Some years ago, I read a piece by César Luis Menotti in the newspaper El Gráfico entitled: "Individual connections make for a great collective". In the article, he talked about the positive influence on any team of two of its players striking up a particularly good understanding, of them forming an 'individual connection' that has a multiplying effect on the side's performance. He gave several examples, including Pelé and Coutinho, whose one-twos (called 'tabelinhas' in Brazil) were of a rare perfection. As I read Menotti's thoughts, I couldn't help but remember the Real Madrid left flank of my youth, where Héctor Rial was a past master at exploiting Paco Gento's pace, and the partnership between Atlético Madrid's Joaquín Peiró and Enrique Collar, who came to be known as the 'wing of hell'.
Messi-Alba: exactly the kind of partnership Menotti was referring to
For a while now, we've been treated to a devastating 'individual connection' in LaLiga: Lionel Messi and Jordi Alba. The way they find each other is quite striking. Messi attracts the attention of a number of defenders and, when they least expect it, opens the play out to the left flank, where Alba pops up like a bolt of lightning. That this can happen, and that it happens a lot, is no secret; to a man, opposition coaches and players are well aware of it. But they can't stop it. Sometimes Alba goes straight for goal, be it with a header or a shot; on other occasions, he gives it back to Messi, who, as everyone sprints like crazy to close the gap, moves into position with an expert languidness that buys him that extra yard. And then it's he who scores.
Midweek win over Celta the latest example of the connection
We see it more and more. The percentage of goals, shots against the woodwork or near misses that Barcelona carve out thanks to the Messi-Alba connection grows month on month. The latest evidence of this came in Barça's Copa del Rey clash with Celta Vigo on Thursday, when the pair's partnership had victory sewn up in no time. It's a path to goal also taken by Spain: David Silva frequently finds the same opening as Messi to put Alba in on the keeper. For the full-back, who has proven himself a player of verve and cutting edge since his emergence, it's a link-up which, as Messi's partner in crime par excellence, has boosted his prestige. As for the Argentine, this 'individual connection' further underlines the unsurpassable brilliance of his game.