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The left wing-back conundrum, or why Chelsea need to sign Alex Sandro

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Juventus v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Matteo Bottanelli/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Left Wing-back Conundrum

One of our better players so far this season has been Marcos Alonso. Frankly, I’d go even as far as to say that he’s among the very best in his position across the entire Premier League. He’s scored key goals, he’s worked tirelessly at both ends of the pitch, he’s stayed healthy — simply put, he’s done a very good job for Chelsea at the left wing-back position, and has done so for a season and a half now without a legitimate backup. Sure, we have Kenedy, who no one at Chelsea seems to truly believe in, and we have Zappacosta, who at times looks almost as good on the left as on the right (ed.note: which may not be that praiseworthy...), but it would be really nice to have a second left-sided wing-back and enjoy some true depth.

Given this hole in the squad, the constant across-the-room flirt with Alex Sandro makes sense. A left back who can play the wing-back role, and who is most likely a better player all around than Marcos Alonso, even given his rough patch throughout the first half of the season. This is the opposite of the Chelsea Board’s current m.o., which makes things all the more strange. Normally we need new starters, and instead buy affordable depth. Which is probably what we should be doing, for once, in this spot. But instead, we are shooting for the moon. Why? Because Alex Sandro is really that good, that’s why. Inevitably, we will read a lot of rumours about us being interested in Sandro, and unfortunately probably not buy him, at which point we will need to find SOMEONE to at least let Alonso rest. I’ll have an article about those players soon, but for now this one is about the pipe dream. The “go for it” move. The long shot, the player that tells the current players, the fans, and the rest of the world that we really are a Big Club, and that we do care about more than just hitting the profitable end of a deal for “really good” bench talent. The Sandro buy.

Alex(ander) The Great

I’ve always found it interesting that Alex Sandro is kind of a play on names. Alex is short for Alexander historically, and Sandro is a shortened form of Allesandro, a derivative of Alexander. This amuses me greatly. That aside, Alex Sandro is the real deal. Once referred to as “The Next Roberto Carlos”, he’s done an impressive job so far of trying to fill those shoes. Chelsea once had an opportunity to sign him, when he was playing for Porto, and instead we signed Baba Rahman. Yeah. Exactly.

Alex Sandro plays for Juventus nowadays, and apparently is available if he wants to leave and we pay what they want. Not a new story for us to hear, unfortunately. It’s entirely possible though that this time is the right time to make this move. He’s been on a bit of a slide with Juve, and given his talent level, the price probably won’t ever be better.

The biggest things he brings to the table are almost exactly the the things that Alonso does NOT specialize in. He’s wicked smart fast and an excellent crosser of the ball. Something we might even recognize, to be honest. And he’s been only getting better with age. Even back in 2015, Juventus thought he was the cat’s pajamas, devoting an entire article to just how awesome he is:

Roberto Carlos himself believes that Sandro could be his successor.

There’s no shortage of press about him, that’s for sure.

Don (Alonso) Quixote de la Mancha

Alonso currently gives us very solid play, is an excellent free kick taker, and does an admiral job of locking down his left side, via his height, length, and some really intelligent positioning and timing. But he’s not fast. He doesn’t cross the ball that well, and he doesn’t overlap down the sideline in a way that encourages rapid-fire counter attacking play.

He got his start at Real Madrid, with their youth academy, then meandered through the Premier League and the Serie A, before finally finding a home at Chelsea. He seems to be well integrated into our side at this point, and he and the club seem to be building a solid bond in both directions. Again, he’s not remotely a bad player, and in fact he’s a very good player. But he’s not Alex Sandro. And that’s the real problem, isn’t it? That’s what it comes down to. How much better is Sandro? How do the scales tip, when the players are properly weighed against each, and in the context of our Chelsea side. Let’s see if we can try to find out.

By No Metric Could You Possibly Be Considered More Attractive Than Me

These two have a few similarities. Neither is short, nor skinny. Alonso is definitely taller, but at 180cm Sandro is what I’d call “tall enough”. Both are interestingly almost the exact same age, being born roughly one month apart. But that’s probably where the similarities end. Their playing styles could not be more different, and the metrics show this.

If we look at the passing numbers, it’s very clear that Sandro passes the ball a lot more than Alonso does (do note the minutes difference), and he’s both a better long ball passer and a better short passer. He attempts about the same number of long balls, but the completion numbers are at opposite ends of the spectrum. He’s a significantly better crosser of the ball, as well, with a very nice 31% mark both last year and this year. He makes Key Passes more frequently, too. In almost every category, if it involves the left back/wingback passing the ball, Sandro’s doing a better job of it.

