Jordi Alba: Measuring His Progress at Barcelona This Season
Xavi Hernandez pulled the strings in midfield, Lionel Messi scored two and David Villa justified his selection with a typical David Villa finish.
Jordi Alba put the gloss on the scoreline in stoppage time as Barcelona pummeled AC Milan in the Champions League, but the young left-back had already excelled in a game which saw examples of both his discipline and Barca's versatility.
Released by Barcelona in 2005, Alba's journey eventually saw him return full-circle. His performances as a left winger and as a No. 10 for Cornella convinced Valencia to pay €6,000 (~$9,000) to bring him down the Spanish coast in 2007.
After a season in Los Che's B team and another on loan at Gimnastic, he was deemed ready to grace the first team at Mestalla.
Like other attacking players before him, Alba was eventually shifted back to the left-back position—not permanently though. Unai Emery often utilized both him and Jeremy Mathieu as an interchangeable partnership on the left; sometimes one would be further forward, other times the other.
It was his performances over the course of last season—before his successful Euro 2012, where he scored in the final—which convinced the top brass at Barcelona that he was the man to fill their left-back void.
Considered similar to Dani Alves on the opposite side, Barca always thought of Alba as a left-back in their system as opposed to a left winger and in that is half the reason why the 24-year-old has been able to progress this season.
Now set in a given position, he has been able to establish himself as one of the world's leading left-backs. Even Bayern Munich's president Uli Hoeness (via Marca), when asked which Real Madrid and Barca players would get into Bayern's side, answered "Iniesta, Alba..."
But it was as he energetically burst forward in the 94th minute of the Champions League tie against Milan that we really saw how Alba has progressed since returning to Catalonia.
As Michael Cox so eloquently put it in the Guardian, "it wasn't because Alba didn't stop running—it was because he knew when to start running."
That is definitely the key point here. Against the Italians, Barca went with a back-three for certain periods of the game, with Alves pushing forward as a right winger and Alba tucking in alongside Javier Mascherano and Gerard Pique, remaining true to his manager's instructions.
It was the perfect answer to all the questions that had rightfully been posed which pondered whether La Blaugrana could always afford to implement two such attack-minded full-backs.
If Alba's fantastic 82nd-minute challenge to deny Robinho didn't prove that he could be both disciplined and good defensively, then UEFA's average position diagrams certainly show how well he remained on task throughout the 90 minutes.
After seven years away from Barcelona, Alba has returned and proved that the club were wrong to ever let him go. Now, when questioned defensively, his most recent progress is beginning to prove any doubters of that side of his game wrong too.
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