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Looking beyond Alex Sandro: 15 potential left wing-back targets for Chelsea compared

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Yes, hello, I’d like to order a wing-back please

Porto v Vitoria Guimaraes - Primeira Liga Photo by Paulo Oliveira / DPI / NurPhoto via Getty Images

We Can’t Always Get What We Want

Okay, so, uh... yeah. Much like Christmas, and my birthday, and every other holiday where gifts are involved, now that I have kids I no longer ever get what I want. I’ve gotten used to it. What did Daddy get for Christmas this year? That’s right. A tripod and a suitcase. I wanted an Apple watch and a new laptop. Well, at the moment Alex Sandro feels like the watch and laptop I know I’m never going to get, no matter how much I want them. It’s simply not in the budget, apparently. What this means is that we need to go find our tripod and suitcase. Because believe me, whether I wanted those items or not, I did in fact need them. And we need a second left wing-back.

What type of player should we look for, you might ask? In my opinion, the answer is the next Alex Sandro. We wanted a player whose biggest strengths were Alonso’s weaknesses, so whether it’s the Real Alex or the Next Alex, it’s the same set of traits we are looking for:

  • Speed
  • Quickness
  • Crossing bility
  • Dribbling ability
  • Defensively sound

You might think that the challenge here will be that it’s hard to find good left backs that try to fit that bill. Well, in reality, the difficulty is that there are LOT of similarly skilled players with those attributes. Currently in the world of football, you are either really, really good, or you are pretty darn good. I’ve been staring at lists of left backs for some time now, and there are so many names I’ve had difficulty narrowing down who I want to look at. I think I’ve finally got my list, though.

I narrowed my list down to 15 players that I think have a shot. I excluded all the guys that are hurt right now, as I think we are looking for January, and I also excluded players I really don’t think will happen. As always, feel free to offer up other suggestions in the comments section.

On to the List!

So, I’ve broken my list down into a few different groups. I’ll include them all together during analysis, but I always like to have subgroups for when I’m thinking about players. Helps me to weed out the worse guys when they are clumped with comparable people.

The Old Guys:

  • Ryan Bertrand, 28 (Southampton) - Former Blue, Fairly good left back, might be willing to get another big check and share minutes with Alonso in the backup role.
  • Aaron Cresswell, 28 (West Ham) - Another regular these days in the Premier League, albeit for a team that quite possibly will be relegated at the end of the year. Means he should be cheap, but also means he might not be good enough.
  • Sergio Escudero, 28 (Sevilla) - Do we take a chance on another late 20s Spanish left back?

The Prime Timers:

  • Roussillon, 25 (Montpellier) - A Ligue 1 regular since 2012, with a brief dip into Ligue 2 due to relegation in 2014. Having a good year so far.
  • Alex Telles, 25 (Porto) - The name I see more than any other when people don’t want to pay for the other Alex.
  • Marcel Halstenberg, 26 (RB Leipzig) - A regular starter the last two years at Camp Red Bull. No idea if that’s what they call it, but I would.
  • Faouzi Ghoulam, 26 (Napoli) - 8 years of top flight football between Ligue 1 and Serie A. But would he want to leave Napoli? Also might be interested if we sign Mahrez. He did just sign a new deal, so almost guaranteed no January deal.

The Up and Comers:

  • Alejandro Grimaldo, 22 (Benfica) - Injuries have plagued Grimaldo. Serious red flag stuff. Especially at this age. But he’s good.
  • Jose Gaya, 22 (Valencia) - Likely the future Spanish Left back the way things look right now. Three years of solid play in La Liga. Often linked to the big clubs.
  • Jordan Amavi, 23 (Marseille) - Had a brief stint in the Prem with Villa, before he got hurt and they got relegated. Surprisingly stuck around with the club to try to help get them promoted, which didn’t happen.
  • Wendell, 24 (Bayer Leverkusen) - In his fourth season as the starter in the Buli. Proving himself.
  • Philipp Max, 24 (Augsburg) - Son of former German striker Martin Max. Currently leading the Buli in assists. Yeah, you read that right.

The Kids:

  • Ryan Sessegnon, 17 (Fulham) - Currently playing in the Championship, but hey, he’s only 17. And that’s a man’s league. If you haven’t heard of this kid, well, I don’t even know how to respond to that. He actually scored a hat trick earlier this season. Seriously.
  • Ben Chilwell, 21 (Leicester) - If we don’t raid Leicester for Mahrez, he might be our yearly signing for 2018. He’s only just turned 21, he’s English, and he’s getting Premier League minutes right now.
  • Jorge, 21 (Monaco) - He was their biggest signing at the time last January. Prior spent two years starting for Flamengo in Brazil. Will Agent Emenalo be willing to deal?

