Marcos Alonso scored the winning goal for Chelsea against Arsenal on Saturday, but is his offensive ability covering over the defensive cracks in his game?
When Alonso joined the Blues from Fiorentina two years ago, the move absolutely flabbergasted most people. It didn’t really make sense at the time. Fast forward two seasons and the Spaniard is one of the first men on the team sheet and was named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year last season, despite it being a difficult campaign for Chelsea.
There have been a few suggestions this summer that, as part of Maurizio Sarri’s back four, Alonso could struggle defensively. In the past, the left-back was employed in more of a left wing-back position, with a centre-back always sitting in behind him. This allowed Alonso a lot more freedom to get up the pitch and join attacks, without having to worry about getting back down the pitch as quickly to perform his defensive duties. This season will be different, though, he is going to have to do both of those things in Sarri’s favoured 4-3-3 system. But is he capable of doing that?
Alonso defensively against Arsenal Alonso
Let’s be honest, Alonso is far from the best left-back in the league when it comes to defending. Against Arsenal on Saturday, the Chelsea full-back was caught napping and out of position on more than one occasion. Firstly, he was caught too far up the field and square on, which meant that Hector Bellerin was given too much room on the outside and in behind, to exploit the space that Alonso allowed him. The ball was sent through to the Gunners’ right-back, who had all the time in the world to send a low cross in towards Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who, fortunately for the Blues, could not convert from point-blank range.
Alonso got off the hook again shortly after that, when he let Henrikh Mkhitaryan go in the box, who then also blazed over the bar from close-range. The left-back’s luck did eventually run out, though, as Hector Bellerin got the better of him on the right-hand side before laying the ball onto Mkhitaryan, who crossed the ball in for Arsenal’s equaliser. If Alonso had of closed down Bellerin sooner, then space would not have developed for the Gunners right-back to lay the ball on to his teammate.
Alonso defensive comparisons
Using the Squawka player comparison matrix, we are going to compare Alonso’s defensive performances last season, to fellow left-backs at the other big clubs. We are purposely using Fabian Delph and Ashley Young here because they were made into makeshift left-backs last season. Then, Nacho Monreal is the other selected full-back as his game is relatively similar to Alonso. To ensure fairness, given that they all played a different amount of games, we are using a per 90 minutes metric here.
In terms of tackles won, it doesn’t look great for Alonso with a record of just 1.06, which falls way behind Delph at 1.76 per 90 minutes. Only Young, who has played on the wing for the majority of his career, made less successful tackles per 90 than Alonso. The Chelsea left-back comes in third place for fouls committed as well. Although his record isn’t too far behind Monreal and Delph’s, every foul does count as a full-back and Alonso makes more than those two players.
When it comes to interceptions, you would think as a rather offensive defender, Alonso would make a fair few interceptions. That is not the case. The Spaniard is the worst player at interceptions, with a record of just 1.43, while Monreal leads the way with 2.09 made per 90 minutes. As Delph didn’t make any successful blocks, it wasn’t exactly hard for Alonso to prove himself as one of the better shot blockers of the four players. However, he still only comes in as the third best blocker with a record 0.17 made per 90 minutes, which is half as many as Monreal makes.
Finally, to ensure that the Blues left-back doesn’t come out on top in any of the defensive skills compared here, Alonso makes the third most clearances. Again, Monreal quite clearly leads the way, while only Delph again trails behind Alonso. So, it can’t be the Chelsea man’s defensive ability that led to him being voted as the best left-back in the Premier League last season, can it?
Alonso offensive performance against Arsenal
There is no doubting Alonso’s attacking abilities and there very few full-backs around that are as good as him at it. When Chelsea are on the attack, the left-back is forever providing an outlet on the left-hand side for his teammates, which allows the likes of Hazard and Willian to cut inside and cause damage in central positions. In the absence of Hazard, it was the Brazilain who profited from Alonso galloping up the field to his left on Saturday.
The first goal for the Blues epitomised all that the Blues’ left-back is about. With Arsenal unorganised and their players out of position, Alonso took his opportunity to run into space and get in behind Mkhitaryan before putting in a perfectly placed, first time ball to the feet of Pedro who comfortably knocked it past Petr Cech. It is a real skill in itself to notice the space and move into it like Alonso does – not all full-backs have that in their locker.
Then he popped with the winning goal later on in the game, from a position where a left-back doesn’t really have much right to be in, unless they are Marcos Alonso, of course. The Spaniard has done this time and time again in his time at the Blues and he had the calmness to slot the ball home after making a ghosting run in from the left. In terms of an offensive performance, you can’t really ask for much more than one of your defenders to get a goal and an assist.
Alonso offensive comparisons
This may seem a little bit odd, but using the Squawka player comparison matrix again, we are going to compare Alonso offensively to fellow Premier League stars and left-wingers Leroy Sane, Sadio Mane and Everton’s new £40m man Richarlison last season. Again, like previously, we are going to use Nacho Monreal and also a per 90 minutes metric.
You have to say, Alonso has quite an incredible goal record. Last season he scored seven league goals and had an average of 0.23 a game, which means he averages a goal in just over every four matches. That record puts him above Richarlison and fellow left-back Monreal. The Chelsea man’s shot accuracy is also pretty impressive, as himself and Sane both top the list with 51% of their shots hitting the target.
In terms of chances created, Alonso is third on the list – with only Sane and Mane once again leading the way. The Blues’ flying full-back creates almost a chance a game for his teammates at 0.96 per 90 minutes. The Spaniard does drop to fourth on the list for successful take-ons, though, having made 50% of those that he has attempted – which isn’t bad at all and is still more than Richarlison.
Alonso’s height and ability in the air, adds yet another string to his bow. Whilst being able to cover the ground very quickly, his ability in the air also makes him very dangerous in the opposition’s box, where he can climb well above opposing full-backs. Alonso had a record of 53.21% aerial duels won, which is over 20% more than Mane, who has the worst record of the five players.
Surely it is Alonso’s attacking ability that helped him make his way into the Premier League Team of the Year, right?
Alonso could really struggle to play in a flat back four this season, without an extra centre-back to cover in behind him. Situations like on Saturday, where Bellerin exploited the left-backs lack of concentration and defensive awareness, may well begin to happen more regularly. Although, there is nothing to say that Sarri can’t help Alonso develop into a more rounded defender – surely he wouldn’t want to take away from his exceptional ability when going forwards, would he?
There is no doubt that the great work that Alonso provides from the left for Chelsea is important for the team, so maybe he could have a higher role up the field and then a better, more adept defensive player could play at left-back. That isn’t likely though, is it? The chances are that it is going to be one of those seasons, where the Blues have to settle for the fact that Alonso is going to make mistakes, but he is still going to have a huge role in the offensive third for the team.