Although Barcelona are top of the table in La Liga, the team experienced some defensive problems as a group, conceding many goals during the campaign. But if we talk about the individual performances of the defenders, we have to talk about their left-back Jordi Alba.
Through this tactical analysis, we will try to review what the Spanish player has provided tactically and statistically to his team this season.
Jordi Alba was absent many times this season because of injuries, but when he got fit again, he was always part of the squad in the Barcelona team, first under coach Ernesto Valverde and then when Quique Setién took over the job.
With Barcelona’s 4-4-3 system, Alba is an essential piece within the team’s tactical ideas, whether on the defensive or offensive side, and we will start with the defensive style with the team.
Despite the fact that he is primarily a left-back, Barcelona favour using him in the advanced areas as he offers great support in the offensive playing style, but he is also a decent defender, which we will analyse further.
The left-back has a great average of recoveries of the ball from the opponent with up to 7.53 per game, besides his percentage of success in the defensive duels ratio which is 59% in this season. That’s due to his concentration and his ability to intercept the ball from the opponent, as we can see that in the next example.
Here we can see the analysis of how Jordi Alba positions himself when the ball is on the opposite flank as he is going to the width of the pitch to cover the space and reduce it with the near centre-back.
Athletic Bilbao switched the ball directly on the left flank behind Jordi Alba’s position to attack the space, but he was fully aware of what was going to happen and succeeded in recovering the ball with a good defensive duel. In fact, he won 33 defensive duels in his own third this season in the league, which shows us that he is always ready to engage and challenge the attackers.
Alba is permanently present on the left side, moving up and down very quickly, whether in high pressure in the opposition’s half or even in the middle area to retrieve the balls, which is what we can see in the heat map.
Here we see a vertical movement from the Barcelona penalty area to a part within the penalty area of the opponents. Alba’s defensive style can be seen distinctively when Barcelona lose the ball, as he is among the first players to put the pressure on the ball bearers, particularly on the flank.
His style of defence makes him good in counter-pressing situations. This season, he intercepted the ball 83 times, with 30 in the middle third and another 30 times in the final third, as we will see in the next examples.
Here we see how Alba was positioned to offer support to his teammates and was quick to intercept the ball and then continue the attack for Barcelona. Athletic were ready to start a counter-attack but the Spaniard was quick to react and stop it before it becomes dangerous.
Jordi Alba has a good defensive style, but he also has a very distinct attacking style and provides permanent support to the team in the final third.
Jordi Alba has had great attacking contribution with Barcelona since he arrived in the summer of the 2012/2013 season. Before that, he has been a member of the Valencia team and was a member of the Barcelona academy even before that.
Even if he didn’t offer much this season in this aspect, he managed to score a goal and assist in two goals. But he is much more than just the final product. Alba constantly progresses to the opponent’s areas, giving the team an additional outlet when attacking and offering different channels to exploit.
Jordi Alba has 2.23 expected assists (xA) this season in addition to 0.61 expected goals (xG) with Barcelona. We can see that those numbers are very weak for such a great player who was crucial last season with this team, but let’s see how he can contribute to Barcelona’s tactics in the next examples.
Here we can see Barcelona’s build-up phase as the ball is with Sergi Busquets who is positioned between Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet while at the same time, Jordi Alba is stretching the pitch on the left side, without being marked by the opponent’s players.
The positioning of Jordi made him a good choice to his teammate, and he received the ball at the left flank in the final third, with the chance to play a cross to Luis Suarez who scored. But we can see here one of the simple and big points of Alba’s attacking pattern of play – when Barcelona have the ball, they always see him as the option to take advantage and go to the penalty area.
From the start of the build-up phase up until he receives the ball and moves it into the final third, he made a solution for his side, as well as exposing a weakness in the coverage of Espanyol players on the right side in the defensive slot.
Jordi Alba is one of the players in the squad who prefer to cross the balls, as it is an important weapon during his team’s possession of the ball since he deploys 3.55 crosses per match, as seen in the picture below.
Jordi Alba has a crossing success rate of 38.6% during the current season, despite not having participated continuously for long periods, and has a manufacturing rate of expected assist (xA) which reaches to 0.14 per 90 minutes this season.
Alba also has a good progressive runs stat with 1.37 per game and given his advanced age and the many injuries he has suffered over the past period, that’s quite impressive. Besides that, he has the best progressive passes per game in LaLiga this season up to 13.87 per game, but most importantly, his clever moves always appear in the final third of the field, which we can see that in the next example.
When the ball is with Arturo Vidal at the left flank and as he prepares to pass it horizontally to Antoine Griezmann, we can see that Jordi Alba still gets forward vertically on the pitch to complete the overlap.
That has been his trademark move for years now as he is always on a lookout to support the attack and drift into open pockets of space when that’s possible.
Here when Real Betis tried to take possession from Barcelona players with the high press on them, and we can see how Jordi immediately tried to exploit that on the flank and set himself up to be a free-man again for receiving the pass from his teammate, positioning himself in the blind area from the beginning of the play, and making problems for the opponent’s defence.
Jordi Alba has a great offensive style over many seasons within the walls of Barcelona, but he also has some weaknesses.
Jordi Alba has some problems with his performance, specifically on the defensive side with Barcelona: he doesn’t like to make tackles on the opponent, as he only makes 0.6 per game, and that’s very little for a defender. Of course, we have to take into account that Barcelona are usually on the front foot and have the majority of the ball, which inevitably affects the tackles made by their defenders.
But sometimes this problem causes him to let the opponent play balls with no pressure, causing Barcelona to concede goals, as we will see in the next example.
Here we can see the ball at Jordi’s side with the Bilbao player, without any pressure or a tackle, which leads to the player to send a cross that caused the goal that sent Barcelona out of the cup. If Jordi Alba just decided to press the player, maybe he could’ve prevented the whole attack from succeeding.
And if Jordi Alba had recovered 121 balls from competitors, he lost 143 balls in all parts of the field, which means that he has a problem in possession of the ball during this season, and we will see the distribution of those balls in the next picture.
Here we can see the places where he lost the ball and concentrated clearly in the middle and the final third, where he lost the ball 79 times and perhaps now we realise why Barcelona struggle on the offensive side this season. With Alba being such a focal point of their attack, it doesn’t surprise that his dip in form affects the team as a whole.
Jordi Alba is also sometimes quite slow in returning to his defensive positioning when his team loses possession, and we can see that in the next example.
Here in the build-up phase of the Barcelona team play, we find it centred on the left side, in an attempt to expand the playing field, and make Real Madrid‘s mission difficult in the process of pressure.
Here we see that Real Madrid succeeded in the pressure process and Dani Carvajal plays a cross to the left side of the Barcelona team, but we see that Jordi has not returned to the defensive positioning yet, and this is what created a serious opportunity for Real Madrid.
Jordi has suffered a lot this season on the defensive side for technical reasons, including some injuries.
In this scout report, we tried to showcase how Jordi Alba performed this season with Barcelona. It was certainly not as efficient as it was during the past seasons, due to a large number of absences and multiple injuries taking a toll on the player.