Edson Alverez arrived from Ajax this summer with the moniker of ‘machin’, which is mexican slang for ‘the boss’. And whilst he had big shoes to fill, stepping into the hole left by our former lynchpin Declan Rice, he has certainly taken charge of West Ham’s new look midfield in its infancy.
The revamped recruitment team of Mark Noble and Tim Steiden certainly appear to have done their homework when head hunting a new leader in the middle of the park. Statistically speaking, Alvarez’s numbers from last season measure up favourably against Rice.
According to Squawka’s player comparison data, our new man was marginally less commanding per 90 mins in aerial and ground duels won than the departed £105m man (57% vs 59% and 51% to 59% respectively). He made on average slightly less interceptions a game (1.3 to 1.8) but he made more tackles (2.5 to 2.2), more clearances (2.6 to 1.6), and contested nearly twice as many duels (13.1 to 7.9).
He also completed more forward passes per 90 (25.9 to 16.7) with a greater accuracy (89% to 88%) than Rice whilst making the same number of ball recoveries per 90 (9.2 each) as the former captain.
And whilst a direct comparison should be avoided, in terms of matching Rice’s defensive qualities and attributes, Alvarez numbers do enough to suggest he will be up to the task. The £35 million acquisition has shown already that he is going to be a crucial cog in Moyes side.
His performances in his first five appearances have certainly given us fans a glimpse of what he will offer.
Tenacious without the ball and composed with it, he has that fighting spirit that will inevitably endear him to the Hammers faithful. He has shown that he is just as happy receiving the ball under pressure in his own half and executing a step over or drag back to elude the press as he is clattering into an opponent to thwart an attack.
But the thing that has stood out most thus far is his reading of the game, his diligence in his defensive duties and his willingness to work for the team, allowing others to flourish. Against pass-masters Brighton and City, Alvarez selflessly occupied space in front of our centre backs.
His role was to pick up the centre forward when they dropped deep (Ferguson for Brighton, Haaland for City) which in turn allowed Zouma and Aguerd to not worry about being dragged out of position and risk leaving space in behind. They were able to concentrate on picking up the runs from midfield and defend the penalty box. It worked to perfection against the Seagulls, and was being fairly effective against City until the Mexican had to be withdrawn.
And whilst this has actually seen his statistical contribution drop slightly from his final year with Ajax (he has recorded 1.8 tackles, 0.8 interceptions and 4.6 clearances per 90 so far) he is sacrificing part of his game for the good of the team. And whilst no one can doubt Declan Rice’s quality and commitment to the cause during his time at the club, there are some who had wondered if his evolution from a holding defensive midfielder into a more box-to-box man had a detrimental effect on the overall balance of the side.
Alvarez certainly seems happy to be the defensive anchor and let others grab the glory. But that is not to dismiss his capabilities with the ball. His comfort in possession and press resistance is also crucial to our attacking play. He is willing to drop in between the centre back to receive the ball and trust himself to find a way to play us out.
This allows the full backs to push higher and stretch the play. It frees Soucek from that responsibility, which is good for everyone involved, and allows him to hopefully return to his box-crashing best. James Ward Prowse and Paqueta can also operate between the lines in more advanced positions knowing that Alverez has got them covered and will find a way to get them on the ball.
It is still a work in progress of course, but the arrival of John Heitinga suggests it is an approach we plan to adopt when needed. The Mexican will no doubt prove vital to that development – especially having worked under the Dutchman during his time as Ajax’s interim manager last season.
While it is obviously still early days for both Alverez and West Ham this season, there is reason for optimism. He brings a winning mentality having won two CONCAF Gold Cups with Mexico and two Eredivisie titles with Ajax.
He has already shown that he has that warrior spirit, that he will put his body on the line for the shirt and will not shirk his responsibilities. He is a leader, who will not hide nor allow others to drop their standards. That attitude, his ease on the ball and his willingness to put an opposing player into an advertising hoarding, give him all the hallmarks of a future cult hero. The Machin is in and he plans on leading by example.