Barça Universal takes a closer look at three clubs who could latch-up Carles Aleña on loan this January as the youngster looks for minutes this season.
When Carles Aleña first broke into the first team, he was an exciting prospect. At the time, the Spaniard looked like the first La Masia graduate in years that was going to make an impact on the squad. He came into an ageing midfield and gave it a new lease of life.
However, not long after this promising start, the minutes started to dry up. Ernesto Valverde ignored the young prospect, instead deciding to overplay the veterans who eventually ran out of steam. This has been an issue at the club for years now. The board prioritised big-money signings, believing they could buy success, instead of trusting their world-famous youth academy.
Since his debut with the club during the 2016/17 campaign, the 22-year-old has only featured for the Catalan side 24 times in La Liga. It is not surprising given how poorly Barcelona have handled their young talents over the last decade. That has only become worse since Ronald Koeman arrived at the club, having pre-decided the midfielders he wants in the XI, eventually freezing out the Spaniard.
With that said, his career at the Camp Nou is not over yet. A loan move in January, as it has been reported, for the remainder of the season, could be an option. Getting regular minutes is essential for the midfielder’s development.
Carles Aleña was at loan at Real Betis last season but has not been given a chance to showcase what he learnt from it. (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
If he can prove his level, and with a new board coming soon, Aleña could still salvage his career at Barcelona, under a new manager. He has already been on loan to Real Betis last season, and he did get the chances to play regularly at a top side.
Carles Aleña would make a great addition to any side, particularly ones that play attacking football. His strengths are his accurate passing, how quickly he can move the ball, positional play, and dynamism. The most important factor in a potential loan move though is the guarantee of regular game time.
AFC Ajax and FC Barcelona have always shared a strong connection from their philosophy of football to many players featuring for both clubs. Ajax manager, Erik ten Hag, has proven that he is excellent at developing young players. Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt, Donny van de Beek and Hakim Ziyech are just a few of the names that ten Hag has helped to develop in recent seasons.
Playing under ten Hag, even on loan could do a world of good for Carles Aleña. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Carles Aleña would be a great addition to the Dutch side and would fit their style of play perfectly. He is an attack-minded midfielder that loves to take control of the ball anywhere on the pitch. The number six is effective in the final third with an eye for goal from range and a defence-splitting pass.
The issue would not be if he had the level to play with Ajax, but if he would get enough game time. Davy Klaassen was signed at the start of the campaign and has been in fantastic form. Apart from this, the midfield has been unsettled and has changed most weeks. Apart from that, we can also expect Aleña to feature as a false 9 – a role ten Hag has used often.
The team from Amsterdam has been hit with injuries and COVID-19 cases too. This could allow Aleñá to find a regular role in the team and help him develop at a club that suits his style of play.
A loan deal to a team from La Liga could also benefit Carles Aleña. Getting that much-needed experience in the league could show the Barcelona hierarchy that he is at the required level to compete in Spain.
Sevilla are one of the top sides in the country, but have struggled this season. They currently sit 12th in La Liga after seven games. Their biggest issue seems to be a lack of goals, having only scored seven so far.
Carles Aleña has experience playing against Sevilla, but working with them on loan would be critical in his development. (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
They have a lot of talent in their midfield such as Ivan Rakitić, Joan Jordan and Fernando. However, these midfielders are more suited to the deeper build-up play and do not offer as much in the final third. Aleña could bring more balance to the side and be that creative midfielder around the box that Sevilla desperately need.
From the Barça midfielder’s point of view, he would get the chance to work under Julien Lopetegui, who is one of the best coaches in the world. If he was assured regular minutes, he would get a chance to continue at one of Spain’s best sides and the Europa League winners. This could be the most likely destination for the 22-year-old.
A slightly more obscure and unrealistic potential loan move could be to English side Leeds United. So far this campaign, the newly-promoted side have been inconsistent in their performances. They have been scoring goals but also conceding too many. The Peacocks could do with some more quality in the centre on the pitch, giving Marcelo Bielsa the option to bench the ageing Pablo Hernandez — a man Aleña can learn a lot from.
One of the biggest appeals about Leeds is their manager, Bielsa, and his incredible approach to the game. He is highly regarded as one of the greatest minds in football. There is no question that he would be able to get the best out of the 22-year-old and give him some much-needed confidence.
Marcelo Bielsa is a football mastermind, and even a short loan at Leeds would go a long way for Carles Aleña. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)
There would be potential game time as Aleña does possess the quality to break into the English side. However, the transition to the Premier League is usually difficult, due to its physicality. It does not always favour those coming from more technical leagues.
Whatever the case may be, the Barcelona midfielder does need to find more consistent playing time. He has struggled with this for most of his senior career and it will only be limiting his development.
