Is Brazil Star Dani Alves the Key to Improving Barcelona's Defense?
Heading into the 2013 Confederations Cup, Brazil fans were concerned for a number of areas in their side.
Fred was a gamble in the lone striker's role, David Luiz a ticking time bomb in defence and the central midfield was a mess, but the biggest fears revolved around the full-back slots occupied by Dani Alves and Marcelo.
Luiz Felipe Scolari had piled all his faith into two extremely aggressive, adventurous defenders and legitimate concerns were raised over how the Selecao were going to find defensive/attacking balance.
Going forward, it was a wonderful prospect, but it was cringe-worthy from a defensive standpoint—at least on paper. Filipe Luis sat on the bench and seemed an attractive option to bring that balance, while the only cover at right-back was holding midfielder Jean.
It seemed like Brazil were going to over-commit on the flanks and pay the price on the counter, but in a shocking turn of events, Scolari managed to rein in Alves' game and install some discipline.
The result was a well-balanced Selecao, with Marcelo making consistent runs forward to combine with Neymar and Alves largely hanging back to cover for Hulk when he chanced it down the line.
It was a combination that no one had down as a match, yet Alves' transformation meant his nation had the appropriate numbers in every area of the pitch at all times.
What's interesting going forward is that Barcelona—Alves' domestic club—have that exact same problem.
Since the recruitment of Jordi Alba, Barca have struggled to cover the gaps that emerge on the flanks when both full-backs commit.
Alba, a former winger, knows no other way and isn't the strongest in defence. Meanwhile, Alves has made his name as one of the most penetrative, marauding right-backs in the history of the game since Pep Guardiola brought him to Camp Nou.
With Eric Abidal opposite Alves, the issue wasn't quite so prominent, as he would play a cautious game and drop in to form a three at the back when his Brazilian colleague zipped off down the line.
Now that Alba steals the headlines as the all-action, lung-busting full-back, could Alves' disciplined and reformed defensive performances at the Confederations Cup get Tito Vilanova's mind ticking over?
It's a solution that appears mad on paper, but the former Sevilla man's performances in Brazil this summer prove he can play a disciplined, careful game.
Could Alves be the man who solves Barca's defensive crisis with a slight change in role?
Much has been made of Barcelona's need of a centre-back to plug the problems faced in the UEFA Champions League last season. The defence was out-thought and out-paced by a rampant Bayern Munich, and that's led the club to pursue a commanding, dominant centre-back.
While that should remain an area of interest in the market, it's intriguing to wonder if an adjustment of Alves' role would lead to serious short-term improvement.
He's proven he's capable—against Spain, no less.
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