Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. The top two in the Premier League, with two foreign managers, both of whom are favourable of ensuring their team can adapt to varying formations and styles of play.
Antonio Conte’s side, much like Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham, started the season with a 4-2-3-1 style. Conte was the first of the two to switch to 3-4-3, and it transformed the Blues, rejuvenating what many pundits labelled as an ageing, broken Chelsea outfit, giving rise to a club-record winning run which has propelled the West Londoners ten-points clear at the Premier League summit with the title in sight.
Pochettino, whose Spurs side have been involved in the title race once again this term, has gradually implemented a similar system at White Hart Lane. The back-three enables a defence to remain compact, with the protection of sitting defensive-midfielders, which hands free-licence to two marauding wing-backs to bomb forward in support of the attack, rather than being isolated to hanging-back and helping out with the defensive work.
The contribution of these wide-players, getting up and down the flanks to put balls into the box as well as having the energy and work-rate to track-back and assist in defence, is vital to the implementation of such a system. Tottenham’s flying left-back Danny Rose has been a vital piece of the Tottenham puzzle in enabling it to work for Pochettino’s men, whilst across the capital, the success of Conte’s system is owed in part to their own key-man on the left flank, Marcos Alonso.
By examining both player’s seasons in statistics, in soon becomes apparent just how crucial they have been to their respective clubs in varying ways, and it may go some way towards determining which of the two has had the most telling impact for their club in 2016/17.
The defensive side of each player’s game tells an interesting story. As far as clean sheets go, Marcos Alonso takes the plaudits with 12 clean sheets in his 22 appearances, whilst Danny Rose has played a part in keeping seven clean sheets in the 18 games he has featured in for Spurs this season. In the games that both players have featured in on the pitch. wever, their respective clubs have both conceded a mere 11 goals, with Rose finishing on the losing side just once, and Alonso doing so twice. Rose, however, only has ten wins to his name in the games he has played in this season, compared to the 18 occasions in which Alonso has finished-up on the winning side.
It seems Danny Rose defensively is also the more accustomed to doing the dirty work out of the two. In the 18 games he has played in, Rose has contributed 50 tackles, with a success rate of 68%, as well as one last-man tackle to deny a goal-scoring opportunity, and eight blocks in front of goal. Alonso in comparison has contributed just 37 tackles in 22 games, with a 65% success rate, putting in six blocks and no last-ditch challenges. That isn’t to say Alonso neglects the defensive work, though, because he is ahead of Rose by way of interceptions, clearances and headed clearances, with 33, 61, and 30 respectively compared to Rose’s total of 22 interceptions, 52 clearances, and 24 headed clearances. Alonso is also in the lead when it comes to recovering possession, having won back the ball 108 times compared to Rose’s 81.
The number of duels between the two also supports the idea that Rose is the more ‘rough and ready’ of the two full-backs. The Spurs left-back has engaged in 245 in total, winning 148 and losing 97, having won 25 of his 50/50 challenges, whereas Alonso has been involved in 222, winning 119 and losing 103, and has won only 14 of his 50/50s.
Predictably, though, Alonso has the higher aerial proficiency given his height advantage against the Tottenham man, winning 52 aerial battles out of 87 and losing 35. Rose in comparison has only been involved in 43, winning 27 and losing 16, though he still has a higher success rate than failure despite his size. Both have also been cool and responsible heads in defence, neither having committed errors leading directly to an opposition goal.
So what becomes apparent here is that both are two different types of full-back in terms of their defensive style. Rose is the far more inclined of the two to become involved in personal battles and throw in tackles, whilst Alonso is more of an aerial presence, who seeks to intercept the ball and go forward with it on the ground, but to his credit, he has recovered possession more often out of the two, and tends to do more defensive work in his own penalty area in terms of clearing the ball. This is likely to stem from the fact that Conte’s defence thrives on the wing-backs folding into a back-five when the team needs to defend, whereas in Pochettino’s set-up, the full-backs, despite tracking back to support the defence, play in a system which places emphasis on them going forward, rather than frequently sitting as part of a back-five, which the Blues’ defence has a greater tendency to do.
