clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Marcelo and Dani Alves are the real creative stars of the Champions League final

Forget Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain. You should be watching the fullbacks.

Real Madrid CF v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final: Second Leg Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

It’s understandable that when teams like Real Madrid and Juventus go head to head in the Champions League final, the majority of the attention and adulation gets heaped on players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain. Or on Sergio Ramos and Leonardo Bonucci. Or on Isco and Paulo Dybala. All of those players are legitimate and exciting stars — some of the best at their positions. But the real stars on the pitch for Real Madrid and Juventus in a game like this aren’t getting as much attention — Marcelo and Dani Alves.

That’s right, a pair of fullbacks — an often-ignored position on the pitch — are arguably going to be the most important creative players for their respective teams. Both Marcelo and Alves were vital to their teams winning their respective league titles and had huge performances in the Champions League knockout-round matches that got them in the final. And now that they’re here, both of the Brazilian stars are ready to steal the show.

Typically, teams like Juventus or Real Madrid thrive on the creativity of an attacking midfielder like Dybala or a central midfielder like Luka Modric. Strikers like Ronaldo and Higuain get plenty of credit as well, though they tend more to poach goals created from the efforts of those more creative types. For these two specific teams, though, the most creative players aren’t who you would expect because it’s those two fullbacks, Alves and Marcelo, who carried most of the creative load during their teams’ runs to the Champions League final.

Marcelo, who was arguably the best left-back in the world this past season, has quietly cut out a lot of the mistakes at both ends of the pitch that held his overall quality back in a serious way. Especially in the final third, though, Marcelo has taken huge strides, displaying significantly improved on-ball skills and passing creativity to help push Real Madrid’s attack to another level when he was on the pitch. In fact, Marcelo totaled 12 all-competitions assists this season, a remarkable figure for a fullback.

Alves managed just six assists this season but did so in 12 fewer games — 32 all-competitions appearances for Alves compared to 44 for Marcelo. But he also scored six goals for Juventus, twice as many as Marcelo did this season. He also consistently managed to be the guy springing major counter-attacks and feeding the ball to whichever attacker actually got the assist on a goal. But when he feels like scoring it himself, Alves has shown that he still has one hell of a right leg on him.

Neither player is quite a lockdown figure in defense — Marcelo gets caught upfield a bit too often, and Alves’ pace and ability to follow a running winner inside isn’t what it used to be now that he’s 34 years old — but they provide so much to their respective teams’ attacks in the form they’ve been in that they just can’t be left out of their sides or ignored.

Of course, both are defenders for a reason, with each of Alves and Marcelo capable of coming up with huge moments like Marcelo’s crucial goal-line clearance against Bayern Munich in the Champions League:

It’s going to be especially interesting watching the two of them go head to head, as both will be stationed on the same half of the pitch on Saturday in Cardiff. Both men know just how good the other is — they used to push each other on the Brazil national team, and they haven’t forgotten their clashes in El Clasico when Alves was with Barcelona. In fact, if Marcelo makes a big play against Alves, you can bet he’ll have an enthusiastic celebratory moment like he did in his stop against Arjen Robben in that same Bayern match:

Most interesting, though, will be if they can play so well as to force the narrative in the match in their direction. No matter what happens, one or both of Marcelo and Alves will be key to their respective teams’ successes on the pitch. But they’ve both often been overlooked in their efforts.

With Ronaldo, Higuain, Ramos, and Dybala around, that’s certainly understandable — both teams are loaded with top-shelf talent and that can make it hard for a “mere” fullback to get much of the spotlight. Hopefully, though, both players will give analysts and fans no choice but to acknowledge just how phenomenal they can be.

Who knows, one of them may even force his way into being the man of the match for the Champions League final and be one of the first men to lift the trophy high in celebration. Wouldn’t that be something?