In Focus: Alves faces uphill battle to turn back the years at Barca
New manager Xavi is not the only Barcelona legend to make a return to the club — Dani Alves is back and looking to do the business for the fallen Spanish giants.
The veteran right-back won honours galore during his first spell at the Camp Nou but there are doubts over whether he can hit those same heights this time around.
At the age of 38 and having spent the last two years with Sao Paulo in his native Brazil, what can the old stager realistically bring to this struggling Barca side?
As a new era begins with the Derbi Barceloni against Espanyol on Saturday night, we investigate how Alves can strengthen Barca.
Five years on…
Alves was an integral part of Pep Guardiola’s great Barcelona side — and the Catalans were still an impressive outfit when the defender left for Juventus in June 2016.
After all, former boss Luis Enrique took them to the treble in 2014-15 and the double in the defender's final season.
How times change. The Blaugrana’s wretched start this term under Ronald Koeman has left them sitting ninth in LaLiga and with work to do to ensure progress from the Champions League group stage.
There may be a sense of ‘getting the band back together’ at the moment and that is likely to lift the mood at the beleaguered club.
But Alves should not get his hopes up when it comes to ending his second spell with a medal of any kind. This Barcelona is a far cry from the one he left.
A man on a mission
Despite the current state of the five-time European champions, Alves appears overwhelmingly upbeat about what lies ahead at Barca.
Speaking after re-signing, he said: "It’s an incredible challenge and I’m fascinated by it. To fight and defend this jersey — when I wear this jersey, I feel like a superhero.
"I’ll try to rescue the Barca that we all love so much. There’s no margin for error. This is a great opportunity.
"More than 50% of my winning mentality was generated in my time here. I still have a house here and part of my family live here. It was inevitable that I came back."
While he was not included in Tite’s latest Brazil squad, Alves was capped as recently as September — when he came off the bench in a World Cup qualifying win over Peru.
That came after he had captained his country to Olympic gold in Tokyo, setting up Matheus Cunha for the opening goal in the final against Spain.
Whether he features at one last World Cup in Qatar next year remains to be seen.
But the fact that Alves is still around the national team set-up is a mark of his enduring quality after so many years in the game.
Where will he fit in?
Alves finished his time at Sao Paulo by operating as a defensive right wing-back in manager Hernan Crespo’s system.
But unless Xavi throws an almighty curveball, that role will not be available to him at Barca.
There is a sense Alves has been brought in to benefit others with his experience as much as anything else.
So Sergino Dest should not find his place under too much threat and the versatile Oscar Mingueza seems likely to remain the second-choice option at right-back.
Before switching to right wing-back, Alves had been playing in a creative midfield role for Sao Paulo and there is every chance he might be used as a dependable utility man by Xavi.
Plugging the leak
If Alves does line up at the back, he will have a job on his hands to make it watertight.
Barca have kept only two clean sheets in the league this season and threw away a 3-0 lead to draw 3-3 away to Celta Vigo last time out — the second consecutive LaLiga game in which they have dropped points from a winning position.
The Blaugrana conceded 38 goals in 38 games as they finished third last season. But they have already shipped 15 in 12 matches this time around, putting them on course to let in 47 over the course of the campaign.
That would represent their worst defensive performance since conceding the same amount in 2002-03.
Alves might no longer be the first-class performer he once was but his experience will surely go some way towards shoring up Barcelona’s porous rearguard.