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The form of Jordi Alba is finally overshadowing his injury woes

Jordi Alba delivered another brilliant performance against Villarreal, continuing with his excellent form in recent weeks

Aaryan Parasnis

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Header Image by Imago

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.

Ansu Fati Jordi Alba form Barcelona Villarreal

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.


See more

Sergi Roberto: Justifying the selection

• Editors’ Takes: Debating on the Villarreal 1–4 Barcelona

• Why Xavi Hernández shouldn’t take up the coaching job at Barça yet

• Villarreal 1-4 Barcelona: Player ratings

It was the great César Luis Menotti who once said that "to be a footballer means being a privileged interpreter of the feelings and dreams of many, many people". This quote has stuck with me since my childhood when football first caught my attention. My interest in football developed from a hobby to an emotion embedded into every fibre of my being. Football and Barça became my life. I spend every waking moment thinking about football and my sentimentality towards FC Barcelona is a catalyst. The world's most popular sport is a universal language that unites everyone who loves it and, to me, writing about football is being able to transmit that language in my own way.

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Analysis

Koeman’s system in the Barcelona 4-0 Villareal

Anurag Agate

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Photo by David Ramirez via Imago

With a 4-0 victory at the Camp Nou, Koeman’s side has started the season on a positive note. Find out more about the tactical aspect of the match in this tactical analysis of Barcelona’s match against Villareal.


La Liga is finally back, and it’s back in full swing. We saw many high-scoring matches, with even Atleti scoring 6 goals against Granada. A very entertaining start to La Liga was capped off by Barcelona’s 4-0 Victory over Villareal. Koeman’s first La Liga game in-charge of Barcelona was a resounding success. The mindset of the players involved was clearly different from the mindset under Setien. With many players looking rejuvenated, Barcelona put in a performance which was desperately needed considering the fact that the wounds from Lisbon haven’t yet healed. Find out just how Barcelona managed to dominate a strong Villareal side in this tactical analysis.

Initial systems

Barcelona started out in a 4-2-3-1 as expected. The only surprise was that Messi’s starting position was more central than usual and Griezmann occupied the right-wing. Messi does eventually drift towards the centre anyway but the starting position is usually wider.

Villareal were in a 4-4-2 which later transitioned into a 4-4-2 diamond in the second half after the substitutions. Right from the start, Villareal looked to press from the front, with Chukwueze and Moi Gomez cutting out passing lanes to the full-backs and the two Villareal strikers pressing Barcelona’s center-backs. Here, an advantage of the 4-2-3-1 Koeman deployed was immediately visible. De Jong would drop back to receive the ball and then play it forward to Busquets, who was the other pivot. Had Barcelona played a 4-3-3, the pivot would have dropped back to receive the ball and build-up from the back in this case. But the midfield would be stretched vertically which we saw many times last season.

In midfield, Barcelona were prevented from playing through the centre by Parejo and Coquelin. The distance between Villareal’s midfield and defense lines was not much which forced Barcelona towards the wings. This strategy came back to bite Villareal in the form of Ansu Fati. The 17-year-old left-winger was unplayable against Villareal. Gaspar was unable to contain him. Jordi Alba was much better than in a long time. The work-rate Koeman demands and the many extra training sessions were really showing. After a 2019/20 season which wasn’t the best for Barcelona, yesterday’s performance was very impressive.

Koeman’s foresight

Both wingers would regularly tuck-in between the full-backs and center-halves. This allowed Barcelona’s full-backs to advance up the field much more. With the full-backs attacking and the wingers tucking in, the Villareal defensive line would be occupied. This allowed Coutinho more space than usual. Along with this, Busquets and De Jong would be available to either stop the counter, or to act as passing options. This assortment of many attacking roles allowed Barcelona to have sustained attacking possession.

Villareal had a clear game plan as well. Considering the fact that their two strikers are performing well and are well-synchronized, the wingers were instructed to cross the ball often. The full-backs would advance, but not overlap frequently. This could either not be a part of the game plan or because of the attacking threat, Barcelona posed from the start. With Dani Parejo in midfield, Emery would ideally be able to continue playing the possession-based football his teams play. Coquelin would offer a bit of dynamism in midfield along with the Spanish midfielder.

However, Koeman took an interesting decision and gave Busquets the role to man-mark Parejo. Though both were surprisingly not the best on the ball on the day, Busquets did well to restrict Parejo to lateral and back passes. In the second-half, Vilalreal’s game plan was executed better in the 4-4-2 diamond. This allowed Parejo to get on the ball more, wit him playing a major role in the build-up. Emery knows his players’ strengths very well. Parejo in the defensive mid role, with pacey wingers on either sides means fast transitions. For Barcelona s well, the transitions were key. Coutinho’s mediapunta role and the freedom Messi has both contributed to this.

Double-pivot

We already saw the many benefits this formation has offered, taking the strengths of the players Koeman has into full consideration. The ease during build-up with one pivot dropping back, being able to sustain the attack with the mediapunta getting more space, the freedom Busquets had to man-mark Parejo, which would have been difficult in a single pivot, etc. Another one of the advantages is in defense.

Barcelona were vulnerable in defense throughout last season. Jordi Alba looks like refreshed and fitter than usual, and with Dest potentially joining the Blaugrana, the full-backs are looking promising. In case that Barcelona does get caught on the counter, Koeman does have a solution to one of the problems. When Barcelona are on the backfoot, De Jong and Busquets would need to make sure their positioning is immaculate. They were instructed to plug the gaps between the center-halves and full-backs, which would have a two-fold purpose. Firstly, through-balls against more creative players would be much more difficult, with the gaps being reduced and Coutinho and Griezmann helping in defense. Secondly, the opposition would be less likely to crowd the box, since Barcelona can now afford to get at least 4 players into the box if the pivots were to position themselves as such. However, this would be very dependent on the split-second judgment and whether the players decide to press or track-back.

Conclusion

For Koeman’s first La Liga match, the performance was quite promising. Barcelona looked better tactically and in terms of hard work than Villareal as we saw in this tactical analysis. The latter being something that Barcelona desperately need, what remains to be seen is how Barcelona will fare against teams that rely on individual ability more than Villareal and the unpredictability that follows. Apart from this, will the players be able to sustain the intense work ethic Koeman demands? If Barcelona do decently in these conditions and some others, we might see a much better season from them than expected.

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