For those unfamiliar with his career path, Chelsea’s decision to sign Marcos Alonso seemed to be unwise.
With a new full-back – either on the right or left – one of the top priorities for Chelsea and Antonio Conte this summer, Alonso was an underwhelming pick for many. Remembered in England as the former Bolton Wanderers and Sunderland left-sided player, it was overlooked that he has had a fairly substantial career elsewhere.
That place was Florence. Playing in the regal purple of Fiorentina, Alonso developed both as a defender and an offensive asset down the flank. His game has benefited from his physical limitations. Where many full-backs rely on their stamina and pace to save them from perilous defensive situations, Alonso has no such luxury. Often he will come up against wingers who will have the legs to beat him over five yards – he has had to learn how to defend properly, judge when to tackle, intercept and learn his trade positionally.
Having watched consecutive defensive calamities against Arsenal and Liverpool, Alonso was given his chance from the off against Hull City this weekend. Conte changed his tactics to open the door for the former Real Madrid academy player. 4-3-3 became 3-4-3 and Alonso, along with Victor Moses, was handed a place in the starting line-up. The result was Chelsea’s most complete performance of the season, both looking defensively stronger and able to commit more bodies into the final third.
The midfield had greater freedom, while Alonso and Moses provided natural width that the Blues have lacked with Cesar Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanovic in the full-back roles. Alonso on the left allowed a rejuvenated Eden Hazard to leave his nominal role on the wing in search of possession and wreak havoc wherever he fancied.
Alonso’s inclusion aided Chelsea defensively, too. Enabling Conte to play three central defenders, the new signing has given Chelsea the chance to change their shape, and his performance may well allow them to do so in the future, too. Conte has already claimed that 3-4-3 will be used on a match-by-match basis, but the display against Hull suggests that this will be more than an experiment against bottom half sides.
Playing as a wing-back is not simple, it requires a rounded footballer, with understanding of the game in all thirds of the pitch. Alonso will rarely excite with racing runs down the outside, nor will be provide the last ditch defensive dramas of Ashley Cole. Instead, he is on course to become a vital member of Chelsea’s XI. The 3-4-3 cannot function smoothly without Alonso and his performance against Hull guaranteed he will remain in Conte’s plans.