Neymar’s departure and the appointment of Ernesto Valverde as coach have both contributed to Jordi Alba re-finding his best form this season, the Barcelona defender has told Diario Sport.
Alba, 28, was left on the bench for some of Barca’s biggest games last season, including the 6-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, as Luis Enrique switched to a three-man defence.
Valverde’s return to a back four has seen him win his place back in the team, though, while Neymar’s €222 million world record move to PSG has allowed him to flourish.
“Neymar leaving had a big impact on the squad,” Alba said. “He was a loved, charismatic player, but the team has been able to overcome his departure. Neymar is a great player, but he decided to leave.
“In the end, there are people that aren’t here and those that are here can do perfectly well. I’m delighted with the squad. Now I have more of the wing to attack and for me, honestly, it’s a lot better. I’m enjoying myself like I haven’t for a long time.
“I’ve recovered my confidence. Now I have the whole flank and that’s brilliant for me. I feel comfortable, I have a lot of energy and that’s being shown on the pitch.”
Barca are currently on a 16-game unbeaten run and Alba has played in 12 of those matches, setting up five goals — four for Lionel Messi. He was rested for the win against Eibar in September and missed three games recently with a minor injury.
And Alba says it has enabled him to enjoy his football for the first time in a long while under the new manager.
“I don’t like to compare managers but what I can say about Valverde is that I’m delighted with him and with the whole coaching setup,” Alba added.
“The work [they do] is really good and so is the communication with the players. And In defence, we’ve gained a lot with Valverde. We’ve not conceded many goals and that’s because we’re more compact.”
Midfielder Sergio Busquets said this week that Barca aren’t playing “brilliant” football and Alba agreed that there’s still room for improvement in some areas despite the impressive results, which have them four points clear at the top of La Liga.
“We want more, you can always improve,” he said. “But those wonderful years when everyone drooled over Barca can’t be repeated simply because the players are different.”
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.