Numbers Have Life; They’re Not Just Symbols On Paper

With this many people being reviewed, it’s going to be quite a list. I’m also going to include the numbers for Alonso and Sandro in each table as well, to help provide appropriate comparison. I’ll also try to make the tables a bit less wide, I noticed some of the Sandro ones were slightly difficult to read. First, let’s look at the Tale of the Tape:

What stands out to me? Amavi’s contract length and Premier League history do, for one. Chilwell’s low valuation for another (although I doubt Leicester lets him go cheap). I know Telles has a buyout that’s far higher than his valuation. Max probably does too. Jorge and Halstenberg and Ghoulam are tall. But Ghoulam just extended at Napoli, and guaranteed isn’t leaving this January. Sessegnon is a fantastic talent, but just 17 and untested at the top level.

Player Attributes

I really didn’t like the idea of tinkering around with the FIFA and PES numbers in the Sandro article, I felt they weren’t really providing what I wanted them to. But I did enjoy working with the FM data in the RWB article, so I’m going back to that. I’m not doing the radars again, though, that was cumbersome and hard to read.

I’ve taken what I think are the “key” attributes that we would want in a left wing-back to rotate with Alonso, and put them in a nice table for each player. I retrieved the values directly from the FM database via the Editor. I’ve got some from each of the Mental, Phyisical, and Technical sections, so I then averaged each section along with an overall average, and compared those averages to Alonso’s values. I’ve also included those of Alex Sandro too, just so we can weep while we look for someone else.

The first thing to keep in mind is that this data is as of the start of the season, not after all the current matches have been played, and any development has happened. I’m going to include actual metrics later, so that’s ok. But the two names that obviously stand out from this list are Aaron Cresswell and Alejandro Grimaldo. Maybe Chelsea is using FM for their scouting, as we’ve heard whispers of interest in Cresswell already. Bertrand, Telles, Gaya, and Jorge also stand out. We should probably look at some actual performance numbers, though, to feel better about what we just looked at.

Passing

If you look at some passing numbers above, and I tried to go into a bit more detail here, as a lot of these guys are so similar with the base numbers and percentages, a few do stand out. I should point out though, that in all of these Sandro still looks like a genuine stud. I’m going to weep for a moment.... okay I’m back. I think the short pass to long ball ratio is telling, as is the minutes per pass attempt. Not necessarily on the players themselves, but on the style of the club. Which then helps add a little context to the rest of the metrics. Telles looks good here, Ghoulam looks good, Amavi looks good, Escudero doesn’t look bad either. Pretty generic stuff, though, and a lot of it is just set up to make sure there are no red flags. Meat and Potatoes.

Crossing

This is a bit more lobster than steak. A few people really stand out. Alex Telles and Philipp Max both immediately stand out. Not only high cross attempt volume, but ridiculous success rate, too. Both have a large number of key passes, as well. Both of them also appear to take corners for their team, which means these are padded a bit by that, though. Still good numbers even without the corners included. Also no coincidence that both have such good assist numbers. Everyone makes a big deal about Alonso’s 6 goals, but I’d much rather have 6 assists and 1 goal to Alonso’s 6 goals and 1 assist, personally. Cresswell also not looking too bad. 23% isn’t great, but given the volume he’s getting it done, especially considering how bad West Ham is.

Offense

I’m not that interested in goals scored from a wing-back, but I do believe there should be a few every season. Especially given our 3-back formations. Sessegnon at first glance looks incredible, but he’s also played some up at the wing spot. Now, this does mean he’s definitely got attacking talent, but it all depends on where he ends up playing. A 17 year old is still figuring all of that out. Halsenberg takes a lot of shots, which I found interesting. When we look at dribble percentages, a few are worse than the others, but these guys are all good. When considering volume too, Amavi is outstanding, Grimaldo is good, Telles is great, Roussillon finally gets a mention.

Individual Defense

I broke the defense down into two sections, which I’m calling Individual Defense, and will be followed by Team Defense. Just like the dribbling, all of these guys are excellent tacklers, too. Halstenberg, Max, Bertrand, and Jorge stand out, but all of them are doing a good job. Ghoulam isn’t making many tackles, which is odd. Jorge and Telles are great interceptors of the ball. Unsuccessful Touches and Dispossessed metrics could really be considered offensive, but I thought they fit well here. The former means ‘bad control’ and the latter ‘being dispossessed on the ball by an opponent with no dribble involved’, according to whoscored.

Team Defense

I linked these together because I felt they had a lot to do with how their team sets up and defends, rather than their individual defensive play. Good stuff to be aware of, but difficult to really rank and rate.

I also wanted to take a look at some of the things I think do matter, and that map out well in a chart. Below I have the same chart structure set up for Tackles, Dribbles, Long Balls, and Crosses. The plot is Minutes Per (X) on the vertical and success rate on the horizontal. It really helps to visualize these things, and see the mix of frequency and success together.

