Monday, April 15, 2013

Covering Dani Alves's Space

Jorge Valdano:  "When Dani Alves runs up the pitch, he meets himself running back down it"

First of all I want to say it's really hard to analyze when the camera don't show the whole field, but a certain part of it. But I do my best with what I got.

Alves space by allasfcb

First of all lets start with Zaragoza. They played with a 4-4-1-1 or 4-2-3-1 formation, basically like most of the teams today plays; back 4 is compact, another block of 4 ahead of them and 2 attacking players, one slightly ahead of another.

Barcelona on the other hand played with their standard 4-3-3 with false 9. What they do in possession is that the full back(s) provide the width, they stretch the game, that allows the wingers to come inside.

If you look at this picture, Alves has 8 field players playing behind him, Only Tello who played at LW is ahead of him. Alexis, Bartra and Xavi cover his space there, which allows Dani Alves to play 10-20 meters further up the pitch.

alves alexis by allasfcb This part is very important in Barcelona's build ups. Barcelona moved the ball from side to side and just when Montoya plays the ball in the middle, it comes all down to the timing of the runs. This is something Alves does so well, he reads the game very well. Just before Xavi is reaching the ball in the middle, he already starts with his run behind Zaragoza's defense.

This might now sound surprising but his forward run he also defends. How? Because with his run, he also drags the Zaragoza's midfield towards their own goal. Look at the Zaragoza left midfielder pointing with his hand towards Alves, he can't cope with him, while the back 4 stayed compact towards the right side where the ball was a couple of seconds ago. Also the cross movement with Alexis, when Alexis comes inside and allows Alves to overlap.

defence shape by allasfcb
After Dani's cross to Tello he stayed up front and the team created a 3 man defense, with Song dropping back between the two CB's (Adriano, Song, Bartra) This created solidity in defense and Bartra moved far right to cover Dani's position. This defensive shape allowed Alves to stay up the field without worrying too much about his position in defense. It also allowed Alexis Sanchez to move into central position.

This defensive shape looks like any other defense in the world. Bartra as RB, Song+Adriano CB and Montoya LB. But it's not. It's actually a defensive movement which allows Alves to stay up front. It's basically a false defense. It's the movement Guardiola started against Sevilla couple of years ago that allows Alves to act as a wing-back in the build up's without leaving his space exposed.

Everybody knows that you have you use all the potential that a player offers to you. Alves adds another dimension to Barcelona's shape. He is so fit that he could run up and down the right flank, but that doesn't mean he leaves space behind him to expose. Barcelona is so clever that fill this space behind him with a clever movement, that allows Alves to play at times very high up the field. So he becomes the player who stretches the pitch and allows RW to move into central position, that is often not occupied with a false 9 that comes deep and leaves the back 4 often with nobody to cover.


  1. A concern of mine this season has been the additional attack mindedness of the left side via Jordi Alba. Not the shape, but the skillsets of the players in those positions.

    In years past, Barca were more sound defensively with the cool patience of Abidal on the left.

    More specifically, I felt that when Barca were exposed down the right flank, Dani would race back to make a tackle, which he's very skilled at. If he's beaten, the backline of Pique, Puyol, Abidal, and Busquets dropping inbetween the CBs, was ample cover (including height).

    This season with Jordi, or in past seasons whenever Adriano or Maxwell were at LB, Barca were assaulted more down the left flank. The onball defense from those three players has been lackluster when compared to Abidal, particularly when called upon to tackle playmakers.

    Notably, this has caused Dani to be exposed in defending men at the end of passes, something he's been inconsistent at, rather than tackling players in possession of the ball, which he's exceptional at.

    1. For the last few games Tito has used Alba as a third defender, like against Milan. It helped a lot to balance the shape, because you didn't have any more 2 attacking full backs, and I have to say Alba did a fanastic job there. Montoya was similar yesterday, he more defensive than Dani and played the Abidal role.

      But yeah, in general Abidal has been a huge loss in the last year or so. I would say he was the key player in defense, especially to balance things up.

  2. Brilliant once again, Allas. Bartra does very well when covering for Alves, we saw that in the Mallorca match too. Playing so wide allows him to slow the opponent down when they come through the wing, which then allows Alves more time to return back down.

    I agree with the previous comment too, we've struggled a bit to balance out with Abi's absence, which is why we've had to cut on Alba's offensive abilities to stay more stable.

    But in the end, I don't think it's the wingbacks that have been the problem at all, it's been the lack of pressing game that should slow the opponent down and make them give the ball away. I think Jordi has done a great job.