Bayern Munich defender David Alaba says recent his top-class displays in an unfamiliar role at center-back are partly down to the long-lasting effects of advice from former coach Pep Guardiola.
The 27-year-old has been Bayern’s first-choice left-back for the best part of the last decade but has recently been fielded in central defence owing to long-term injuries to Niklas Süle and Lucas Hernandez, as well as Jerome Boateng’s suspension.
Alaba has played at the heart of Bayern’s back four for the last four games, with the defending Bundesliga champions winning each of their last three since Hansi Flick took over as caretaker head coach.
He first lined up in the position under Guardiola, making 39 competitive appearances for Bayern there during Catalan tactician’s three-year spell at the Allianz Arena between 2013 and 2016.
“He’s an unbelievable talent,” the current Manchester City boss said of Alaba at the time. “He can play anywhere. He’s quick, is good in the build-up and is always 100 percent focused. Without a doubt, he can be one of the best center-backs in the world. He’s a huge gift for Bayern.”
Guardiola’s words have taken on a prophetic sheen in the meantime, and Alaba was quick to praise his former mentor for teaching him how to operate in the role.
“I’m still benefitting a lot from Pep’s time here, there’s a lot that’s stayed with me,” he told Bild in the wake of Bayern’s 4-0 thrashing of Fortuna Düsseldorf on Matchday 12. “I try to play at center-back in a way that I can make use of my strengths, like my speed and passing ability.”
That he is now doing so consistently has not gone unnoticed at the club. Teammate Thomas Müller called him a “defensive boss”, while Flick said, “I’m very happy because David’s a player who leads the back four and always gives instructions to his colleagues.”
That, in turn, serves to fuel Alaba even further: “[Flick’s] praise does a lot of good. Hansi gives us a lot of self-belief. The human side of things is a big factor with him. He’s a great guy and is really good in his communication with us. Hansi manages to get the best out of everyone.
“When the coach and club put so much faith in you, then you try to implement every instruction especially well. The coach always shows us things from our last game that we can do better, that we can form a higher line as a back four.”
With 10 goals scored and none conceded in Bayern’s last three games, the prospect of them improving further will be a daunting one for the opposition, starting with Red Star Belgrade in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday before Alaba and Co. look to keep the pressure on at the top of the Bundesliga when they host Bayer Leverkusen on Matchday 13.