David Alaba is a young Austrian footballer who currently plays for German giants Bayern Munich. The versatile player started off as a central midfielder, but can play a variety of roles, including right back, centre back, right midfield, and his preferred slot of left back.
Alaba has spent his entire career at Bayern Munich. He made his debut for Die Roten in February 2010, coming on as a substitute and assisting Franck Ribery to a goal. In doing so, he became the youngest player ever to play a competitive fixture for Bayern Munich, at the age of 17 years, 7 months, and 8 days. He also made his Champions League debut against Fiorentina, when Bayern faced them in the second leg of the first knockout round.
The next season, Alaba established himself as a first team regular, proving to be the solution to the then problematic left back slot for Bayern.
Internationally, Alaba already has 18 caps to his name. He also won the Austrian Footballer of the Year award in 2011, at the age of just 19. He also became the youngest player ever to represent Austria when he made his debut against France back in 2009.
Style, Strengths and Weaknesses
The Austrian began his career as a central midfielder, but was shifted out wide, and tried in the left back position. The main reason for doing so was his fantastic athletic ability. Alaba has great pace, acceleration, and stamina. These traits are necessary for someone who plays in the full back position, because such a player needs to run up and down the flank throughout the game. The pace is vital in order to be able to participate effectively in attacks, and shut down opposition wingers. In fact, Alaba is so quick, he virtually took Theo Walcott and his pace out of the equation when Bayern faced Arsenal recently.
What adds to Alaba’s game, is his ability to be an effective defender. Recently, with the emphasis on full backs to attack, a large number of them have forgotten the art of being defenders. Alaba is a refreshing change to this trend, as he defends as well as he attacks. The key for any good defender, is the ability to execute tackles cleanly. Alaba is one who doesn’t dive into tackles very often, that is, he doesn’t commit himself easily. He executes about 2 successful tackles every game, with a success rate of 84%. These stats are telling, especially when you consider that even the dominant Mats Hummels has a success rate of only 80% (assuming 80% can be called ‘only’). His excellent contributions at the back have been crucial in Bayern conceding only 7 league goals so far this season.
Alaba isn’t a natural defender, and moreover, he plays at left back, an area which demands forward movement to assist the attacking players of the team. Such forward runs form a key weapon in his armory. He drives forward with a lot of pace, and moves into good areas. What’s good to note is that he makes runs along the touchline, and also cuts inside. Such variety in his movement keeps defenders guessing, and allows him to get into goal scoring positions. The occupation of scoring positions is an important development in his game, and has aided Bayern with some precious goals (4 so far this season). His attacking thrust is a key reason for Bayern’s dominance of wide areas, and the assistance he provides Franck Ribery with, is also crucial in enabling the French player to find space to work his magic. In the game against Schalke (one of Alaba’s best performances), Alaba spent a lot of time in the opposition half, constantly attacking. While this may not have had a direct effect (despite the fact that he scored twice), it really helped Bayern dominate, peg Schalke back, and keep up the pressure. The result was a fantastic 4-0 win over a team that was, at the start of the season, considered one of Bayern’s rivals.
Contrast this with his movement in the game against Borussia Dortmund, where Bayern had the ball for long periods (55% possession), but just couldn’t break through and were held to a 1-1 draw at the Allianz Arena.
As mentioned earlier, his forward movement has been very helpful to Franck Ribery, by creating space for him to work in. Usually, teams have their wing man track back extra efficiently when faced with the prospect of a skillful winger like Franck Ribery. Often, such a ploy works well as the winger in question is double teamed, and taken out of the game. However, if a full back charges down the flank, the defending players cannot double team the attacking winger, because doing so would leave the attacking full back in tons of space. In this way, Alaba has been the perfect foil for Ribery this year, keeping defenders very busy.
“He’s only just 19 but he has loads of quality. He’s playing really well”
-Ribery about Alaba post Bayern’s win over Real Madrid in the Champions League semi final of 2012.
A characteristic of Alaba that has helped him excel in an attacking sense is his technique on the ball. Having begun his career as a central midfielder, Alaba is bound to have excellent technique on the ball. He boasts of a completion rate of 89% this season, with 58.9% of his passes being played forward. His crossing however, could improve, as 0.8 successful crosses per game is not a very good rate for a full back. The secret behind his success in an attacking sense, and with the ball at his feet is that he plays simple passes to the flair players like Kroos, Ribery or Schweinsteiger. If these passes aren’t available, he simply retains possession and gives it back to defenders in more space.
Alaba can be criticized for his poor positioning while defending. The full back can defend well, but doesn’t take up the right kind of positions. A lot of times, this happens because he is too far forward, and is vulnerable while tracking back. There are several occasions when Dante has to cover for him in order to keep crosses out. However, this may be due to the fact that Bayern play a high line, and press the ball a lot. Also, his relative inexperience (Alaba is only 20) is a defining factor, and his positioning will probably improve as he gets older, and plays more matches.
Alaba has a contract at Bayern till June 2015. His club are unlikely to sell him because of his age, and importance to the team. Barcelona were linked with a move for him last summer, but it didn’t materialize as Jordi Alba came in.
Alaba definitely has the potential to become the best left back in the world. If any top team requires a left back, David Alaba should be the number 1 target. Whether or not the player and club would want a transfer, is, however, a completely different matter.