In recent seasons, the attacking nature of Alves has been compensated by Éric Abidal. As the Brazilian would push forward and make a 3-4-3, Abidal who is naturally a centre back worked well with Piqué and Puyol to ensure any space left by the rampaging full-back was well covered.
But Abidal has since departed and his replacement, Jordi Alba, shares the characteristics of Alves not Abidal making Barcelona occasionally weak to quick counterattacks. Against the majority of teams, this is not a problem as Barcelona's dictatorship of midfield usually dampens any attacks before they build up. But against the likes of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, the pace in the sides often means they have broken past the midfield before Barcelona has adequate time to react.
With three defenders back and Sergio Busquets dropping deeper, Barcelona in the past have been largely successful at preventing counterattacks but that has changed sine Abidal's absence. If we look at the 4-0 defeat to Bayern last season, all four goals came from wide positions. Muller's opening goal came when Jordi Alba had switched over to the right side of the pitch, leaving Alexis Sánchez to defend. The second goal came from Dani Alves being overpowered from a corner while the third goal came from Alves being unable to keep up with Franck Ribéry. Finally Muller's second of the game came from Alves' right side as the Brazillian full-back had pushed high up leaving Marc Bartra to defend against Robben and David Alaba. The second leg was largely the same story but this time it was Adriano who partnered Alves in defence.
When Barcelona attack they flood the opponent's half with players, making it very difficult for the defending team to keep hold of the ball. But as Barcelona have enjoyed long periods of success with this tactic, other teams have learnt to not stick eleven men behind the ball. If you leave a quick player, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, up the field then you have a chance to hit Barcelona on the counterattack. You need a good long pass from your defender to find the attacker in space who can then run at a depleted Barcelona defence.
This is where the argument to leave either Jordi Alba or Dani Alves on the bench comes in. Both fullbacks push up to become makeshift midfielders, leaving Barcelona playing in a 2-5-3 formation with Busquets dropping deeper. The fastest central defender at the club is arguably Piqué or Bartra but their pace doesn't match some of the attacking players they will face. Against the better teams, I believe Barcelona need a defence minded full-back to compliment the attacking one. With Abidal gone, there is no obvious choice as to who this is. Martín Montoya still shows some signs of youthful inexperience so perhaps Adriano would be the best choice.
The Brazilian has been known to score a few golazos and has been injury prone in recent years, but he would seem the most logical player to fill the gap. He is relatively quick, a good passer, knows when to stay back and can play on both the left and right side of the field. With Adriano playing, the other full-back can push forward and not leave a huge gap behind him.
The next big test for Barça is the trip to Manchester for the game against City. The English side have a lot of quick attackers such as Jesus Navas so it would seem Adriano would be a good choice to start this game, whether Tata Martino agrees or not we will have to see.
(Spanish football writer Sid Lowe briefly touched on this in Foreign Desk, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BVSgDZ2jsoI, around the 2:40 mark, which is well worth a watch.)
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