A history of crumbling under pressure: The Jordi Alba conundrum in a big game
Claiming Jordi Alba to be one of La Liga’s – if not Europe’s – most improved players from last season would not be a far fetch. While on his best days, his quality has always been evident, and his raiding runs on the left flank tend to give the Blaugranas a huge edge, the Spanish international’s output in the final third has lately begun to revolve around sensible plays, with visible improvements in Alba’s decision making; most notably refraining from relying on the formularized ‘Messi cut-back.’
The marauding speedster has become a crucial cog in Koeman’s side as the newfound 3-5-2/3-4-3 formation arguably seems to extract his best qualities and conceals his most noticeable flaws. The Spaniard is considered lethal, and a vital source of penetration situated higher up the field. With slick spells of possession in the centre, his runs from wide are almost gone unnoticed.
However, in spite of Alba’s achievements thus far and enhancements in his gameplay, issues that have tainted the talented Spaniard’s career still prove to be a thorn in his side, overcoming him in arguably the worst moments. Big games and Jordi Alba appear to have developed an incredibly toxic relationship as the 32-year-old has, on countless occasions, been a victim of his feeble mindset, tarnishing his legacy in the process.
The Copa del Rey final will once more be a huge encounter with a crucial source of silverware on the line for the Blaugranas. A win will undoubtedly elevate their status, uplift the morale of the team and surely prove to be their saving grace this season. Unfortunately, a game of this magnitude is also the perfect breeding ground for Alba’s antics. As promising as his season may have been, he has still proven to be unreliable in pressure situations.
Blitzing forward, he is known to be a menace, but in the defensive third, poor decision making is often visible. In the recent Clásico, Alba’s assist for Mingueza may have overshadowed his lack of focus defensively, but it must not be forgotten that he was a major reason why Fede Valverde was able to comfortably cruise past the Barcelona midfield and provide Benzema with the pre-assist. After enjoying one of the best patches of his career, Alba fell prey to the big game syndrome on the night it mattered most.
While that defeat was not entirely the number 18’s fault, it was a testament to his habitual blunders. In the Spanish Supercup final against Athletic Bilbao, Alba was once again one of the major culprits, proving to be undependable in set pieces and as confused as a lost sailor in defence, suffering at the hands of Iñaki Williams most notably. Scoring an own goal against the very same opposition in the league was another dent on his resumé. The fact that Alba contributed heavily to Valencia’s Copa Del Rey victory in the 18/19 season also devalues his presence in critical games, with both goals from Valencia easily avoidable, had the Spaniard not fumbled cheaply.
For the first goal, Alba came instantly rushing to block the scorer but was sent to the cleaners as he gravely mistimed his run. On the second occasion, the 32-year-old enabled Valencia’s winger to charge past him seamlessly as he went onto assist the final dagger. Admittedly, Culés have done their best to move on from the past in an attempt to forget and forgive. Having made some huge strides this campaign, clinging on to errors that any mere mortal is capable of committing does seem nonsensical.
Even so, despite efforts made to channel more faith in Alba, his recent comments have only made matters worse. As a leaked conversation between Alba and Piqué was made public by the media after the Clásico, concerns are again beginning to mount over his mentality. Even though Piqué appeared to be optimistic regarding Barça’s chances in the Copa Del Rey, all Alba had to offer in response was, “I don’t know.”
Completely ignoring the progression Barcelona made after proceedings, disregarding the fact that a point is the least Barça deserved, and most importantly, forgetting the club’s ability to bounce back this season, a meagre “I don’t know” is all the full-back gave in response. Of course, drawing conclusions based solely on a 10-second clip would be unjust, yet, given Alba’s past of wavering when it matters most, it really does not come as a surprise. The Anfield annihilation still remains fresh in memory, a wound that is yet to heal fully.
To play or not play, that is the question
As the full-back made a mockery of himself under the lights, his breakdown at half-time when the comeback was not even completed simply implies his pessimistic nature. Thus arrives the million-dollar question: do Barcelona run the risk of playing Alba in a game where the stakes are this high?
Considering Alba’s recent comments and reputation in knockout stages, fielding him in a game that holds such value for Barça’s campaign is inarguably a risk. The brand of football Barcelona have been playing comprises of collective strength, which emphasizes on every individual playing a vital role. One loose screw is all it takes to disrupt the team, and it’s fair to say Alba has proven to be that loose screw on several occasions before.
Nonetheless, the Blaugranas are incredibly limited, not yet possessing the privilege to have any firm competition in Alba’s position. As frustrating as his shortcomings may be, there is still no denying that his “good days” earn him the title of one of the best full-backs in the world. An additional factor is that he has, at the very least, not crumbled in any of the previous Copa del Rey knockout stages. Against Granada and Sevilla, his contributions were absolutely vital, particularly his performance against the Nazaríes, where a blistering brace enabled his side to seal qualification.
Barça are certainly running a risk, but this risk could potentially pay dividends if Alba shows a more daring and composed version. Making a sudden change in the final seems unlikely and could potentially hamper the team’s harmony.