The form of Jordi Alba since the restart has been stellar. The Spaniard, seemingly, has really benefited from the break in terms of form and fitness.
Jordi Alba has been an integral part of Barcelona’s attacking prowess for quite a while. Nevertheless, this season he had his low points. With Junior Firpo struggling with injuries and not enjoying the best of starts to his time at Barça, Alba has not had much respite. Despite playing week in, week out, the diminutive left-back has consistently been one of the club’s most important players.
The handful of bad games he has had, though, can perhaps largely be attributed to lack of rest. Jordi Alba has also suffered from a fair share of injuries as a result. He picked up a hamstring injury in September 2019, which recurred in November. After more than a month on the sidelines, he was slowly starting to pick up form. Yet in February, he picked up yet another injury which left him out for around two weeks.
Once he recovered, just two games later, the pandemic forced football to a halt. Now, after three months of time to rest and recover, the form of Jordi Alba has been immense. Since the restart, he looks like a player reborn. He has returned sharper, smarter and faster than ever. The Catalan has gone through such a turnaround that he even got his driver’s license. About time, right? But, of course, his football is what’s most important.
Pivotal figure in both attack and defence
Jordi Alba’s attacking contributions and his telepathic partnership with Lionel Messi are always talking points. So many of Barça’s goals have come from that left channel, utilising Alba’s speed and great positional awareness. However, his defensive contributions are thus largely overlooked. Especially since the restart, he seems to be running more than ever. His tracking back has been exceptional and on more than one occasion has he managed to make goal saving blocks and interceptions.
Here’s a brief look at his finest performances since La Liga’s resumption with data:
*All stats from FotMob via OPTA
Mallorca 0–4 Barcelona
In the very first game since the restart, Jordi Alba seemed really fresh. The break had done him a world of good. Alba notched a goal as well as an assist as Barça cruised to a 0–4 victory over RCD Mallorca. He had a total of 90 touches and completed 66 out of the 69 passes he attempted. A success rate of 96%. He also made three interceptions and had a dribbling success rate of 100%. An immense performance that would also be a major confidence booster for him after his injury woes.
Sevilla 0–0 Barcelona
While a largely unfavourable result for the blaugranas, Alba and his full-back partner Nélson Semedo were key figures in trying to make something happen offensively as well as containing Sevilla at the back. After returning from suspension against Leganés, at the Sánchez Pizjuán Alba was tasked with dealing with the highly dangerous Lucas Ocampos. He managed to keep him very quiet. Jordi was instrumental in dealing with the crosses and the overloads coming from Sevilla’s right flank. The Spaniard also made two key passes and two vital clearances.
Barcelona 1–0 Athletic Club
In what was an all-round defensive masterclass from Barcelona against Athletic Club de Bilbo, Jordi Alba continued with his excellent form as he was once again key while tracking back. He made two crucial clearances and interceptions once more. He was constantly able to wriggle free down the left to put in dangerous crosses and stretch the Athletic Club backline. He was heavily involved in the build-up with 116 touches and 80 completed passes with an 89% success rate.
Celta de Vigo 2–2 Barcelona
In spite of another poor result away against Celta de Vigo, Jordi Alba’s contributions largely saved the Barcelona’s blushes from further embarrassment. If it weren’t for a couple of vital blocks and particularly a heroic interception from a left flank cutback, Barça could have dropped all three points. Jordi had a 100% tackling success rate before his substitution. Celta tried to target the right flank a lot more once he was off, which made his absence even more noticeable.
Jordi Alba and Ansu Fati combined wonderfully for Barcelona’s final goal against Villarreal | Photo by Alex Caparrós via Getty Images
Villarreal 1–4 Barcelona
In what was perhaps Barcelona’s finest performance of the campaign, Jordi Alba was once again in peak form. The match against Villarreal on Sunday was a sensational team display with fluid interplay and relentless chance creation, in which the 31-year-old was instrumental. He won two out of his three duels and created two great chances as well. His distribution was top notch once more with 80 successful passes with a completion rate of 90%. And to cap it off, he even notched his third assist of the season with a fabulous pass to Ansu Fati for the fourth and final goal. He made the pass to the opener too, even if that wasn’t registered as an assist as it was a Pau Torres own goal.
Overall, the level exhibited by the veteran left-back since the restart has been impeccable. And if Barça are to fight till the end in this La Liga title race and the remainder of the UEFA Champions League, Jordi Alba will have to continue his rich vein of form. He has shown once again, why he has been such a pivotal part of this Barcelona side in recent years and that life after him, is going to be tricky.
How Zidane’s Real Madrid beat Koeman’s Barcelona
The highly anticipated day of El Clasico, the clash of eternal rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid finally arrived. The Blaugrana were just two points ahead of Los Blancos with the same number of games played. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid are at their most vulnerable right now; recent losses to Sevilla and Chelsea had already demoralized the team. Additionally, Luis Suarez – their top scorer -, is injured.
El Clasico has incredible importance on its own. Add to that the fact that it will be pivotal in the title race, and it becomes apparent how much it means to both sides. In this tactical analysis, we take a look at how Real Madrid managed to conquer Barcelona in a 2-1 victory.
Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona lined up in a 3-5-2 as expected. This formation is one that has contributed to Barcelona’s recent positive results significantly. Though this could be viewed as a 5-3-2 or even a 3-5-2-1 at times, the basic principles remained the same. Barcelona would look to build up from the back. The backline of Ronald Araujo with Clement Lenglet and Oscar Mingueza on either side of him was the platform upon which the team would build-up.
In midfield, Sergio Busquets would be the deepest player, with Frenkie De Jong and Pedri Gonzalez as the two interiors. These two youngsters would operate in the half-spaces as their roles entail, but they would drop back and join the attack as well. Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest, the two wing-backs, would look to stretch the opposition and would be positioned high up the field.
In attack, Lionel Messi was joined by Ousmane Dembele. The Frenchman would operate through the centre as Messi would usually drop back and have the freedom to move across the pitch.
Zinedine Zidane has often been labelled as someone who manages big egos well but doesn’t have tactical expertise. Purely a misconception, this match was an example of how well the retired midfielder sets up his team. What was most admirable was how Zidane finds the perfect role for his players’ profiles.
Real Madrid were deployed in a 4-1-4-1. Casemiro would play between the lines, with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos just ahead oh him. This formation could also be viewed as a 4-5-1, which would be a 4-3-3 when attacking. In defence, Eder Militao and Nacho were the centre-halves with Lucas Vasquez and Ferland Mendy as the full-backs. To support the midfield as well as the attack, Vinicius Junior and Fede Valverde would act as wide midfielders.
Karim Benzema, the number nine, would drift into the channels or drop a bit deeper as required. He was the key to Madrid’s fluid attack. There would be a constant staggering between Benzema, Vinicius, and Valverde. When Benzema dropped deep to fight for the second ball, Vinicius and Fede would move forward and provide passing options. At times, Vasquez would overlap, which was Valverde’s cue to drop back. The players would also switch roles.
Madrid’s defensive organization
After getting a lead, Real Madrid were still proactive but to a lesser extent than earlier. They would even have five players defending at times, transitioning into a 5-4-1. Their timing and organization was impressive nonetheless. As we see in the image above, Ousmane Dembele is about to receive the pass. Immediately, Casemiro presses him, while other players start moving forward to close the distance to possible passing options. This meant Barcelona had little time on the ball deep in Madrid’s half.
The pressing shown by Los Blancos was very fine-tuned. The players were unsurprisingly not hesitant to play a physical game as well. As the earlier image shows us, Ousmane Dembele would receive the ball ahead of the defense and attempt to involve other players. Pedri and de Jong were the most obvious passing options. However, for them, the passing would more often than not be out wide. This was forced due to Madrid’s structure which prevented them from playing through the middle.
Arguably one of Barcelona’s strongest moves is when Messi plays Jordi Alba through between the full-back and centre-halves. Though it was effective at some points in the match, this was clearly something Zidane expected. When either full-back would have crossing options, the full-backs would look to block the cross.
Simultaneously, the centre-halves would track Barcelona’s attackers Messi and Dembele. These two being the only two forwards, Mingueza’s goal was one of the few times the team actually had more players looking to attack. Casemiro would be in the box looking to clear the ball or cover for any defensive holes.
What went wrong for Barcelona?
Ronald Koeman’s team selection was well-thought-out. Shifting de Jong to midfield was a smart choice. However, as the scoreline clearly shows, some issues persisted.
One of the main ones being the lack of attackers in the final third. This was a formation with two attackers on paper, but one of them was Messi. Expecting the argentine to make runs off the ball and act as a target man is highly unrealistic. He does best when he’s on the ball. This would leave Dembele alone upfront. The Frenchman isn’t a classic number 9 who takes shots on the swivel and can establish himself in the box. Against a defence that was sitting very deep, he was unable to run onto the ball between the full-backs and centre-halves the way he likes to.
The image above shows a common scenario observed in the first half. Receiving the ball in the final third, Dembele turns to face the defenders. As they don’t lunge in, rather trying to contain him. he is unable to beat them in a 1v1. There is plenty of space with no Barcelona players highlighted in the image. This lack of attackers was one of the reasons Koeman switched to the 4-3-3. Shown below, the 4-3-3- allowed Pedri and Dembele to be more involved.
Below, we have a visualization showing the PPDA stats for both teams. A lower PPDA means a higher pressing intensity. As we can see, Barcelona were clearly pressing much more than Real Madrid throughout the match. Despite this, they failed to create enough chances. To demonstrate this, we can observe the xG graph.
As the xG graph shows, there were some situations when the Catalans had a chance to change the score-line in their favour. Among other reasons, Dembele’s inability to play as a striker and inefficiency in finishing was clearly affecting the team. The visualization below the xG graph shows the shot map. It further reaffirms the observation that Barcelona need to improve in front of the goal and in terms of the quality of chances created.
With a higher number of shots, Barcelona still had a lower xG than their rivals. Another indication of low-quality chances is the size of the circles in the box for both teams. The smaller the circle, the less likely it is to end up in the back of the net. The stark contrast is one of the many indicators that there are major issues to be resolved in attack for Koeman’s side.
This loss will hurt Barcelona, even more so as it strengthens the notion that his team doesn’t show up in big matches. If Koeman’s side wants to be Champions, now is the time to give their all. One cannot ignore the fact that the Blaugrana have a lot of work to do to be deserving of the La Liga title. Whether or not they will be able to do this remains to be seen.