Chelsea’s success in the 3-4-3 has silenced critics and wags. With his emergence as a dominant left wing-back, Marcos Alonso will no longer be referred to as “the former Bolton and Sunderland man.”
Chelsea signed Marcos Alonso on the same day they re-signed David Luiz. The shock, joy and dismay of Luiz’s return overshadowed the arrival of a relatively unknown journeyman from Fiorentina. Alonso showed up at Stamford Bridge with a elite footballing lineage and a wonderful head of hair, but little else.
With little else to go on, many a football hot take referred back to Alonso’s spell at Bolton and his loan to Sunderland. Alonso made his debut for Chelsea in the EFL Cup tie against Leicester City. He returned for the final 20 minutes against Arsenal when Antonio Conte implemented the 3-4-3.
Since then, Alonso has played every minute of Premier League football for Chelsea. He leads Chelsea with an average of four tackles per game, and is third in clearances behind centre-backs David Luiz and Gary Cahill.
Alonso’s defensive instincts and experience make him the perfect balance to the more offensive Victor Moses, although both are showing exceptional ability on either side of the ball. Chelsea’s pass and position maps show Alonso growing into the role with each game.
Early on, Alonso mostly played the ball sideways with Nemanja Matic or in the defensive third with Gary Cahill. As Alonso and his teammates – Eden Hazard in particular – developed their experience and comfort in the 3-4-3, Alonso started moving the ball forward more.
He emerged as the main set-up man on the left for Hazard and Diego Costa. This opened up more options for Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante to play the ball to the outside after they dispossessed the opposition in midfield.
By the Southampton game Chelsea’s four midfield players solidified their positioning across the pitch. As Chelsea closed down the Saints in defensive-midfield, Alonso was 7/7 in clearances, 4/4 in headed clearances and 5/5 in aerial duels. Showing the two-way balance necessary for a wing-back, Alonso-to-Eden Hazard was the most frequent pass combination on either team.
Finally, against Everton, Alonso exemplified both the lateral and offensive-defensive symmetry that defines an effective 3-4-3 squad. Alonso completed 15 passes to Hazard, 15 passes to Matic and 11 to Cahill. He received 14 from Cahill, 13 from Matic and 10 from Hazard. He completed 29 passes through the middle-third of the pitch and 21 passes in the offensive third. His goal – his first for Chelsea – was the perfect cap to his opening run for the Blues.
Marcos Alonso was a puzzling signing on the last day of the summer transfer window. Chelsea’s greatest needs were a centre-back and a striker, and Alonso was neither. He wasn’t quite the panic buy that Papy Djilobodji was, but the move had a whiff of “well at least did something!” to it.
Alonso had all the makings of a great player – family history, youth at Real Madrid, first-team debut at age 19 – but never seemed to make the final turn into that destiny. He seemed consigned to decent but unspectacular stints at decent but unspectacular teams. Now, at Chelsea, he is on the verge of fulfilling three generations of Alonso family expectations.
Antonio Conte frequently describes himself as a tailor, making the right outfit for Chelsea given the materials he has. Under Antonio Conte, Alonso may finally have the tailored suit to complement his salon-perfect hair.