In terms of shooting, yes, we all know that Marcos Alonso is a fantastic free kick taker. He’s the new Willian, really, in that regard. But he also takes a lot of shots in general, too. Especially this year. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a wingback take so many shots, and I’m not being facetious, either. So far this season the only LB I’ve compiled data for so far that was close had about 25 shots, just barely half as much as Alonso. And Alonso is quite accurate, too: 17/43 is a good on-target percentage — he’s on target 40% of the time, as a defender. Just think about that. And to round out the rest of the metrics in this table, Sandro gets fouled more, which isn’t surprising, but what is surprising that while not attempting as many, Alonso is percentage-wise as good of a dribbler as Sandro is—both players sitting firmly in the mid-60% range.

Defensively, they both definitely have their place. I believe our setup probably looks to make more of Alonso’s positioning and size, where possible, given our assymetrical shape with Moses farther forward on the right. Alonso has more interceptions, clearances, and blocks, and especially blocked passes. He’s getting into the right places, which is excellent. They are comparable tacklers, as well. And while Sandro is the better winner when he goes up for balls in the air, Alonso does it far more frequently. And this is a big advantage.

The one thing that doesn’t come up here, because it’s hard to quantify, is the pace of Alex Sandro. He’s fast. And we all know that, well, Alonso really isn’t. He’s not slow, even though his running style looks awkward at times, especially due to his long legs, but he’s not nearly as quick and pacey as Sandro is. This kind of pace allows Sandro to overlap more, which means getting involved in the attack via crossing the ball a lot more. It also means not getting burned by those few attacking players that are truly fast. Not as common as you’d think, but in a Cup match it can spell potential doom.

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Video Games

After finding out in my right wing-back article that FM salts the player attributes slightly, I decided to go in a different direction here, and go full-FIFA and -PES. We all know these can be skewed as well, but at least in an apples-to-apples comparison it should be okay. And I was curious, too. Here’s the breakdown for each player, first the FIFA numbers and then the PES ones. I found these online at http://sofifa.com for the FIFA 18 data, and at https://pesstatsdatabase.com/ for the PES 17 numbers. I’m not going to put too much stock into it, besides a fun comparison, but it does help to show the pace, crossing, and shooting distinctions for each:

Some of these numbers simply don’t agree with the actual metrics, like the FIFA numbers showing Alonso a slightly better long passer, or that Alonso is an 84 in speed to Sandro’s 86 for the PES data. I know someone asked about comparing the two sets of data after the last article, so at the very least, here they are. I’m not going to include any of it for any real analysis, though.

It Is Only A Tactical Decision

Antonio Conte was quoted earlier this year, when discussing the change from David Luiz to Andreas Christensen:

“I must take the best decision for the club, not a single player. It is only a tactical decision. It’s normal. This can happen to every one of my players if I see they are not in good form. I have to make important decisions.”

And I truly believe this about Conte, even at the left wing-back role. If the better player is available, or a player who more effectively suits his tactics, he will play him. If it means buying the player, I’m sure he’d want to buy the player, too. If you look at our tactics, and think about a player like Alex Sandro, in both the 3-5-2 as well as the 3-4-3, he would provide an improved attacking threat down the left side. In the 3-5-2 he’s a legitimate crossing threat, and his pace would do wonders in a counter-attacking setup, helping take some of the workload off of Eden Hazard, as well as freeing him from some of the defensive overloading he currently gets. In the 3-4-3, he would be an ideal overlapping partner with Eden, allowing him to cut in to the middle as he’s wont to do lately. Sandro probably wouldn’t shoot the ball nearly as much as Alonso does, but it’s possible he’d help others more in order to get good looks at the goal.

Sandro is a legitimate top tier player, in a position where Antonio Conte’s tactical formations absolutely need top tier players. While we have a good one in Marcos Alonso, it should be a priority for our Board to go after an obvious upgrade at a reasonable price in today’s current market, when the upgrade is this obvious. And at the end of the day, these two players, by being drastically different in attack, yet both consistently solid defensively, would provide an amazing one-two punch for Antonio in what should be very long season each and every year.

Poll

What would you consider a ‘fair’ price for Alex Sandro?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Less than £30m (€34m)
    (34 votes)
  • 13%
    £30m-to-£40m (€45m)
    (211 votes)
  • 38%
    £40m-to-£50m (€56m)
    (601 votes)
  • 36%
    £50m-to-£60m (€68m)
    (578 votes)
  • 7%
    £60m-to-£75m (€85m)
    (120 votes)
  • 0%
    Up to £88m (€100m)
    (12 votes)
  • 1%
    Over £88m (€100m+)
    (16 votes)
1572 votes total Vote Now