Following an immensely successful 2018/19 campaign, it was inevitable that Ajax would lose key men. After captain Matthijs De Ligt departed for Juventus, a replacement was a top priority and they seem to have found it in the shape of Mexican Edson Álvarez. Following the completion of his €15million move from Club América last week, Álvarez will fill the berth left by Ajax’s departing leader as they look to solidify their place amongst Europe’s elite once again.
Style of play
Comfortable in a variety of positions, Álvarez’s versatility will certainly have drawn Ajax towards him. Being able to cover both centre back and right back, as well as defensive midfield makes him invaluable to a squad over the course of a campaign. Over the course of the recent Gold Cup, he was deployed as the number four pinning the midfield. However, for Club América he was used mostly as a centre back, 53 of his career appearances came there with 23 more in midfield and eight more at right-back.
Over the course of the Gold Cup, Álvarez’s abilities were on full show. Despite not playing his favoured centre back role, his displays were enough to paint a picture of the player that Álvarez is. Dropping deep in between the Mexican centre backs, he was responsible for setting the tempo of the team and contributing to the first phase of their attacks.
When analysing the strengths of Álvarez, what stands out first is his confidence and ability on the ball. Comfortable with both dribbling and passing, he is able to break the lines of the opposition press before advancing the ball to either the Mexico wing-backs who were positioned high in the opponents half or one of his central midfield colleagues operating in the half-spaces.
The pictures below illustrate his skills perfectly. Receiving the ball from a throw-in with his back to the opponent, he draws the player in close before quickly turning away and subsequently attacking the space left in behind. As well as his ability to break the press, this clip also shows his vision and passing capabilities. After breaking the press, he is able to identify the run of his left wing-back and then find him with ease.
Whilst his ability on the ball is eye-catching, it is, of course, his defensive play which makes him the player that he is. Whichever position he is played in, the defensive tools at his disposal make him a very competent defender. Strong at the back, Álvarez averaged two successful tackles per game in Mexico last season, as well as one successful block and two clearances per 90. Although his positioning is usually very strong, his speed and ability to close space for opponents very quickly mean that any positional mishaps are covered up with relative ease. Playing as a number four, his horizontal movements are even more impressive than his vertical movements. As can be seen in the clip from the Gold Cup clash with Costa Rica, he very quickly cuts off the pace, recovering the ball high in the opposition half.
How could he fit in at Ajax?
On paper, Álvarez seems a similar sort of player to De Ligt. Some aspects of their games are similar but he will almost certainly bring a different dynamic to the departing captain. Whilst it is widely expected that he will fill the right side of the centre back two, there are a variety of possibilities for the flexible Mexican. Lining up alongside Daley Blind may be a perfect blend of styles, too. Both are comfortable on the ball but Blind’s Ajax DNA can only enhance the game of Álvarez, whilst his physical attributes will help to cover up any deficiencies in Blind’s game. With Erik Ten Hag of course building from the back, both centre backs will play a key role in setting the tempo and contributing to the first phase, as well as driving the ball forward, which will certainly favour the game of Álvarez.
Another interesting possibility may be the number four role following the departure of Frenkie de Jong. Despite having different styles and profiles as players, there are still some similarities between the two of them. The player sat at the base of the Ajax midfield will be the glue holding the side together and be crucial to how successful they may be. It may be interesting to see Álvarez play in de Jong’s exact role, dropping in next to the centre backs both in the build-up, and covering as the wing-backs play higher up the pitch. His ability to close down space horizontally will also make him an effective tool anchoring the midfield in a similar way to his role for Mexico, behind two more advanced midfielders.
With a huge number of games coming up too for Ajax this season, players may be required to fill roles that they are not as comfortable in and Álvarez is no exception. Following the departure of Rasmus Nissen Kristensen, Ajax are an injury away from looking thin at right back. In addition to that, a slightly more defensive full-back may be favoured against the couple of teams they face over the campaign who are deemed superior. Using Álvarez at right-back will maintain the attacking flair that Ajax will inevitably want from their wing-backs, but provide the extra defensive solidarity needed.
It will be fascinating to see how Álvarez fits in at Ajax over the course of the upcoming campaign. Despite not containing any of the Ajax DNA just yet, this analysis has shown that he seemingly has various attributes which could and should make him a success in Amsterdam. It is important to not just view him as De Ligt’s replacement. The potential to fill in a number of positions may make him an indispensable member of the side this season.