Jordi Alba has dropped hints he’s not exactly happy with being left out of the starting XI as Barcelona have switched to a 3-4-3 formation. But regardless of form, there is a good reason for his exclusion: he doesn’t quite fit the new system, which eliminated his natural position from the teamsheet.
Luis Enrique has used Alba primarily as a left-sided centerback in this formation, though more than that, Alba has just been on the bench.
As a center-back, Alba covers a lot of territory but he’s clearly not as good in the air or as solid defensively in general as the man he replaces, Samuel Umtiti.
Alba is used to starting, and in a 4-3-3 he probably does still, but in a 3-4-3, he’s a poor fit. Lucho prefers Umtiti, and on occasion has even preferred Jeremy Mathieu AND Lucas Digne to the flying squirrel in that left-sided CB spot.
So does Alba have a role in the team beyond occasional ill-fitting LCB?
Maybe he needs to play as a midfielder more often - essentially, as an Andres Iniesta substitute. It’s a new role, but one that perhaps suits him better in the 3-4-3 formation.
Sergi Roberto has moved from right-back to midfield, which has made him a bit more comfortable. OK, midfield was always his preferred spot, but it shows you that the switch isn’t that radical.
Alba is a good passer and his stamina and speed can help Barcelona in transitions. Of course he’s no Iniesta, but he does bring something different to the role in that he is blazing fast. Considering Barcelona have sometimes been overrun on counters, a player with good recovery speed could be a help.
The sub for Iniesta lately has been André Gomes quite often, and he’s not exactly lighting the world on fire (though he did bag his first goal in the last game.)
Alba is not a particularly great defender, he’s more of an offensive-minded fullback. And his aerial ability compared to Mathieu or Umtiti is like comparing a crop duster to a bomber. That’s especially a concern considering how many goals Barcelona have been shipping on corners lately. No, having taller players is not as important as organizing better, but hey, taller players do make a big difference.
The left side of defense in a three-man line doesn’t seem to suit Jordi at all, and it suits Mathieu, Digne, and most especially Umtiti much better.
Granted, the midfield is already packed with great quantity if not great quality, but some competition wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.