Tactical Analysis: Should FC Barcelona re-invent Dani Alves as a central midfielder?

In the midst of complete disarray at the Camp Nou, a predominant problem which has been prevailing for quite some time now is the drastic dip in performance of right back Daniel Alves. From being one of the best full backs in the world few years ago, Alves’ form seems to have hit the rock-bottom in the last couple of seasons and it has arguably been the reason for the Catalan defense to remain susceptible despite the addition of a near-perfect modern center back in Jeremy Mathieu.

Given the style of play instilled by under-fire manager Luis Enrique, the full-backs have been two of the most pivotal players in the build-up play and they seem to have adopted a very high position on the pitch. In simple words, the attacking duties have rather out-weighed the defensive duties inherent to a modern-day full back. So ultimately, the lion’s share of defensive pressure falls on the center backs who have been unable to cope with the same in the bigger stages.

To be able to overcome this issue, the Catalans need to understand the prerequisites for a full back to succeed in the on-going era. For a broader understanding of this issue, let us list out those prerequisites:

* Pace
* Tracking back
* Strength
* Crossing
* High attacking and defending work-rate

In all honesty, Alves has undergone a major downgrade in terms of his physique over the last couple of seasons and the Brazilian doesn’t seem as quick or as strong as he used to be at his best. The aging legs of Alves have not been able to track back in the event of counter-attacking football and to an extent; it is understandable given the vast vertical distance he covers on the right. Hence, these factors have ultimately taken a toll on his work-rate and in truth, the right flank has been rather been a target for the oppositions to exploit on the break. This season’s El Clasico where Real Madrid triumphed 3-1 was a classic example as Isco, Marcelo teamed up to outpace and outmuscle Alves on several occasions, including the build-up play before the penalty for Real Madrid.

Also, it has beenno secret that Alves’ crosses have failed miserably in recent times and yet owing to his involvement in the build-up play, he averages roughly about 10 crosses per game in all competitions this season. There are times when the Enrique’s men have no option but to depend on the full backs, especially when the final third is crowded with the opposition sitting deep in midfield. Such are the situations wherein Alves had to be extremely sharp with his crossing but unfortunately he hasn’t been able to get back to his best even in terms of crossing.
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Real Madrid 3-1 Barcelona: Alves outpaced by Marcelo, allowing an easy cross which led to a penalty for Real Madrid, who eventually equalized.

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Barcelona 0-1 Celta de Vigo: The Brazilian was outmuscled at the edge of a box by Nolito, who provided the assist to the only goal of the match.

These are some of the examples to illustrate the weakness prevailing on the right flank of the back four for Barcelona and in truth; it is time Montoya collects the baton from the Samba boy at the Camp Nou. It is true that Alves has left the right side of the defense a bit too vulnerable but at the same time, it is not wise to jump the gun and show him the exit door right away.

In football, it is very critical to remember the players keep evolving from each phase to another and these changes have to be accommodated to suit the team’s style of play. A classic example would be superstar Lionel Messi himself as he started off as an orthodox right winger with acceleration, pace and exquisite dribbling. But today he wouldn’t be what he is today if the deadly finisher inherent in him wasn’t identified by former manager Pep Guardiola and the fact

Since, we have seen why it is time for Montoya to take charge in the back four; here is a look at Dani Alves in an all-new dimension:

Alves as central-midfielder

The Brazilian may have lost his defensive diligence playing on the right over the years but on the attack, he undoubtedly remains to be an artist. Alves is an exquisite short passer, possesses superb vision and some of his passes could be as deadly as those of the Xavis and Iniestas. The through pass to Lionel Messi in the Champions League is a classic example of his ability to create. The Samba Boy has also been up the ranks in terms of passing, creating chances and he has had a rollercoaster of a season with ups and downs throughout.

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Example: Alves’ pass pierced through four APOEL defenders to find Messi in the box and the latter kept his calm to find the back of the net.

While it is true that he has let the Catalans down on numerous occasions in terms of defense but a crucial feature of Alves’ game has gone unnoticed this season.

PlayerTackles/game in La Liga 2014/15Dani Alves4.3Sergio Busquets3.7Javier Mascherano3.6

The art of tackling has been a major part of Alves’ arsenal this season as the Brazilian has been the best tackler for Barca in the league thus far, ahead of the midfield maestro Sergio Busquets. It will be interesting to see how Alves improves even further with his ability to win the ball back, if deployed at the centre but with an excellent passing range, playmaking and tackling abilities, it is very likely that Alves becomes a lethal package at the middle of the park.

In addition, there are a quite a few issues that Barcelona need to address other than Alves like Busquets’ form which has been wavering throughout the season thus far, Montoya’s future hanging in the balance and Xavi’s aging legs. So moving the Brazilian to the centre could possibly address both all of these issues as he could be a good defensive cover for Busquets, fill in Xavi’s shoes when required and thereby allowing Montoya to fill the right back position.
How will Alves fit in at the midfield?

4-3-3 with Alves as midfielder

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Dani Alves can be deployed as a right central midfielder in Barcelona’s traditional 4-3-3, covering first two-thirds as well as the final third on the right side of the pitch (area between Busquets and Montoya as well as the one between Rakitic and Messi). An effective method would be to deploy him as a modern box-to-box contributing majorly in the final third and providing defensive cover sitting alongside Busquets while on the back foot.

Above all, Alves is an unsung hero of the Catalans as it is not widely known that he holds the privileged record of setting up Messi the most number of times in front of goal, ahead of Xavi and Iniesta. Thus, utilizing the Brazilian’s chemistry with Messi on the right flank would be an added advantage.  Henceforth, allowing the Brazilian to drift wide on the right with Messi cutting into the centre and Montoya also joining the attack could provide sheer balance to the right flank both on attack and defense.

Conclusion

It is important that Barcelona understand the fact that Dani Alves is a naturally an attack-minded player and having undergone such physical deterioration, it will not be fair to overload him with immense defensive tasks. Thus by deploying him at the centre, he can enter the final third of the pitch with much freedom, hold the ball, spray passes, create lethal attacking moves connecting with Messi and above all, he does not necessarily have to track back beyond a certain extent with the right back in place.  Barca enter the most crucial phase of the season and in all fairness, it would be a gamble to conduct this experiment right away. However, it is all the more important to go ahead with such bold decisions as the Blaugranas will not be signing any player in the summer of 2015 and the Brazilian could well turn out to be a midfield revelation in the years to come.

 

 

 

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