Apparently FC Barcelona have a big game this weekend. I mean, I didn't realise, but it's nearly time for El Clasico again....wait, who am I kidding, I've been counting down to this one since the fixture list was announced back in the summer. Matches against Real Madrid always deliver on every front; excitement, drama, tension -- El Clasico has it all, but with the big games come the big stakes and with the big stakes comes big pressure, especially on head coach, Luis Enrique.
Every aspect of his gameplan, every selection, every decision will be scrutinised right down to the minutest detail; they say that goalkeepers are crazy, but really, the craziest folk are probably the managers who return to the game, putting it all on the line to prove themselves after a distinguished career. Enrique has a lot of tough decisions to make between now and Saturday's kick-off at the Santiago Bernabeu. The most obvious, and the one that will attract the most media coverage will be around Lionel Messi, and whether he is thrown right back into the deep-end on his return from injury.
However, it's some of the other choices that could have the biggest impact; for instance: does Luis Enrique find room in his starting line-up for one of the Blaugrana's in-form players, Sergi Roberto?
In midfield, it's going to be difficult, if not impossible for Sergi to start. Ivan Rakitic is just too important from a tactical standpoint, while Andres Iniesta is our club captain, and if his spell on the sideline is anything to go by, he remains one of the most integral parts of the Barca juggernaut. However, what about in the backline, and specifically, at right-back -- could Sergi Roberto actually be an option ahead of Dani Alves on Saturday evening?
While Alves experienced something of a renaissance last season, especially towards the business end of the campaign, his form since signing a new contract this summer has been patchy at best. As a result, the enigmatic Brazilian has come under fire from some Cules for showing a lack of effort on the field, or perhaps more worryingly, a simple decline in his abilities. While it's likely that Alves will find motivation for a Clasico, does he still have the legs and the focus to deliver at the highest level?
Well, with a little help from our friends at Sportsmatrix, we're going to take a closer look at the statistics to compare Barcelona's performance with Alves, or with Sergi Roberto at the back:
The headlines are interesting to say the least, although perhaps it's safe to say they are far less conclusive than we saw with Jeremy Mathieu. Barcelona create more chances, and take a greater number of shots per game with Roberto at right-back, than with Alves. Whether that's because of Roberto's dynamism and versatility, or whether it's a mere coincidence remains to be seen. Certainly, a quick look at the next statistic proves just how important Alves has been through the years; an ever-present in both treble-winning sides, Barcelona's average goals for and against record with Alves is far superior than their record with Roberto at full-back.
From an individual standpoint, it starts to become apparent that while Alves' experience counts for a lot in certain aspects of the game (good defensive actions, based on events such as interceptions and successful tackles for instance), the Brazilian is quite a "bi-polar" player. You get more of the good with Alves than you do with Sergi, but you also get more of the bad; Roberto instead represents a solid middle-ground. Solid, but not spectacular.
Roberto's natural creativity and efficiency as a midfielder schooled at La Masia is patently obvious too; the Catalan creates nearly as many chances as Alves from full-back with just half of the attempts. His consistency is admirable too, but the question remains: while his statistics seem more impressive than Alves, would you really trust him in a one-on-one against Cristiano Ronaldo?
It's an interesting dilemma, and one that has no obvious answer -- at least in this Cule's eyes. What do you guys think; who should Lucho start at right-back on Saturday?