Crossing

Dribbling

Long Ball Passing

Tackling

A Conclusion is the Place Where You Get Tired of Thinking

When I look at all of these players, if all we were doing was looking for someone to back up Alonso a few matches a season, ANY of them would more than suffice. But hopefully that’s not what we are looking for. We should be looking for someone to push him, to challenge him for his starter’s spot. At the very least we should look for someone to provide the things he isn’t, to give us that other option. And I think all of them do a decent job of that as well. But some do definitely stand out. I’ll rank my preferences below, but it’s really “the few at the top” and then “the rest” I think.

  1. Alex Telles - He’s young, he’s excellent. Fantastic crosser, at a high volume. Great passer. He doesn’t dribble much, but the volume crossers don’t seem to. Good tackler. Intercepts the ball well. He’s even good in the air. If we could get him, we should. He’s the second best Alex available.
  2. Philipp Max - Talk about an intriguing option. Another great crosser of the ball. Although somehow not a great passer. I’m totally confused by this. Doesn’t really get in the air for balls at all, either. And almost never dribbles, but see excuse above about this. Definitely not as good as Telles, but still worth a fantastic option to look at.
  3. Alejandro Grimaldo - He does a lot of things well. Good crosser. Good passer. FM loves him. He’s kind of really good at everything, while not really being great at anything.
  4. Aaron Cresswell - Ahh, an English Option. Older player at 28, definitely would come in as a backup, rather than pressure Alonso for the starter’s minutes. Another FM star, mainly due to not having any weaknesses in their metrics. Not a great passer, volume crosser but just above-average at it, not really great at all. He’s third on this list with 5 assists, which is impressive given he’s playing for West Ham, a team with only 25 goals scored. Definitely a solid, safe choice. He’s the snuggie of left wing-back options. (FYI, all the ones below this are definitely lesser options In My Opinion)
  5. Jorge - Oh, Emperor Emenalo, would you ever do us a favor? I wonder. He’s a good tackler, but not much of a crosser. Just kind of middle of the road. We could do worse, but I’d hate to blow a lot of money on him.
  6. Jose Gaya - Another middle of the road guy. Poor crosser. Decent at most everything else. Seems pretty good defensively, but ehh. Not what I’m looking for.
  7. Ryan Bertrand - If you aren’t familiar with Bertie, then you are either 3 years old, or new to Chelsea. He’s getting older, although half of WAGNH wouldn’t believe it. He’s a well balanced player, strong, but not a very good crosser of the ball. He’s probably better right now than either Moses or Zappacosta in general wing-back terms, but not sure that’s saying much. He’s a legit Premier League starter, but I don’t think he’s a Top 6 starter anymore. Bench guy if we made the move.
  8. Faouzi Ghoulam - Eyes were opened a bit on Ghoulam. Frankly not that impressed. He’s not bad, or anything, but he seems like a very safe player. Short passes, not too many crosses, etc. Could just be Napoli’s style of play, but it’s not like we are signing him anyway.
  9. Sergio Escudero - A Ghoulam light that’s quite a bit better defensively? I’m not sure how to sell it because I’m not sure I want to. Dribbles well, hardly ever crosses the ball. I’m about as interested in him as he is at putting the ball in the box, apparently.
  10. Marcel Halstenberg - A ‘lite’ version of Alonso I guess with less of an eye for a shot? Decent but not very good.
  11. Wendel - Wendel feels like Moses. And that’s not what I want.
  12. Escudero - Meh. Like so many others in the middle-bottom of the list, just not that inspiring.
  13. Sessegnon - The most unique player on here. I originally wasn’t going to include him, but felt I should. Listed him at 13, basically at the top of the ‘rest’, because no one even knows what position he will play yet. Is he a winger? A fullback? A wing-back? And at 17, he’s completely untested. He looks fantastic, sure, but he’s still a raw lump of clay, really.
  14. Chilwell - Disappointed here, I really thought he’d look better. I know he’s had the lowest number of minutes on the list, but his volume for everything just seems so low. He’s occupying space, which isn’t the worst thing for a youngster, but that’s nothing we are looking for.
  15. Roussillon - I feel like I probably should have added someone else instead. How’s that for a rating?

Enth E Nd

It doesn’t even matter. I mean, does anyone right now really believe Chelsea is going to buy a good left wing-back? I don’t. I want to. I mean, why else write up articles like this. We’ll probably overpay for Bertie, aka DD 2.0. Or Bakayoko 3.0. Or Willian 4.0. I’ve lost track. But I’d like to think there are enough good options out there that we should be able to find a way to be successful in the market this January. I’d like to think that we would want to.