The differing styles of game within the two is also reflected in their disciplinary records this season. Rose is the more inclined to go in for the tackle, and he, therefore, has earned the majority of bookings out of the two, having received eight yellow cards, and no dismissals, with 26 fouls committed in his 18 games. Alonso’s record consists of just two bookings, with no red cards and 21 fouls in his 22 appearances in 2016/17.
But given that both players are deployed in systems which require them to get forward as well as track back and defend, a statistical breakdown is necessary once more to define which of the two has been the most effective going forward. Alonso shades Rose in terms of goals and assists, with the Chelsea man scoring four this season (coming against Everton, Leicester  and Arsenal), and getting two assists, compared to the two goals and two assists managed by Rose, one of which includes an emphatic winner against Burnley. Alonso is also the only player of the two to have scored from a header, which came early in Chelsea’s London derby victory over Arsenal at Stamford Bridge.
Of course Alonso has featured in four more games, thanks mainly to Danny Rose’s injury sustained at the end of January, and thus statistically is the player out of the two to have played the most passes, with 928 passes throughout the season (an average of 42.18 passes per game), compared to Rose’s 783 pass total, which nevertheless averages out at a superior 43.50 passes per match, given his lesser number of appearances. It is fair to say, therefore, that in terms of playing the ball, the two are neck-and-neck.
Though despite Alonso seemingly doing more inside his own area, he has contributed slightly more going forward than his counterpart. The Spaniard has created four key chances for the Blues throughout the season, and put 78 crosses into the opposition area, compared to the one key chance crafted by Rose and the 65 crosses he has put into the box. In terms of getting the ball into the target-area from out wide, though, Rose is the more effective despite putting the ball in less, with a crossing accuracy of 22%, compared to Alonso’s 14% of crosses finding their desired target. With both teams having tall strikers to aim for in Harry Kane and Diego Costa, it is interestingly Rose who has played the more long-balls of the two, with 57 accurate long-balls up to the forwards, compared to just 34 played forward by Alonso.
It is paramount to keep in mind that with Alonso having played more games, some of his totals are bound to be better off, but what is apparent is that despite both clubs having deadly outlets down the right-flank, in Kyle Walker and Victor Moses respectively, is that these two players are both able to get involved frequently down their own flank. Alonso is the more frequent in getting forward of the two seemingly, though his higher number of games may be a contributing factor, but Rose is the more accurate of the two in providing balls from out wide. Though in terms of creating goals, the two are level, with Alonso the more potent goal-scoring force.
In terms of the positions of both teams in the table, it does all come down to that winning and losing ratio. Alonso has been involved in eight more wins than Danny Rose has, and that is ultimately the statistic that has helped Chelsea go ten points clear at the summit. After a full-breakdown, it is quite clear the two are still quite even. Alonso’s higher involvement going forward is likely to be down to his higher number of matches, with both players playing the ball just as much as each other, given both clubs implement an expansive, possession-based, passing style of play, and are effective going forward in different areas.
The most telling difference between the two, though, is their defensive styles, with Alonso the more inclined to win back the ball and help out in his own box, whilst Rose is far more robust in the challenge and has been involved in the greater number of duels of the two. Neither style of defending is clearly better than the other, though, with both players only having conceded 11 goals each during their time on the pitch.
Although it is inconclusive as to which of the two has been more effective overall, therefore, what is clear is that they both play very different parts in their positions which make them vital components of their respective clubs. They excel both defensively and attacking-wise in differing areas than each other, whilst still maintaining a reasonable efficiency in the other aspects of their game. They are both exceptional in defending and getting forward, but the decisive statistic is, of course, that superior number of wins, which points towards Marcos Alonso being the one to come out on top at the end of the season with a Premier League medal to his name. That is of course if Chelsea can maintain this momentum, but they certainly don’t look like letting up anytime soon.