Full-backs, by their nature, was the second least enviable role in football. In your Sunday kickabouts, the obese kid would unmistakably be given the token role of the goalkeeper, while the boy who could do little else but run up and down the pitch like a headless turkey, be given the task of the full-back.
But with the advent of the modern game, all that has changed. The full-back role, has become one of the most undeniably important functions. Aspiring full-backs should sit down with a pen and notepad when they are watching Barcelona’s Jordi Alba at play.
Always vigilant, and with a peripheral vision, like a homburg hat with eyes stitched around it, seems almost ridiculous. The evidence was aplenty in Barcelona’s 5-1 humbling of Real Madrid.
In the tenth minute, when Barcelona were comfortably stroking the ball around in the midfield after another Real Madrid break came to nothing (that would be putting it lightly, it was akin to seeing a dollop of mashed potato being thrown at a wall and hoping the wall gives away), Alba’s bobblehead head was inspecting the spaces and channels around him.
On first inspection, it might not appear much, but when you catch the instant replay of the first goal you’ll notice how Alba’s dummy run inwards sucked an inexperienced and a clearly out-of-place Nacho into a cul de sac. Upon seeing the ball arrive at the feet of his midfield enforcers, Alba made a darting run that made Nacho feel akin to what a classic Looney Tunes saloon door felt like every time Speedy Gonzales ran through it. Nacho’s flat-footedness underpinned the sheer pace that Alba has over the first ten yards.
The ball duly dispatched via airmail into the left channel, all that remained for Barcelona’s raiding left back to do was to square the ball into the box. The easier option would have been to ping it with all his power to a rampaging Luis Suarez, but he chose the braver option by placing it back for the sidefoot slap of Barcelona’s No 7, Philippe Coutinho.
To redeem some of the blushes of Real Madrid and indeed his fellow wing-back, Marcelo, with his signature burst into the box found himself, like he so often does, at the end of a ball that was improperly cleared. Isco expertly threaded an acute cross in amongst a tangle of bodies in the Barcelona box in the 50th minute. With a touch as assured as high real estate prices in Madrid, Marcelo chested the ball to volley it past the left-side of a usually insurmountable Marc Andre ter Stegen, the Barcelona goalkeeper.
Julen Lopetegui, to his credit, noticed the gulf in class between Nacho and Alba, albeit a little late like the Titanic acknowledging the tip of an iceberg that sank it. Lucas Vasquez was thrown in almost like a life preserver. And it worked. For a considerable spell in the second half, Vasquez’s introduction served like a shot in the arm for Real Madrid (not literally, because that would be illegal as per regulations). Real Madrid dominated, and Barcelona wore the look of an ant nest that was accidentally stepped on. The structural integrity was gone. Vasquez, on a couple of occasions, had all the time and space to run down his flank and almost set up Karim Benzema for a headed goal. Alba, alerted by the lack of cohesion in the middle, found himself standing beside Sergio Busquets, helpless to let those runs happen.
It could have been an entirely different match report, had Luka Modric’s shot on the 55th minute struck a blade of grass on its way to striking the post. A change of a degree or two on the trajectory of the ball would have meant the score would have lined up an even 2-2, and Barcelona would have lost their velvet-feet authority. But, while this match showed the importance of the modern football affecting big results, it’ll be remembered as a testament to the kind of players who thrive in the chaos around him: namely Barcelona’s number nine, Luis Suarez.
A man like Luis Suarez
When the going gets tough, Suarez wear his invisible leather jack, smokes his invisible cigar and gets on his invisible Harley Davidson to vroom into relevance.
Real Madrid should have been doubly aware of the Uruguayan grafter’s importance, as no other player has scored more goals against them from the point he changed from the red of Liverpool to the blue and red of Barcelona. Prior to this night, that tally read six goals. There were a few question marks around the legitimacy of their title-challenge, the effectiveness of the Barcelona attack in the absence of Lionel Messi (out with a fracture in the arm) and without Ousmane Dembele featuring in the starting line-up. Suarez naturally finished the night taking his tally to nine against Real Madrid and as Barcelona’s joint top-scorer in the league.
Barcelona’s 2nd, 3rd and 4th goals came from the sheer intent of getting the body where the mind wanted it to be — in midst of the action, where ever it was.
For Barcelona’s second goal, in the 30th minute, Suarez got between the ball and defender who was about to clear it unsuccessfully. VAR was the downfall of Raphael Varane for the second time this month, punishing him with a penalty for a clumsy elbow into the back of Suarez. The former Liverpool man duly put it past the right hand of former Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois. The 6 foot 6 frame of the Real Madrid goalkeeper could reach a ball with such perspicacity. Suarez wheeled away to pay a tribute to the birth of his third child, Lauti Suarez.
The Real Madrid tide was stemmed dramatically by the introduction of the rapid Dembele after the 70th minute mark. Bereft of the pace that Messi provides, the Catalan giants were wanting of an attacking outlet that could push the Real Madrid lines of four back-peddling to their box. The Frenchman provided that almost immediately. Gathering the ball in midfield, he darted forward twenty yards before laying the ball right to Sergi Roberto, who in turn floated in a cross in the box for Suarez to head it into goal from behind the penalty spot in the 75th minute. It cannot be understated the amount of power and precision that is required to execute that.
Suarez’s tenacity seemed to rub off on the diminutive Roberto, as the Barcelona man tussled with a towering Sergio Ramos and recovered a ball high up the pitch to lay it off to Suarez, who was free to take his time and dink it over a horizontal Thibaut Courtois in the 82nd minute. Suarez duly went to the VIP section and high-fived his children. Suarez is all about the family.
By the 86th minute, 4-1 up, there were shouts of ‘OLE!’ ringing around Camp Nou, as Barcelona again began to wax lyrical with the ball at their feet, making the European Champions look like stable fodder for their Mediterranean steeds. Resulting a series of passes, Dembele's fleetfooted jink and flourish on the wide left turned Nacho into a nihilist and produced a cross for Arturo Vidal to head home.
90,000 people gathered at the Camp Nou were singing, “Anyone who’s not jumping is a Real Madrid fan.”
If you see the replays you’ll notice how Suarez is still busting a gut to make a decoy run so that Vidal may ghost into the box unattended. Maybe there’s a lesson in there for all of us.
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Updated Date: Oct 29, 2018 14:21:42 IST