Sunday’s 3-0 win over Sevilla – aside from earning 3 crucial points to extend our lead at the top of the league to 8 points over Real Madrid – brought some unexpected surprises to the surface.
For instance, Pedri’s excellence as a second pivot replacing the injured Busquets or Kessié’s different role further up the field might come as a surprise for many, but Jordi Alba’s performance surely stole the headlines.
Jumping in for an absent Balde, the veteran Spaniard had an arduous task to prove his worth. In recent weeks, Balde – meritedly – forced Alba to the bench, showing such brilliance that it would be a sin to leave him out of the lineup. Normally, few can argue that Baldé, in his current form, would have occupied the left-back spot if healthy, but a fever stopped the young prodigy from featuring among the starters, granting an opportunity to the ravenous Alba. And, he didn’t disappoint.
Just in pure numbers: 83 minutes, 96 touches, 59 passes made, 89% pass accuracy, 2/2 successful dribbles, 3/4 accurate long balls, 5 duels won, 7 recoveries, 7 passes into the final third, 3 chances created, 0.79 expected assists, 0.33 expected goals, a goal, and an assist. A truly masterful game produced by the captain, who stepped up and grabbed the opportunity this situation gave him, making us forget about Baldé’s absence.
But, what exactly makes Jordi Alba so good? Aging like fine wine, his great understanding of the play and sedulous off-the-ball movement makes him an important weapon, especially against such compact defensive blocks, where his dynamism is for good use. Even above the age of 30, the Spaniard possesses a rather quick feet for someone like his age, and his well-timed runs and refined crosses can always be a threat for the opposition.
With the burden of always being played in the lack of a competent replacement being taken off his shoulders, the veteran visibly enjoys his time on the pitch, throwing himself into the game with a great deal of energy. Indeed, a limited game time is never flattering, desired goal for a player, but aside from helping him in his recovery, it also provides a healthy competition for the players to always push their limits as much as possible.
On the other hand, what Baldé offers to the left flank is also invaluable. His electric burst of pace and youthful mobility makes him an ever-present factor on the left-hand side of the Blaugrana, be it on the offensive or the defensive end as well.
His agility and great dribbling help him glide through his opponents with ease (fun fact: although playing just 7 minutes against Sevilla, he completed the most dribbles with 3), offering a great attacking weapon to Xavi on the left, while he is also able to track back and stand his ground in the defensive duties.
So, what’s the verdict? Despite playing in the same position, the two players have different traits, which offers a variability to Xavi, enabling him to adapt to different types of oppositions. While Baldé’s thunderous speed and dribbling can be a threatening presence on the whole left flank, Alba’s experience, spatial awareness, and passing skills still put him ahead of the youngster in certain scenarios.
All in all, we can be thankful to have such an exceptional fullback duo, with arguably the greatest left-back in the club’s history running it back like he did in his prime and an extremely talented youngster with a bright future ahead. Maybe, the answer isn’t a definitive vote on either side but rather a compromised, balanced collaboration that can help everyone grow and blossom, pushing the team towards new heights.