Since Xavi Hernandez's departure to Qatar, Barcelona's midfield had lost their era-defining edge but managed to survive with Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets still flourishing. Ivan Rakitic, who came as Xavi's replacement from Sevilla, quickly settled into the tiki-taka system - but he's not in the same mould.
Rakitic was in a free-roam role with Los Rojiblancos, in contrast to Xavi who is arguably the greatest conductor the game has ever seen. Rakitic, who has been one of Barca's more consistent performers in recent seasons, provides both physicality and also further goalscoring contributions than Xavi did.
However, he doesn't possess the same ability to break through opposition lines, which applied further responsibility on the shoulders of Busquets and an ageing Iniesta. Following the latter's departure last season, the situation only worsened. Now, the midfield is a shadow of its former self - the legendary version under Pep Guardiola's management of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets which lacks constant creativity.
Alena's excellent cup display shows hope for future
After looking at Carles Alena during their Copa del Rey first-leg defeat against Levante on Thursday, it appears as though Barcelona do not need to look much further. Ernesto Valverde opted to use Busquets, Arturo Vidal, Philippe Coutinho and Alena as his midfield four.
Alena, the youngest and least expensive of the quartet, shone brightest. The 21-year-old provides a refreshing change there, playing the full 90 and displaying the type of qualities many have lacked at the Camp Nou in recent years.
Always ready to receive possession, maturity beyond his years but perhaps most importantly, he displayed the ability to deliver line-breaking passes from right-to-left towards both Coutinho and Ousmane Dembélé.
It's difficult to impress during games where you end up on the losing side, though Alena certainly excelled. The most recent academy graduate who succeeded in earning a first-team berth is Sergi Roberto, who is currently the fourth-choice captain.
After him, many prospects have come and gone but no-one has impressed on a consistent basis. With Alena's arrival, it appears as though the famed La Masia has once more unearthed a gem.
With that being said, it's difficult to envisage a starting spot for him in the first-team at present. In the presence of more experienced players, it's unlikely and not realistic to suggest he'd earn a proper breakthrough - unless injury or a serious drop in form forced Valverde into making alterations. However in the years to come, it should not be a surprise to see Alena feature more regularly.
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