Son of Colombian parents that immigrated to the United Kingdom, Steven Alzate is a London-born, 21-year-old midfielder playing for Brighton & Hove Albion. Having climbed the youth ranks at League Two side Leyton Orient and making his professional debut at the age of 18, Alzate’s performances attracted the interest of Brighton and led to the club acquiring his services in July of 2017. Alzate has gone on to complete a successful loan spell at Swindon Town during the 2018/2019 season and has since returned to Brighton. Alzate is becoming a regular in Graham Potter’s side and has featured in several key games this past season such as: vs. Chelsea (98 minutes played), Tottenham (96 minutes), Arsenal (89 minutes played) and Manchester United (100 minutes). These performances have also ultimately led to his recent call up to the senior Colombian national team in late 2019. This scout report will dive into Alzate’s playing style and system tactics at Brighton through an in-depth tactical analysis, and why the midfielder is a solid player for Brighton in the making.
Composure to play out of tricky situations
Steven Alzate has been utilized in several roles this past season at Brighton, due to his quickness and possession qualities. This makes Alzate especially adaptable and useful in various sectors of Grahm Porter’s setup at Brighton. However, despite being deployed in the winger role and at right-back on a few occasions, Alzate’s most natural position and the area where he has the most impact is arguably in the central midfield. Although Alzate possesses a decent long pass which is key for a modern attacking right-back and has quick feet to beat a man in 1 v 1 situations as a winger, Alzate’s ability to keep possession in tight areas via quick link-up passes or clever dribbles is an asset to Brighton’s possession-based philosophy.
Although Alzate can continue to improve his awareness and judgement to knock the ball out or long if the situation at hand is too high-risk-low-reward, he has admirable tendencies to always try to control the ball in tight situations and attempt to play smart, simple passes to keep the ball and play around the opponent. If the opponent presses too hard, Alzate is confident to move the ball around at his feet and dribble to break out into open space or create just enough space to get a pass off to maintain possession.
Alzate pops into the tight gap during the build-up and receives from the goalkeeper, turns inside and plays a quick pass to the holding midfielder to get around the oncoming pressure. The holding midfielder then plays a pass to the checking-in midfielder further ahead, who then lays it off to Alzate for him to open the play up to the advancing right back. Alzate is composed during this sequence and allows Brighton to maintain possession and at no moment appears panicked to resort to launching a long pass.
Shifting the play and providing support angles in the attacking half
As the play progresses up the pitch, Alzate serves a key function for Brighton by providing support angles and shifting the play away from congested areas to the opposite side if need be. He’s unlike a pivot player who typically positions himself in more central, retracted areas who often completes the shift of play via long aerial passe. Alzate instead will shift over close to the touchlines to provide support and attempt to create numerical superiority. If the attack can be continued on the current side that the ball is on, Alzate tries to pick out forward players moving in between the lines with sharp penetrative passes. If the sector is too congested and requires a shift, Alzate can rely on his quick dribbles and medium-range passes on the ground to re-angle the attack. By shortening the distance between himself and the opposite side player through a dribble or ground passes, Alzate is able to make himself available as a support option faster and is well-positioned to attempt a recovery if the play breakdowns.
Because Alzate provides these support angles during the attack, Alzate’s arrival into the opponent’s box is delayed and he typically positions himself near the top of the box. This enables him to serve as a type of plug: to intercept any loose balls that pop out or that are attempted to be played away. Alzate is especially dangerous in these areas as he is able to use his quick dribbles to drive into crowded spaces and sneak low shots off into corners that goalkeepers have trouble saving.
Alzate’s ideal function in the attacking third: Uses the centre back as a wall pass to get his body open to the field. He sees the movement from the forward player in between the lines and plays a well-weighted pass into space. New signing Alexis Mac Allister is clinical when operating in these areas. Alzate should definitely be able to create dynamic combinations with the incoming Argentine similar to the below. In other instance where the sector is too crowded, Alzate could also shift the ball out towards the opposite wing.
