Ever since Eric 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 Catalan Squirrel has been brilliant, but at times erratic. With Adriano getting old, he hasn’t been able to push Alba for his spot, at all. Thus Alba has become complacent. Sure, Jeremy Mathieu has also played as left back, including in the Clasico, but we all know terribly that went.
In the market, there are not a lot of good left backs around, and less of ones that will come and compete with an already established one.
The French youngster Lucas Digne has caught my eye for about five seasons. There was always something Blaugrana about him: His passing and general intelligence. Keeping in mind that he will be going against Jordi Alba, one of the fastest footballers around, he will need to dig deep to ever feature in Luis Enrique's lineup.
Digne stands a good 8 cms taller than Alba, but is lankily built, unlike Jordi. Coincidentally, they both have the exact same BMI’s. Comparing their last league seasons at Roma and Barcelona respectively, one comes to see quite a few similarities. For starters, Alba played 2591 minutes in the league, while Digne played 2859. Both their average pass lengths are 15 metres.
Defensively, Digne stands strong when compared with Jordi Alba, getting dribbled past 43% less than his new Catalan teammate. However, that fact can partially also be because of the leagues they play in: Serie A having less gifted dribblers compared to La Liga. It may also be due to the teams they play for. Alba, with Barcelona, has security with the ball, the option to pass to Andres Iniesta, Neymar, Mascherano or Busquets. In contrast, Digne didn’t always have that calibre of teammates in support.
In successful dribbles completed, Digne is far ahead of Alba, eight times more, while in aerial balls won, due to his height, Digne builds a skyscraper to Alba’s bar. Digne attempts quite a bit of crosses, while in pass completion, Alba’s 87% beats Digne’s 81%.
A case study of their average field positions tell us that Alba is the more adventurous of the fullbacks, with the reason being both Alba and Barcelona. Most attempts of Digne’s adventures are strangled by the teams he plays for, while Alba enjoys much more support.
Keeping in mind Alba’s dysmal finishing in the past couple of seasons (Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez should have had so many more quality assists), it is worth noting that Digne could become a better provider if given the confidence.
Diane is used to playing 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, the Frenchman is disciplined and well positioned, a pragmatic and intelligent player whose style is perfect for a team which dominates possession off the ball.
Essentially, Digne is a winger that 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.
However, Barca's new signing has shown a lack of immaturity in holding on to the ball at times. Other areas for improvement? His tendency to commit defensive mistakes (two more than Jordi in the last season) and having committed more than double the fouls as Alba.
In addition, Digne is still young and inexperienced, and thus tends to commit quite a few mistakes under pressure. Keeping track of his career, such mistakes seem to have been following a downward trajectory, showing that with age, as expected, he is learning and maturing.
The best thing about being immature at Digne's 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 Squirrel will have to work harder to keep his place, which benefits the team as a whole.
If Digne turned out to become even half good as Alba, the Frenchman's signing for a reported €16.5 million would be an absolute bargain. Here's hoping Barca's newcomer plenty of success in the future!