-test, the six-time Austrian Footballer of the Year is truly world-class.
A financial perspective
Before all else, there are financial hurdles that the player and Barça need to overcome. All signs are pointing to Bayern letting the Austrian walk for free next summer, and he can begin officially speaking to clubs in January. Reports indicate that he and his agent are asking for a salary of €25 million, although nothing has been confirmed.
With Barça potentially facing bankruptcy in the upcoming days, there’s little chance they can afford to fulfil his wishes. It does help, however, that the club would not have to pay a transfer fee, hopefully freeing up space in the salary bracket in the process.
Signing Alaba may not solve all of Barcelona’s issues, but it would certainly be a step in the right direction. His tactical awareness, ability, and versatility give him all the qualities of a Blaugrana and he would inarguably be a success on the pitch. The two-time Treble winner will be 29 heading into the 2021-22 season, but he’s showing no signs of slowing down.
His rumoured salary demands are lofty, but hopefully, the two parties can reach an agreement because a player of his quality does not come around often, and even less on a free.
How should Barcelona lineup against Osasuna?
Four wins in four games. Barcelona are cruising in their Champions League group, as they do every year. A second-string Blaugrana side, one that did not feature any of the four captains, was enough to tear down Dynamo Kyiv. The game midweek was not just important for the result in the Champions League but so many players on an individual level.
Carles Alena bossed the midfield with impeccable accuracy. A promising debut from the underrated Oscar Mingueza, desperately needed minutes for Riqui Puig. A performance from Martin Braithwaite and Sergino Dest that found them in the UCL Team of the Week!
Yet, the season seems to be sinking. The league seems to have slipped away even before its midway point. Injuries continue to damage even the existing fine line of hope. The bleeding must stop, but it just doesn’t seem to happen.
What to expect from Osasuna?
Los Rojillos sit level with Barcelona on points, having played nine games so far to the Catalans’ eight. Three wins, two draws and four losses see them sit at 14th, just one place below the hosts.
Arrasate will hope to mirror his Camp Nou exploits from last season. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA / AFP)
The last time the two sides met at the Camp Nou was the only scar in Barcelona’s otherwise unbeaten home streak. It is a game that one remembers vividly. A last-minute goal from Kike Barja helped the visitors run away with three points, and put at end to Barcelona’s misery in the title race. If anything, it is a reason for Jagoba Arrasate to be enthusiastic for his return to the Catalan capital.
Arrasate has largely deployed a 4-4-2 for Osasuna this season, with Ante Budimir and Enric Gallego the usual starters in the attack. In defence, however, they have played a 5-3-2, echoing the side that played Barcelona at the Camp Nou last season.
Jon Moncayola has played as the deep midfielder, often slotting in between the centre-backs to assist in defensive responsibilities. One immediately associates Osasuna with their sturdy mid-block. They do not unnecessarily commit men forward for attack nor pressing.
Instead, Los Rojillos outnumber the opposition attack in their own half, and the five-man line leaves no spaces for the opposition to exploit. When this forces the attacking side to commit more men forward, Osasuna strike on the counter. In particular, advanced fullbacks easily fall prey to their ploys with large spaces left vacant behind them to be exploited.
Arrasate’s side thereafter looks to capitalise by their potent switches in play, and dangerous cutbacks from the wings. Indeed, it is a style of play that Barcelona have struggled to deal with in past years. With so many injuries in defence, it will be an uphill task for the Barcelona backline to hold off the rampant counters.
How should Barcelona line-up?
After being handed the captain’s band midweek, Marc-Andre ter Stegen will be back in goal at the Camp Nou.
In defence, however, Koeman surely has his reasons to panic. Gerard Pique, Sergi Roberto and Ronald Araujo are not available owing to injuries, and the Dutchman finds himself in a fix.
Frenkie is expected to start, even if it means playing as a centre-back. (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images)
In central defence, Clement Lenglet will likely partner Frenkie de Jong. The dutch-protege enjoyed a day off on Tuesday as Koeman did not call his up to the squad. It will be a tricky pairing, but one tried and tested in recent weeks.
Given Sergi Roberto’s injury and Dest unlikely involvement in Sunday’s clash, Oscar Mingueza might start at Right-back. Unquestionably, it will be a new challenge for the youngster. Yet, not one beyond his capability.
At left-back, One expects Jordi Alba to return to his starting position after being rested against Kyiv.
Sergio Busquets is expected ahead of the clash, yet it may not be wise to let him start immediately. A performance like the one against Kyiv demands a follow up for Carles Alena. The La Masia graduate could start alongside Miralem Pjanic on the night.
The wingers will likely continue to be the same as the Champions League clash. Ousmane Dembele could get yet another start in his natural position-right wing. Pedri, whose stocks are rising by the day, could start on the left side in combination with Jordi Alba. The newly-turned 18-year-old’s vision and composure on the ball will be crucial to breakdown Osasuna’s air-tight defence.
As the no. 10, in between, the two wingers would likely be Lionel Messi. After getting a much-deserved rest against Kyiv, one hopes that the talisman finds his magic back. It has been a tough 48 hours for Leo, and he will be itching to put up a tribute performance in honour of his legendary national team icon — Diego Maradona
One can expect Messi to give a tribute to the late Diego Maradona today. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
In attack, Antoine Griezmann is the natural option after being rested in the last game. However, the Frenchman needs to up his game, because Martin Braithwaite is knocking at the doors as a potential starter as centre-forward.
Pedri · Messi · Dembele
Aleña · Pjanic
Alba · Lenglet · de Jong · Mingueza