Dani Alves, in his prime, was one of the best fullbacks I've ever seen play. He's certainly past that prime, which is a bit painful sometimes. Not to say he's terrible, but seeing a once-unmatchable force struggle at times is hard.
Alves is 31, and while he retains speed and stamina that would put many to shame, his motor has been weighed down by thousands of miles of hard work.
In attack, his telepathic link-up with Lionel Messi is legendary. Many would be amazed to find out he assists more goals for Leo than Xavi or Andres Iniesta.
He was never a one-trick pony though, and he was a reliable defender. He had the ability to get back quickly and cover after pushing up to attack.
All of these things are diminishing. Again, not to say he's fully done. But he's just not the player he was before.
He's gotten a lot of criticism as of late, and the murmur coming out from the rumor mill is the board is not interested in giving him an extension once his contract is up at the end of the season.
This brings up two important questions. One, how much has he truly declined? And two, who would take over if Alves was to leave?
Believe it or not, Alves leads the team in tackles per game according to statistics from WhoScored. He's not as adept at interceptions, but his numbers are not bad in that category - he's close to Javier Mascherano and Sergio Busquets in that stat.
Alves has recorded 4 assists, more than any other player bar Lionel Messi. He's fourth on the team in chances created per game behind Messi, Luis Suarez, and Xavi.
He does lose the ball plenty for a fullback, but not more than say, Andres Iniesta. A supporter would point out that it kind of comes with the territory for someone who wants to make things happen. The fact that Neymar, Messi and Suarez lead this stat is telling.
He has committed perhaps too many fouls this season, though again, this is explained somewhat because he is running back to cover his flank. Most of Barcelona's most persistent foulers are wing players - forwards or fullbacks.
Another sin of Alves's is that he gets dribbled by about once a game, but then, Busquets gets dribbled by about twice a game. The point is you can look at some flaws of Alves's game, but then, nobody's perfect. Still, his supporters are dwindling.
The one area Cules are sick to death with when it comes to Dani is his crossing. He, plainly, attempts way too many of them. Barcelona have a small attack and midfield and won't win many jump balls. For a cross to result in a goal, it must be delivered with pin-point accuracy. Alves just cannot do this. It may be his main weakness as a fullback.
It's not as if Alves needs to be good at crosses. Even if he was, Barcelona wouldn't score many with this tactic. It's time for him to simply cut back on trying that and start trying something else. I'm not sure if it's the coach who needs to step in and reassess the strategy or if it's a personal tic, but either way. Maybe tell him if he doesn't cut it out, he'll be benched.
And here's where the real problem comes in.
Barcelona have two other right-backs on the first team roster. One is Martin Montoya. He was a promising Barcelona B prospect that has not really evolved past his days as occasional rotation man. He's spent two full seasons with the first team already and doesn't seem to have progressed.
The other is Douglas Pereira, signed in the offseason from Sao Paulo. He wasn't really on anyone's radar and his signing is still puzzling. At 24, he is not a prospect. He should be close to peaking, yet he doesn't appear to have a prayer of unseating Alves at the moment.
Both have played exactly one game this season. Both are having trouble making the bench, let alone the starting lineup. It's strange for a team that has 3 senior right-backs to have none on the bench.
Which goes back to the original question: if Alves is not renewed, who will take over? Montoya seems fed up with the situation and ready to leave himself. Considering the looming transfer ban, is Barca going to commit to Douglas as a starter?
What are the alternatives? Well, there's Patric Gabarrón from Barcelona B. He's 21 and made just one appearance for the senior team, coming on as a sub against Ajax in a loss. Needless to say, he's not a top prospect and not ready to contribute in high volumes to the senior side, even next season.
The most logical course might be to convert Adriano Correia full-time to right-back. Adriano is nominally a left-back, but he is truly two-footed and can easily play on the right. He's a serviceable player, though not much younger than Alves and notoriously injury-prone.
That would let Alex Grimaldo, Barcelona B's highly-rated left-back, to become the backup to Jordi Alba.
There's stranger options, like converting a right-winger such as Pedro Rodriguez or Adama Traore from Barcelona B to a right-back.
Going down the line, it's easy to see why Alves may be renewed after all, if only to serve as a backup. Many Cules will object, but this is the nature of the situation the Barcelona board have put the team in.
They knew the transfer ban was coming and yet did not go after a top fullback after flirting with the idea of grabbing Fiorentina's Juan Cuadrado all summer. Instead, for better or worse, they signed Douglas.