Ever since the deals for Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner were announced by the club, the onus now seems to be on improving the defence. The Havertz chatter, however exciting, has made us turn a blind eye to our defensive frailties, and our dire need for a left back and a centre back. While Lampard seems to be fixated on a certain young Englishman from Leicester to inherit the left back role, countless options remain in the market for a centre back. The player we are going to scout today ironically started the season as a left back, but has since grown into a centre back, playing in that role 29 times out of his 37 appearances this season. The player is Austrian by birth, and plays for record German champions Bayern Munich. He also recently celebrated his 28th birthday. The player is none other than David Alaba.
Before we actually dive into the statistical aspect, let’s start off with a bit of his background. David Olatunkunbo Alaba was born in Vienna on the 24th of June 1992, and joined the youth system of FK Austria Wein. In 2008, aged just 16, he joined the Bavarian giants Bayern Munich. Just a short while after, he made his debut and claimed an assist with his second touch of the game in a 6-2 victory against Greuther Furth. The Austrian also became Bayern’s youngest ever debutant at 17 years, 7 months and 8 days. Following a brief spell at Hoffenhiem, he became a regular for the Die Bayern in the 2011/12 season, and has made 381 appearances to date for the side. He was named in UEFA’s team of the year as a left back on three consecutive occasions as well, widely regarded as the best in the world at the position. However, the stellar rise of Alphonso Davies this season has displaced David Alaba. Instead, he’s found solace in the centre back role, partnering either Sule or Boateng, and has excelled to say the least.
Style of Play
David Alaba was shifted to the centre of defence even before the departure of Niko Kovac, and has managed to retain his place in the possession style football of Hans Flick. Standing at 180cm, he’s not the tallest, or even the strongest, and features predominantly on the left side of the defensive duo. His biggest asset is not his physicality, but his passing range, as well as his ability to read the game. Pep Guardiola played a crucial role in the Austrian’s development, and converted him into a left back from a more advanced role; Zinchenko at Manchester City is a more recent example of such a conversion by the Spanish mastermind. This vital experience means that he has a peach of a left foot, and his passing metrics are extraordinary as can be inferred by the pie chart below:
His pass percentage is an impressive 91%, and he also averages 78.6 passes per game, which is a representation of the style of football that Bayern play. Out of the 78.6 passes, he makes 33.7 of them in the opposition half with an 84% accuracy, which is very impressive, especially for a centre back. For comparison, Rudiger and Christensen stand at 20.8 (75%) and 15.6 (83%). This shows Alaba’s eagerness to progress the ball, which is aided by the fact that he is blessed with pace and that he played as a left back for most of his career. He also attempts a staggering five long passes per game, with 62% accuracy.
Moving on to his defensive capabilities, he averages just 1.1 tackles per game, but that is mainly because Bayern rarely cede possession. He also makes one interception per game, and gets dribbled past just 0.3 times per game on an average, which is impressive. Another impressive stat is the fact that he’s yet to receive a single card in the Bundesliga, neither yellow nor red. He’s been very consistent, and has not made a single error leading to a shot. However, his bad control per game stands at 0.6, which is higher than all our defenders. Another concern is Alaba’s aerial duels; he attempts just 0.8 aerial duels per game, and wins just 42% of them. The fact that he has the strong and solid Boateng or Sule, who have similar attributes, by his side at all times certainly helps this. His main task is the advancement of the ball from deep in case Thiago or Kimmich are unable to do so from midfield, and hence he’s not the type to make last gasp defensive tackles, but rather hold his ground and not allow the attacker to get past him in the first place. His ground duel percentage stands at 64%, which enforces the fact that he times his tackles well. The Austrian played the full 90 minutes as Bayern dismantled Chelsea 3-0 in the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16, and was a crucial cog in the visitors’ impeccable defence. From the heat map attached below, we can infer that he likes to roam about to create space for the midfielders and is not stationary.
When we compare the stats of Alaba to our current options (Christensen, Zouma and Rudiger), we can derive the following conclusions:
- Christensen leads the way when it comes to tackles with 2.1, while Alaba and Rudiger make 1.1, and Zouma makes 1. This could be due to Bayern’s possession rich style of football.
- He makes 1 interception per game, for which he ranks third among our options, only ahead of Rudiger at 0.7. Zouma leads this with 2.1.
- Alaba, however, concedes the least fouls and catches the opponent in an offside position more often than his Chelsea counterparts, meaning his defensive positioning is top class.
- He also makes substantially fewer clearances with just 1.2 per game, indicating his ability to play out from the back rather than clearing aimlessly. (For comparison, C-3, R-3.1 and Z-4).
- Alaba’s ability to pick the correct pass is levels above any of our current options, as he leads in key passes per game with a huge margin. (A-0.7, C-0.2, R-0.1 and Z-0).
- The Austrian’s passing stats completely blow any Chelsea player’s out of the water, as he comfortably leads in passes per game as well as passing percentage.
- Despite his passing stats being exemplary, he is neither physically imposing nor a leader at the back, which is what we are missing at the moment.
(All stats are from Whoscored and Sofascore)
From the above conclusions, it is evident that Alaba is a passing demon. His peach of a left foot enables him to pick the right pass, and is also capable of hurling in a wicked cross if the full-backs are caught upfield. He predominantly plays on the left side of the defence, which means he could be the ideal partner to Christensen. He’s also versatile and can comfortably play anywhere on the pitch. Alaba is also heavily experienced, and is consistent – something which Chelsea need. However, as I mentioned earlier, he is neither the most physically imposing, nor is he a leader at the back – that responsibility is often held by Boateng in the current Bayern side. Hence, would he fit into the Chelsea side and complement Christensen?
Leaving that bit aside, the chances of this transfer going through are pretty low in itself. Alaba still has one year remaining on his contract, and Bayern could convince him to extend his stay at the Allianz Arena. Reliable German journalist Christian Falk also mentioned that Alaba is still deciding whether he should stay at the club, and his departure is far from certain. The reported 60-million-Euro price quoted, however, is a bargain for someone of his calibre, and we should be all over him should the opportunity arise. Our usual transfer targets Ake, Rice, Magalhaes and Koulibaly continue to circle the news, and it will be interesting to see who Frank Lampard decides to sign, should he choose to sign a centre back.
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Edited by: Dan