analysis | 2016-08-31
Lucas Digne, versatility and competition for Jordi Alba
The Frenchman has surprised the fans since his debut with impressive performances
For someone who was signed to be a backup for the starter Jordi Alba, Lucas Digne is giving culés and Luis Enrique alike the sweet headache of wondering if the boot is now on the other shoe, meaning Alba would now be the backup, such have been Digne’s performances since joining.
With Alba sidelined due to intestinal and muscle issues, and Jeremy Mathieu getting injured early on, Digne shone in the Spanish Super Cup. Hardly ever second to the ball, his passing and movement spoke of confidence. Brilliant in the air, agile and quick in most defensive duties, he played like a Barça veteran and not someone who had just been signed. Confident with the ball and assured in possession, it is not a surprise he has been an overnight hit among the fans.
Luis Enrique was extremely satisfied with his fitness levels, and Lucas said his teammates are impressed with him: “I have felt very comfortable both on-and-off the field with my new teammates, and they have welcomed me nicely”.
But he has just started, and it is a bit premature, to say the least, to assume much. Ever since Abidal left, the left-back spot has been seen as a bit of a troubling matter for Barcelona. Jordi Alba came back from Valencia, and the squirrel has been brilliant, but complacency has settled in. With Adriano getting old (along with that unfortunate heart problem of his), he wasn’t been able to push Alba from his spot, at all. Mathieu has played left back, including in El Clásico, but we know how that turned out.
The market has lacked with reliable full back options, and even less of those that would like to compete with an already established player at a top club. There was always something Blaugrana about the Frenchman: his passing and general intelligence, even those oblong ears that resembled the Champions League trophy. Too bad he had those fixed!
Digne stands a good 8 centimeters taller than Alba, with a lanky build, not unlike Jordi. Coincidentally, they both have the exact same BMIs. Comparing their last league seasons at Roma and Barcelona respectively, one sees quite a few similarities. For starters, Alba played 2,591 minutes in the league, while Digne played 2,859. Both average passing lengths are 15 meters.
Defensively, Digne stands at par with Jordi Alba, but gets dribbled past 43% less than Alba. However, that fact can partially also be because of the leagues they play in, Serie A having less gifted dribblers compared to La Liga. The dispossession is also partially due to the teams they play for. Alba with Barcelona has security with the ball, the option to pass to Iniesta, Neymar, Mascherano or Busquets, but Digne didn’t always have that luxury of teammates in support. However, there is also the Frenchman’s immaturity in holding on to the ball, and his tendency to commit mistakes, given the fact that he has two more defensive errors than Jordi in the season and has committed more than double the fouls.
In successful dribbles completed, Digne is far ahead of Alba, eight times more, while in aerial balls won, due to his height, Digne is a skyscraper to Alba’s two story building.
Alba is the more adventurous of the fullbacks, this is largely influenced by the teams they played for. Most attempts of Digne’s adventures were strangled by his previous teams, while Alba enjoyed much more support.
Even if he did finish Sevilla off in the Spanish Cup final last season, we have to keep in mind Alba’s dismal finishing, Messi would have had so many more assists if he didn't waste chances frequently, it is worth noting that Digne is in comparison not too shabby at finishing.
Digne plays a simple game: hug the touchline, offer a ball on the diagonal or look for a one-two from the inside out. Off the ball, he is disciplined and well positioned, a pragmatic and intelligent player whose style is perfect for teams that dominate possession of the ball. Essentially, he is a winger who drops in and defends sufficiently when required. He is growing into the typical modern left back, a blend of defensive awareness and a block of unrestricted attacking intent.
He too, came with problems. Young and inexperienced, Digne tends to commit quite a few mistakes under pressure. Keeping track of his career, the mistakes seem to have been following a downward trajectory, showing that with age, he is learning and maturing as expected.
The best thing about being immature at his age is that there is time to learn. With Barcelona in the days ahead, it is expected of him to learn and understand the Blaugrana ways, and integrate into the team well. Alba’s lack of competition is also gone now, and thus the Catalan will have to work harder to keep his place, which benefits the team itself, as we all have seen what a reliable player Alba is when in form.
If he turns out even half as good as he has shown in this little time, it’ll be a hugely successful transfer, keeping in mind his presence will also push Alba to be better than ever before. However, keeping in mind how the last French left back fared at Barça, something tells me we have reason to be optimistic.
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WRITTEN BY: Kaustav Phukan
Culé since Rivaldo arrived his Blaugrana twilight and another buck toothed Brazilian started kicking a ball about in Catalonia. Majoring in Physics in Amsterdam, comes from the football crazy Eastern Himalaya.