Dani Alves: The Full-Back Defying His Age

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MONACO, MONACO - MAY 3: Dani Alves of Juventus in action during the UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg match between AS Monaco and Juventus at Stade Louis II on May 3, 2017 in Monaco, Monaco. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

It was November 27, 2016 and Juventus travelled to Genoa, expecting another victory in their aim to retain the Serie A title. Dani Alves, five months after choosing Turin over continuing his legacy at Barcelona, where he became the second-most decorated defender of all-time, was settling in well in a strong Juve team.

Dani Alves: The Full-Back Defying His Age

The match, however, did not go to plan. The Old Lady were badly off the pace, losing 3-1. Yet what was perhaps more concerning was the fate that Alves would suffer.

Charging into a challenge with Lucas Ocampos, Alves’s left leg was kicked badly by the winger from Argentina. Despite the challenge from Ocampos being accidental, Alves quickly went down in extreme pain, pulling the face of a man who knew he had done some serious damage. So it was little surprise when Juventus revealed after the match that Alves had broken his left fibula and would be out for months.

It was a hammer blow and, at 33, there were fears that it would be the end of his career. Alves thought different, however, and was determined to come back stronger.

Recovery and Return

“I will be back soon as always, living my profession with the dedication that has led me to achieve a solid career and many successes,” he posted on Instagram on the eve of his injury.

Indeed, the Brazilian was back three months later, ready to roll back the years and produce the kind of displays that earned him the reputation as one of the great modern full-backs.

Yet even by Alves’s high standards, not even he would have expected the stellar performance he delivered on Wednesday evening against Monaco. And amongst a plethora of Alves masterclasses over the years, this was a display that would undoubtedly sit as one of the best in his career.

Champions League

Before the first-leg of the intriguing Champions League semi-final tie, there were many exciting sub-plots. Could the red-hot teenager Kylian Mbappe find a way past the impregnable Juventus defence? How would Monaco cope under real pressure, given that they have been underdogs for most of the campaign? And could Juventus’s talented attack test a Monaco defence that is perhaps overshadowed by their devastating forwards?

All of those questions were answered fairly emphatically, yet not many would have expected Alves to cause the problems he did down the right flank. And there was no better example than the first Juventus goal. The move began with a few passes around the defence, but came to life thanks to a stunning flick from Paulo Dybala, who set Alves on his way. The right-back then played a one-two with Gonzalo Higuain before an outrageous backheel from Alves set up Higuain, who finished clinically into the bottom corner. It was truly a thing of beauty.

Alves’s second assist of the night was different in style, but equal in quality. After Dybala nicked the ball off Monaco’s Tiemoué Bakayoko in midfield, he gave the ball to Alves, who controlled the ball onto his right foot and nonchalantly floated in a pin-perfect cross for Higuain to poke in. It was the goal that virtually booked Juventus’s place in the final.

Inside the Numbers

And it capped off a vintage Alves display, too. Not only did the former Barcelona man complete 100% of his take-ons, but he created three chances and made an equal number of crosses. Such is his form down the right wing, Alves now has the joint-most assists by a defender in the Champions League (4), along with Dani Carvajal. What’s more, since 2014-15, Alves has 11 assists in the competition – more than Lionel Messi (8), Luis Suarez (8), Gareth Bale (4) and Mesut Ozil (4).

In another stat that underlines Alves’s excellence in attack, no player has created more chances in the Champions League this season than the Brazilian (27). “Dani Alves was excellent with his assists. He had some injury problems at the start,” said a delighted Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri after the victory in Monaco.

Understandably, Allegri is a huge fan of Alves. After his side’s 2-0 first-leg victory at FC Porto in the Round of 16 of the Champions League, the Italian hailed his full-back as a “champion” in his team. “He is a guy with a great will and enthusiasm who won a lot”, continued Allegri in Porto. “He is also an example and a very professional player.”

The Modern Full-Back

In many ways, Alves epitomises the modern full-back. He is virtually always an option down the flank when his team needs him to be, in order to join in attacks. His terrific work-rate down the right not only provides extra support, but offers defensive help also. “He needed time to get to know the environment and the tactical systems,” said Allegri, yet Alves showed on Wednesday night how he fits perfectly into Juventus’s 3-5-2 system.

He negated the threat of Djibril Sidibé down Monaco’s left flank, showing relentless energy and pace, especially when working back. In addition to having 72 touches of the ball, Alves won three tackles, made ten ball recoveries and six clearances. His defensive awareness, as a result, was hard not to admire. Perhaps those are the results of playing in a team with such an outstanding defensive record. It has now been 621 minutes since Juventus last conceded a goal in the Champions League.

Fitting into Juventus Strong Back-Line

It was yet another masterful Juventus performance. Allegri’s men combined supreme defensive solidarity, led by the outstanding Giorgio Chiellini, with ruthless attacking play. Miralem Pjanic and Claudio Marchisio controlled the midfield, Dybala provided the attacking flair and Higuain finished the two opportunities with the ease that gave him the reputation as one of Europe’s leading strikers. The display now sees Juventus on the brink of a second Champions League final in three years, most likely against Real Madrid at the Millennium Stadium.

Yet that may not have been possible without Dani Alves, in a performance that defied that of someone coming towards the end of a career.

That dark day in Genoa is now behind him and a fourth Champions League medal would be a fitting way to reward a player with not only superb technical and physical skills, but also immense mental fortitude to come back from such a threatening injury.

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