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Who is Alex Sandro, Chelsea's potential £61 million signing?

Finding the reason behind Chelsea's willingness to break a world transfer record to sign the Brazilian left back.

Chelsea’s strong pursuit of Juventus left wing-back/midfielder Alex Sandro has been a bit surprising. While Chelsea do need upgrades at several positions, following a strong debut season from Marcos Alonso, left back should not have been anywhere near the top of that priority list. Someone to provide depth would be needed, but by the looks of it, Chelsea have gone all-in on the 26-year-old Alex Sandro, and are ready to break not only the club record for highest transfer fee paid, but the world record for a transfer fee paid for a defender.

Sandro started his career in the youth system of Atlético Paranaense, making his first-team debut as a 17-year-old and then playing a role as they won the 2009 local state championship the following year. At the start of 2010 he was sold to Uruguayan team Deportivo Maldonado, who are famous for being a proxy club for some of the biggest agents (and their clients) in Latin America. Shortly thereafter, without playing a single match for Maldonado, he joined Santos on a two-year loan. Maldonado cashed in on their €500k investment 18 months later when FC Porto acquired Alex Sandro for €9.6m in July 2011. Four years later, his price was up to €26m as he moved to Juventus.

In Brazil, Sandro was already at a level beyond most of his competitors. This only improved once he moved to Europe, as the support from Porto and Juventus helped him flourish into a world class player. As Joe Tweedie points out in his Summer Transfer Notebook, he is one of those rare players who can be deemed a "complete" player in his role.

"[...] Sandro may well be the most complete wing back in world football at the moment. If you looked purely at his strong tackling and awareness, you would suggest he is a fantastic defender. However, it is his exceptional ability going forward that rounds him out as a superstar."

In attack, there may be only one player who is better than Sandro these days, Real Madrid's Marcelo, who is three years older. Since the days playing next to Neymar at Santos, Alex Sandro has utilised his blistering pace to beat defenders and create danger in the opposition’s defensive third. Thanks to his combination of speed and quick feet, strength and great control, it is very difficult to stop him without resorting to fouls. It is no surprise then that he’s averaged 2 fouls suffered per game in the Italian league. At Juventus, only former Chelsea midfielder Juan Cuadrado has been fouled more often.

Sandro is just great with the ball at his feet, he’s a mature and composed passer of the all in possession and he’s pinpoint with his passes and deliveries from out wide as well. Few can match the accuracy of his left foot. On average, he completed 1.3 crosses and 3.7 long-range passes in the 2016-17 Serie A season, as well as 1.9 passes leading to shots from his teammates (i.e. what WhoScored call “chances created”). He has great timing and anticipation, and reads the game very well. He picks his opportunities when to go forward and when to stay back as well as any wing-back in the modern game.

That said, his main task at Juventus was still to provide defensive support for the team. Fortunately, he excels in this area as well — a “complete” wing-back, remember — especially after the last two years under Massimiliano Allegri have helped him expand and improve his tactical awareness.

On the rare occasion when he finds himself out of position, he has the pace to recover and the skill-set to win the ball back. In the Serie A, Sandro averaged 2.9 tackles per game and was successful in 79.3% of those attempts. He also recorded a high number of interceptions with 2.1 per match.

Adding to his all-around excellence, Sandro is also versatile enough to be able to play pretty much every position on the left flank, and in multiple roles, be that as a purely attacking outlet, as a limited defender, or as a true dual-threat.

In short, Alex Sandro is wonderful.

Still, one can rightfully ask why Chelsea are intent on breaking the bank for a left sided defender when Marcos Alonso surpassed expectations in his first season at Chelsea. Maybe the tweet below can help aid us in this task, as it shows just how superior Alex Sandro is in various statistical categories other than aerial ability, which is expected since Alonso can also play as a centre back.

(Ed. note: While there’s no doubt Alex Sandro’s radar graph blows Alonso’s out of the water, radar graphs themselves are inherently limited and flawed as well — the shaded area, for example, which is what your eye is drawn to, is meaningless. Read more here from Ted Knutson who first popularized these, here again from Ted after a few recent Twitter “discussions”.)

Marco Alonso was a key part of Chelsea’s Premier League-winning campaign last season, but few would call him “world class”. Upgrading him may be a bit harsh, but if Chelsea are to reach the heights of ambition that we’re aiming for, players such as Alex Sandro must be acquired when the club’s given a chance to do so. Alex Sandro combining with Eden Hazard could make Chelsea’s left side the most dangerous in all of world football, and that prospect just might be worth the £60m or more that Juventus are demanding.


Alex Sandro's potential switch to Chelsea for a £61 million fee?

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