Following their 3-2 extra-time win against rivals Barcelona in El Clasico, Real Madrid are on their way to the final of the Supercopa de Espana against Atheltic Bilbao.
Prior to the final, however, there is one issue that Los Blancos will need to shore up, the defense.
During the semi-final win, Real Madrid found themselves at times struggling against a Barcelona side that had been playing poorly in all competitions prior to their matchup.
Whether it was balls in the box, mistimed passes and clearances, or just sitting back and defending while ahead, Real Madrid gave Barcelona opportunities to stay in the game.
In their defense, one of their key defenders, David Alaba, ended up missing out on the game due to a knock.
And his absence on Wednesday did not go unnoticed, with a close scoreline showing how irreplaceable Alaba is to Los Merengues.
While Nacho Fernandez is usually a serviceable replacement at centre-back for either Eder Militao or Alaba, last night it seemed as though Militao really did miss his usual partner when it came to cleaning messes in the box, through the air, or progressing the play forward.
Since his arrival from Bayern, Alaba has been able to make Real Madrid fans miss Sergio Ramos a bit less because of the performances and leadership he’s provided to the squad.
Although in the past Alaba was not the main wheel in a strong Bayern Munich back-line, he found his opportunity here with Real Madrid and ran with it.
David Alaba has been a dream signing for Real Madrid
In the 19 La Liga games Alaba has been in so far this season, he’s managed to help keep 7 clean sheets, has completed 93% of his passes (96% in his own half, 84% in the opposition’s half), has won 47 percent of his duels (51% won on the ground and 40% through the air), not allowed an error lead to a goal, and has earned two “team of the week” selections.
Despite missing some time due to injury, Alaba has been a dream signing for Carlo Ancelotti. As a ball-playing centre-back he not only anchors the defense in transition but also launches the team forward in attack.
He’s intelligent on the ball, providing sharp and progressive passes in many areas of the field, helping open up the midfield and forward line, while also breaking down the opponent’s defensive structure.
His stats show an elite level of long-distance passes into the final third, and he can do so vertically or horizontally. This allows him to dictate scoring opportunities and the pace of the game all with the field of play in front of him.
And despite having Toni Kroos for free-kick situations, Alaba is right there with him when the situation arises.
He’s one of the few centre-backs that you can comfortably have progress forward and know he will make something happen in some capacity. He showed he can make things happen on his own with his long-distance goal against Barcelona in their first meeting.
He’s fluid on defense because of his experience playing in multiple positions at Bayern and understands positioning, pressing, and how to support teammates in tight spaces, which Madrid’s transitional defense really struggled with Wednesday.
His speed and timing with and without the ball allow him to not be frazzled by any pressurized situations. He’s always analyzing the field before even receiving a pass, gathering enough pace and time to drive play forward with a pass or dribble.
Finding himself working with left-back Ferland Mendy on both sides of the ball to help better position the attack in scoring positions. Since Mendy can at times be careless with passes, Alaba helps in that department getting forward.
When the Frenchman or Militao needs cover, Alaba can use his speed to close down on areas the opponent may cover.
Former Real Madrid defender and World Cup winner, Fabio Cannavaro, is an admirer who thinks David Alaba is a top-quality player that can do it all.
“He’s come from an offensive team like Bayern, where he defended high with a lot of demands,’ Cannavaro said earlier this season.
“He’s used to it all. He’s a great player, versatile, shoots well, leads. He’s a great signing because he’s a guarantee.”
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Luckily enough for Carlo Ancelotti and Co., the Austrian international will be available for the final on Sunday and will look to bring the spine back to the back-four and cause problems for Athletic Club Bilbao.