TheHardTackle reviews the slow rise to prominence of the Inter midfielder.
In the midst of all musings surrounding cult hero Wesley Sneijder’s apparently inevitable move to Old Trafford, Marco Branca fiddled away competition from the likes of Arsenal and Napoli to land Ricardo Alvarez from Argentinian side Velez Sarsfield. The €12 Million was initially seen as a replacement for the Dutch Maestro but as fate were to have it, the deal fell through and so did the prospective impact that Alvarez could have made at the very inception of his Nerazzurri career.
For starters, it is worth mentioning that the Argentine midfielder is one of the silkier types when on the ball, oozing class and composure in terms of picking the right man with the right pass, or dictating the tempo of the game from central midfield. At Velez, he was the numero uno of his team’s play in the opposition’s half. Not being blessed with a quick turn of pace, the midfielder makes it up with a supreme sense of positioning, both when on the ball and when off it. Alvarez isn’t your typical trequartista that many mistake him to be – infact, his best times for Velez and Inter have come when he has stationed himself between the lines of central midfielders and the advanced play-maker. His tendency to drift wide into either the left or the right flank, move forward or drop deep in search of space makes him an unique prospect in the game.
Under the tutelage of Gasperini and Claudio Ranieri, Alvarez was mostly used as a left sided playmaker given the need to accommodate the slowly depreciating Wesley Sneijder through the middle. And understandably so, the Argentine found life difficult given his little experience down the wings. The appointment of Strammacioni brought about a change in the fortunes of the midfielder, as he was played to his strengths in a setup that very much relied on the creative spark provided by Alvarez.
In the derby madness against city rivals Milan, Alvarez put in one of his better performances in an Inter shirt. The graphic below shows the starting position and the action zones of the midfielder.
Notice the starting position and the average position of the #11 (Alvarez). Though he started down the left, his average position during the game were between the central midfielders and the Wesley Sneijder, the #10. For further clarification, let us now have a look at his heat-map during the game.
As the heat-map suggests, Alvarez spent most of the game between the line of central midfielders and Wesley Sneijder. On the odd occasion, he drifted out to the left to overload the wings and test Milan’s right hand side.
Under the stewardship of Mazzarri, thus far the Argentine has emerged as a surprise package, moving himself into the spotlight after a string of impressive displays against Genoa and Catania. In the 3-5-2 deployed by the Italian tactician, Alvarez has started in between the central midfield and attack, playing a free role. In a midfield largely comprised of grit and muscle, the Argentine provides the class and composure on the ball that makes up a perfect blend in the middle of the park for the Nerazzurri.
For a detailed explanation, let us now put the midfielder’s role under a microscope.
At the San Siro, as the Genoa backline pushed deeper to squeeze up space for the Inter forwards, Alvarez pushed himself further up the pitch as he found that extra yard of space to influence the game, his second half resurgence being the catalyst behind dispatching off the Rossoblu to collect all three points. The graphic below that portrays the action areas and the heat-map of Alvarez during the game.
Throughout the 90 minutes, Alvarez kept his opposite numbers on their feet with his astute movement down the sides of the Genoa defense or through the middle. The midfielder attempted a total of 8 dribbles and made a total of three key passes, constantly putting the Genoa midfield under pressure by creating 4v3 in the middle, or overloading the left wing by creating a 2v1 against Sime Vrsaljko and a surprisingly lazy Issac Coffie.
Against Catania, fans and critics like were exposed to the unknown side of Alvarez. The midfielder dropped deeper than usual to collect possession and spread play out wide to Jonathan and Nagatomo.
In a similar role of a regista, Alvarez dropped deep between the defense and midfield to become the third body in midfield, dictating play as a quarter-back. The Catania midfield came up explicitly short against a well oiled Inter and lost out in a comprehensive 3 goal trouncing.
The newest domains of the game require the ideal footballer to excel on the both sides of the pitch. Not only should be flamboyant on the ball, he is also expected to be a tireless worker off it. Ricardo Alvarez is a member of a rare breed of footballers who thrive as artists rather than athletes. As fine painters, these footballers have been known to spray their class on the grassy canvas. But, legend has it that this clan of ‘La Bella Figura’ footballers have thrived when their mentors play to their strengths, instead of the player playing to his mentor’s idea. After a couple of seasons of Alvarez doing the latter, can Mazzarri finally realize the gem within his squad.
(Due credit to ESPNFC and Squawka for the graphics and stats)