Chelsea are well known for their spending, and new manager Antonio Conte hasn’t shied away from the transfer market this summer, splashing out around £120 million on four new faces in order to freshen up a squad that struggled to tenth place in the league last season.
The signings of N’Golo Kante and Michy Batshuayi were both expected, but deadline day deals for former player David Luiz and Fiorentina left back Marcos Alonso came as a bit more of a shock for the casual observer.
Spending £23 million on Alonso has been regarded by many as a strange transfer by the Blues. Plenty have ridiculed the deal and the money spent on it, merely due to the fact that the Spanish left-back has previously played for both Bolton Wanderers and Sunderland. To give some perspective to how silly it is to judge Alonso based on this, he left Bolton in 2013 and played half a season on loan at Sunderland in 2014. He is a different player today, and Chelsea fans will see this.
Whilst the figure paid does not necessarily mean that Alonso will be a guaranteed starter (they paid £33 million for Batshuayi after all, and he doesn’t look like usurping Diego Costa any time soon), it does give Conte the option to shake up his defence, and the Spaniard may be the man to do just that.
There have been suggestions that Conte is intending to switch his system at Chelsea from the back four that he has played in the opening few games of the season to a back five, a more familiar formation to the Italian manager across his stints at Juventus and Italy.
When this is taken into account, the signing of Alonso makes a lot more sense. The Spaniard flitted between playing left back and left midfield last season at Fiorentina, suggesting that he is more than comfortable adopting the role of wing-back that is necessary when playing a back five.
Although his 6’2″ frame sometimes struggles to get going, Alonso has genuine quality on the ball from out wide, and his days at Real Madrid as a youngster taught him about the value of attacking as a full-back.
Despite all of this, he can defend as well too. Alonso himself admitted that his time in Italy was vital to his development and his defending visibly came on leaps and bounds during his three years with the Viola. He will play the wing-back role very well at Stamford Bridge.
Furthermore, before signing Alonso and Luiz, Chelsea were lacking the personnel to allow Conte to alter his system. After loaning out the erratic Baba Rahman, the only real options at full-back were Cesar Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanovic. Whilst Azplilicueta is consistently excellent from both flanks, the ageing Ivanovic has started to lose some of the energy which made him so dangerous for so many years, and the role of wing-back is probably beyond him at the current stage in his career.
Ivanovic, then, would be better suited to a role in the central three in defence, with Azpilicueta moving to the right hand side of the defence, and Alonso coming in on the left. The signing of the Spaniard was not merely an expensive way to back up an already strong defence, it gives Conte the flexibility to radically alter the way his team plays from the back.
Although not met with much fanfare, this signing could be as important as any other for Chelsea this summer.
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