Barcelona is a system. The team is an organic, constantly shifting, free in motion, confusing and befuddling many teams which face them. Yet looking at the side which defeated Athletic Bilbao 2-1, I realized something I had never before. Throughout the entire match, although Bilbao were doing their best to cope with Barcelona's tight passing, they were truly unable to cope with Dani Alves.
The Brazilian right back was a monster, fearlessly tearing up the right wing, providing sumptuous crosses for the rest of the team. During the match I repeatedly saw Xavi with the ball at his feet, chipping through the left side of Bilbao's defence for the waiting Dani Alves. The Spaniard's impeccable passing accompanied with the Brazilian's tireless ability to get behind the Bilbao defence was devastating throughout the match.
While often Dani Alves would be a step too far ahead and be caught offside, when wasn't, he decided the match. Although during the build up of the first goal Dani Alves was offside (not noticed by the linesman or referee), in the second he wasn't. All it took was a piercing pass floated through by Xavi for Alves who cut into the Bilbao penalty box, and from there Alves took one touch to pass it off to David Villa who smacked it in. The second goal was even more delightful, from Xavi's pinpoint pass, this time Alves took two touches, one to control and the other to square the ball to Messi for a tap-in.
The right-back was truly instrumental in Barcelona's victory. While of course he is surrounded by Xavi (who serves delightful passes with ease), Messi, Villa and many other players who make things easier for him, Dani Alves is under-appreciated for his importance in Barcelona's system.
Although Messi made some mind-blowing slaloms through the entire Athletic Bilbao team, the Argentine was unable to score. He needed the help of Dani Alves on the right wing to make a timed run, and serve him the ball to score the winner. Now with 19 assists in 34 appearances this season for Barcelona, maybe Dani Alves is a much more important player for Barcelona than many people think.