Alzate’s delayed arrival allows him to pounce on the loose ball outside the box, use a clever feint to dribble diagonally into the open space and squeeze a low shot into the far corner, barely missing the target.
Could be quicker to complete the second triangle or leave gaps
Alzate demonstrates the ability to establish the initial possession triangle when Brighton are building-up the play from the back or if the ball is quickly transitioned into his sector of the pitch. However, at times Alzate is slow to recognize how the build-up is being constructed and what spaces he can move into to be in a position to establish the second or third possession triangles. In other situations, when Alzate is able to check into a gap for the build-up but doesn’t end up receiving it, his rotation out of space for another teammate to come into is sometimes delayed. This often results in possession triangles remaining narrow and for the opposition to have a better position during Brighton’s possession.
Fortunately, the solution to this issue is simple and can be developed with more experience and playing time in the midfield role. However, as a general rule of thumb, in possession situations where a check into a gap doesn’t result in the player receiving the ball, his next reaction should typically be to quickly move out of the gap to either drag a defender away from the play or free up space for another player to check into. This interchangeability and awareness of space creation is critical for players in possession-based systems, like Brighton, that look to build-up from deep areas.
Although in some situations the movement that is required to establish the possession triangle is for Alzate to pop out into deeper areas, which he does well, it is important that Alzate also continue to further develop his vision to identify angles he can create by making runs into forward areas. As mentioned earlier, Alzate can be a real threat when he is able to receive the ball near the top of the box and drive forward with momentum. If Alzate can incorporate some more dynamic movement into higher positions, this should ultimately create more attacking situations for the midfielder to exploit.
In the image below Alzate could have looked to quickly move out of the space after laying it off to his left-back and allow the possession to be established with a larger triangle with the second central midfielder (blue triangle). After moving out of the zone, Alzate could look for gaps to form the next possible triangle (red triangle) to help the build-up continue higher up the pitch.
Alzate has his body open to the play and could begin to read that the next pass is going forward into the player showing between the lines. Instead of looking to pop back out towards his own goal to receive the ball, Alzate could have made a run into the gap diagonally ahead and potentially have a quality chance to attack the goal with momentum.
A look at the stats
Taking a simple quantitative approach to the evaluation of Steven Alzate we can begin to confirm many of the qualities observed in the scout report and uncover other areas for further study. Taking a sample set of central midfielders from the Premier League’s top 5 teams that have averaged the most possession this past season (Manchester City #1, Liverpool #2, Chelsea #3, Arsenal #4 and Brighton #5) we can see that Alzate is averaging 6 dribbles per 90 minutes and is completing ~60% of those dribbles, the highest in the sample set. The midfielder appears to be quite active in the attacking phase of the game, averaging 3 touches in the box per 90 minutes and hitting nearly 37% of shots on target, again some of the highest numbers from the sample set.
In terms of passing metrics, perhaps the main flag in this analysis is in the area of accuracy. Although the quantity of all the types of passes is generally in-line with the average of the sample set, Alzate is completing these passes at a lower rate compared to the others. A dissection of these incomplete passes could be helpful in understanding in what roles Alzate perhaps struggles more and if these mistakes are occurring more often when he is cast as a winger or right-back, but that’s another article in itself.
Still, at only 21 years of age, Alzate is adapting well to the demands of the EPL and has demonstrated that through his ability to play in several different roles. Ideally, his skillset and versatility make him a serious threat as a central midfielder. As long as the young midfielder can continue to have the courage to play out of tight situations with his quick feet and smart passing, the accuracy and decision making aspects of his game should develop. Alzate is certainly a player to watch and could play an important role next season in Brighton’s ideal diamond midfield, with Davy Pröpper in the holding role, Yves Bissouma and Alzate in front of him and newcomer Alexis Mac Allister in the attacking midfielder role.