Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Jordi Alba lifts off

Four weeks ago, Jordi Alba had only played 1 competitive match for Spain, at Home to Scotland in a Euro 2012 qualifier. 6 matches later, and Alba is now a recognised name in homes across Europe after winning Euro 2012, keeping 5 clean sheets and scoring an excellent goal in the Final against Italy. Last week, Alba signed for Barcelona, the club where he grew up, for €14 million.

Spain are often compared to Barcelona, particularly in relation to the fact that they play in a similar way, but lack a player to fill the role of Messi (despite that being an impossible role to fill). Jordi Alba fills another role that Barcelona use well, the attacking full-back. At Barcelona, Dani Alves gives his team extra dimensions by being willing to push forward for large periods of matches. Playing so high up the field stretches the pitch for his team-mates, giving them more space and also offering another ball in behind the opposition defence on the right-hand side. Throughout Euro 2012, Jordi Alba has been a constant threat down the left-hand side, overlapping Andrés Iniesta who plays quite narrow and likes to come inside. Alba’s natural instinct to push forward and give the midfielders another option out wide has been invaluable for Spain.

Jordi Alba made 50 appearances for Valencia last season, finishing third in La Liga and getting to the Semi-Finals of the Europa League. His successful partnership with Jérémy Mathieu down the left-hand side was key to Valencia’s play. He got 5 goals and 5 assists in the League and played well in a side which was considered to have underperformed. Valencia finished 30 points behind Barcelona in La Liga and were knocked out of the Champions League in the Group Stage. Alba now returns to Barcelona where he played in the youth setup until 2005, and it seems like a match made in heaven. Dani Alves and Jordi Alba attacking down both flanks is a frightening proposition for any opponent. With Eric Abidal still recovering from his liver transplant, Alba’s position in the team looks secure, and Barcelona will hope that he can bring his brilliant form to the Camp Nou.

During Euro 2012, the Spanish midfield exerted a level of control over matches that has never been seen before at an International tournament. This control was the key to the team’s near perfect defensive record throughout the tournament. Offensively however, the Spanish looked at their most dangerous when they introduced pace into their attacks. Pedro, Jesus Navas and Torres were all effectively used at key points to stretch their opponents and push them back, but it was the ever-present Jordi Alba whose tireless runs up and down the left wing caught the eye of the watching public.

Alba’s goal in the Final capped off a perfect tournament for the 23 year old. None of the Italian defenders were capable of staying with his run, and he controlled Xavi’s wonderful pass with perfect precision, before calmly slotting the ball past Gigi Buffon. Coming into a side who were already World and European Champions would be daunting for most, but Jordi Alba did more than just fit in. He gave this amazing Spanish side more pace, more threat, more options, and he leaves Euro 2012 on the verge of super-stardom.

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