Everton have recruited such a lengthy ex Wigan contingent in the last week or so that Finch Farm’s locker room will soon resemble a ‘Swindon lot’ Brent style scenario. Presumably Alan Stubbs role this week will be to take Roberto, Arouna and the lads down to the Eagle and Child in Halewood for a swift half of Cains at lunch. The latest duo to make the short treck down the East Lancs road are Antolin Alcaraz and more recently Joel Robles who has joined via his parent club Atletico Madrid. What do the new boys bring to the table then? Lets answer some of the most pertinent questions….
What capabilities does Alcaraz bring to the party?
Antolin Alcaraz is a vastly experienced 30 year old right footed centre half who can also be deployed at right back at a push. He is composed on the ball and has a very good reading of the game with good anticipation to step out of defence and win the ball from the opposition. This ability to read the game and intercept play is arguably his greatest attribute. The below video footage during his time in the Portuguese top flight provides a decent synopsis of his key attributes…
What does Alcaraz offer that our other centre backs don’t? Is he better than what we currently have?
His experience playing across Europe and Latin America would make him our most experienced defender even allowing for Distin’s seniority in years. Looking at the data, Alcaraz is certainly a different type of player to Distin and Jagielka, with his skillset more comparable to Heitinga, the man he is likely to replace in the squad. On the ball, his pass completion (84%) is comfortably better than both Jags and Distin, whilst his average pass length (20m) is indicative of a shorter style than Jagielka (27m) and Distin (24m).
As noted, interceptions are his greatest attribute with his figures comfortably better than our current roster; in 11/12 he was ranked 3rd in the top flight for interceptions made by a centre half and 8th in 12/13. For a side like Wigan who look to win the ball pack in their own half rather than us who win it in the opposition half, this attribute to regain possession and start counter attacks from the back is crucial.
His figures in terms of clearances is way down on Jags/Distin, although this is perhaps more down to Wigan’s style of playing out of danger and the fact that under Moyes we played a very high line meaning opposition counters and clearances from our backline were more likely.
How has Martinez used Alcaraz in the past?
Martinez has used him in a back three and back four in his two years at the club. Given Wigan like to sit deep and play often sterile rest in possession play in their own half, Alcaraz ability to pass and his lack of searing pace have been ideally suited to the gameplan. In a back three he will look to push up and intercept play, leaving the aerial donkey work to resident yard dog Caldwell in the centre of the three. He’s shown his flexibility in moving between positions, playing predominantly in his best position on the right of centre, but also on the left and in the centre of the 3. The ability to move positionally will be crucial, if not this season but certainly next when Martinez will have been able to put his stamp on the side. The Spaniard’s back three 3-4-3 system can often morph into a 4-3-3, 4-1-4-1 and even a 2-5-3 -often during the game – and Alcarez has shown he is more than capable of re-positioning with relative ease to suit the system.
Like Kone, he’s just been relegated. Was Alcaraz culpable in their shambolic defence? What weaknesses does he have?
The stats would say that this wasn’t the case. Wigan conceded 135 goals in 76 games over the past two years, with 49 during the 35 games with Alcaraz and 86 in the 41 without him, that’s 1.4 with him, and 2.0 without him, which is a fair difference. If you track the key games the Latics won in the last 2 years, the wins at Anfield, the Emirates, the win over Man Utd which kept them up last season and the key cup wins against us and City, Alcaraz has been an ever present with clean sheets in most of those games.
There are other areas which opposition managers could look to exploit however. His temperament is iffy at best, with the spitting ban and a red card for trying to dry slap the vile sub human Lucas Leiva in the Copa America in recent years arguably the behaviour of a human time bomb. His career games to cards frequency of 1 card every 5 games isn’t massively prolific but is something to keep an eye on, and it does raise the issue that he has missed more games than he has been available for in recent seasons, in part due to his lengthy spell on the sidelines last season with a groin injury and the ban he received in 11/12 although in fairness his injury record over his career is ok with no serious spells on the sidelines prior to this.
In 1 v 1 situations there is also a slight question mark; last season he was dribbled past more than treble the times either Jagielka and Distin were bypassed and in 11/12 he was dribbled past more per game than any centre back in the league. Unlike fist pumping phony Heitinga however, Alcaraz teeth do bite and its unlikely you would see the Paraguayan beasted like JH was against Benteke at L4 last season.
In terms of Robles , how does he fit in?
The purchase of Robles should bring good competition for Howard and his skillset gives us different options between the sticks. Standing at 6ft.5inches (195cm to Howard’s 187cm), Robles has an enviable reach comparable with Stoke City’s towering stopper Begovic, and would give us more of a threat in the air, something we struggled this season conceded the 2nd most headed goals in the division. He is also very good at getting down quickly and recovering to make saves with either his hands or his feet.
Robles has already shown in some of the big games that he has the temperament to succeed and has seamlessly made the transition from playing on loan at Vallecano in la liga to the more aerial bombardment of the English game. He also has experience playing for his country from U16-U23 level.
Although his short and long range kicking completion was inferior to Howard last season – as was unsurprisingly his clean sheet record – Robles on a five year deal is one for the future, and his exciting combination of distribution and physical presence could make him a big player in years to come if not this season. The only visible flaw based on his time at Wigan was organising his defence, but given what was in front of him last season its hard to apportion blame. The fact he only had a year left on his deal means it’s unlikely there was much of a transfer fee involved in the purchase which is also a plus.
Neither player is perhaps going to accrue us significant points this season to kick on but both are good, low cost additions to the squad who will provide more serious competition than either Heitinga or Mucha – the duo they have been brought in to replace – had to offer.
With thanks to @Matt_Cheetham for some useful stats