Six months ago, David Alaba was at the top of the world. Not long after solidifying his role as Bayern Munich’s first-choice left-back, the young Austrian put on two sublime performances against Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinal.
Alaba’s virtuoso displays against Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. made him an instant hit among the Bayern faithful and, even before his 20th birthday, it appeared that he was on his way to becoming one of Europe’s top full-backs. Even Barcelona were rumoured to be interested in his services to fill their void at left-back.
Fortune has been cruel to Alaba in recent months, however. A very harsh yellow card early in the second leg of the Real tie saw him miss Bayern’s final loss to Chelsea. And, although he did not compete at Euro 2012, the versatile defender sustained a stress fracture in July.
Following a lengthy hiatus, Alaba is fit once more. He showed just that for Austria on Tuesday as he gave two assists, scored and hit the woodwork in a 4-0 win against Kazakhstan. Fresh, hungry and versatile, he’s just what the German record champions need.
Bayern have played without a proper left-back in every competitive match this season, with either Emre Can or Holger Badstuber playing out of position to fill the void. Alaba’s agility and pace exceed those of both alternatives, and he’s a vastly superior player of the ball.
In the absence of a more appropriate fit behind him, Franck Ribery has at times been kept quiet. This impact may have been softened by the sublime form of Thomas Mueller, but the Frenchman individually has had trouble imposing himself on occasion, especially in the Champions League.
The return of Alaba will bring better interplay on the left, and fans should expect an improved Ribery. And in the big games—against Dortmund and away to Valencia—this could make all the difference.
The other key advantage to having Alaba at the ready is his versatility. Capable of playing as not only a left-back, but a defensive midfielder, attacking winger or even a central playmaker, Alaba is the personification of the Swiss Army knife.
Bayern have plenty of depth in attacking midfield, but their recent loss to BATE proved they absolutely need a true No. 8 in the lineup for every game.
In Belarus, a holding midfield combination of Luiz Gustavo and Javi Martinez rarely misplaced a pass, but they offered nothing in attack, and the Bavarians struggled in their buildup.
The only real alternative to Bastian Schweinsteiger thus far has been Toni Kroos, and the 22-year-old is preferred as a starter in attacking midfield.
In games in which Schweinsteiger is missing and Jupp Heynckes prefers Kroos in an attacking role, Alaba is the man to replace Schweinsteiger. The Austrian not only is combative, but he has an advantage over Gustavo and Martinez in that his passing ability and vision by far exceed those of his teammates.
Regardless of where and how he is used, Alaba is a vital player for a Bayern side that currently includes many many damaged or fragile egos.
Whereas Kroos missed a penalty against Real Madrid and refused to take another chance in the shootout against Chelsea, Alaba had the guile to step up and convert the first spot kick against Los Blancos.
He's the kind of player who would have volunteered to take a penalty in the final. Unfazed by the level of opposition and its hype, he has the spirit of a champion.
Bayern have played well to date, but make no mistake: Alaba will take them to the next level.