"El Guaje" David Villa can still be an important contributor to FC Barcelona. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Meet the two fresh faces in the Barcelona locker room: two key players in the Spanish national team, two former Valencia players, two players who will line up on the left side, and two players who aren't new at all.
David Villa is coming back from a long injury layoff in which he missed around half of last season, including Euro 2012. Jordi Alba is so far this year's only summer signing, and he too is making a comeback, albeit a much different one. Alba was a former Barca youth team player who will finally represent the senior team in an official competition once the season starts.
On his Facebook page, Villa posted a photo of the two with their lockers side-by-side. Barcelona will need the duo to perform side by side on the pitch as well.
Alba will play as a left back and make his darting runs forward, hoping to give the Catalans width. Meanwhile, Villa will play as a left forward looking to cut in towards the middle. If it goes according to plan, opposing defenses will have a hard time stopping the Barcelona attack.
Villa made his move from Valencia to Barcelona in 2010 as a replacement for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. In his first season, he was Barcelona's second best goalscorer behind Lionel Messi, with 23 in 52 appearances (0.44 goals per game). He started the season in great form, memorably scoring a brace against Real Madrid. But towards the end of the season, he experienced a dip. However, he capped it off with a great goal versus Manchester United in the Champions League final.
Last year, Villa's consistency was questioned again. In retrospect, perhaps this was harsh. Because of a serious injury, Villa missed the second half of the season, but he still finished with 9 goals in 24 appearances. His 0.38 goals per game was low given his lofty standards, but it was by no means poor. It was third-best on the team behind Messi (obviously) and Sergi Roberto, who should barely count as he made only 4 appearances.
This season will be a test of Villa's mental and physical strength. The all-time top-scorer of the Spanish national team, Villa may still have some rustiness to shake off. He will turn 31 at the end of 2012, so his recovery to top form may be complicated. This could lead to frustration, but Villa seems like a tough character.
Jordi Alba, on the other hand, is only 23 and most definitely on the rise. Despite being a new arrival, he has experience in the Barcelona academy and has played with many Barcelona players in the national team before. The challenge for Alba is to consistently deliver at the top level. We all know he has the skill and ability to do so, but some question his experience. But that lack of experience did not seem to hinder him at Euro 2012, where he played excellently and even scored a goal in the final as Spain took home the trophy.
The duo have played together before as members of Valencia and the Spanish national team, though they have not made that many appearances together. Still, the two have playing styles that mesh well, and they fit quite naturally into coach Tito Vilanova's system.
Alba will start his run from a deep position, using his pace to create problems down the wing. Villa will have space to go in towards the goal, where, if he receives the ball, he can let loose with his trademark bending shots. On the other hand, Villa can play a one-two with Alba down the left side. Alba can beat just about anyone one on one and can deliver a great cross for a scoring opportunity. This kind of play was the nexus for Xabi Alonso's opening goal in Spain's Euro 2012 quarterfinal against France:
Vilanova can also choose to recreate Alba's interplay with Andres Iniesta in the Euro by playing Iniesta on the left wing. However, that means Iniesta will abandon his most natural position as central attacking midfielder. This is a very interesting dilemma that Vilanova will have to tackle. If Villa is in form, however, he remains the best choice in that spot, with Iniesta through the middle.
If Alba continues his rise and Villa returns to excellence, Barca's left side, a source of doubt last year, should be a strength this season. To fulfill Barcelona's hopes to capture more trophies this year, the Blaugrana will probably need both Villa and Alba to perform up to their stellar reputations.