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Sunderland Unveil New Signing Aji Alese

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Player Analysis: What type of player is new signing Aji Alese?

Good on the ball, great at reading the game, and dominant in the air... it looks like we’ve got another good’un on our hands with Aji Alese!

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Overview

Alese was one of the standouts for West Ham U23’s last year in their Premier League 2 campaign. He started 23 games for their development squad, captained them six times. Impressively, Alese made the bench for the first team a combined 23 times across all competitions, and completed 90 minutes on his debut against Dinamo Zagreb in the Europa League Group Stages.

With U23 sides often mirroring first teams in terms of tactical setups, Alese often played as the left centre-back in a 4-2-3-1 shape.

In possession

One of the main strengths of Alese is his ability in possession. He is excellent technically, hits his passes with good weight and speed, and very rarely are his passes into his fullback or into midfield misplaced.

Importantly, Alese is very positive and aggressive with his first touch, looking to move the ball into a position where he can then play forwards. This also allows him to drive pass the first line of opposition pressure (a striker pressing from the side, for example) constantly, or set up his next pass.

This positive first touch also allows him to carry the ball into central areas, which again Alese is comfortable doing. He is a good dribbler but is also able to do so at speed with long strides and control of the ball, always looking to step into central areas to disrupt the opposition shape.

He is also incredibly composed under pressure and has surprisingly quick feet, utilising fast shifts of the ball and feints to evade pressing attempts and beat his man.

Alese also has a wide passing variety, wrapping his shorter passing in to midfielders and full-backs. Over longer distances, he hits harder and more driven passes into the channel or directly into the forward line.

His technical ability does mean he is capable of breaking lines, however generally he opts for safer passes into his full-back or deeper midfielder.

Example of Alese driving forward to break a line.

Defensively

In defensive side of Alese’s game there are lots of strong points, but also some weaknesses that may be exploited by top quality players in the Championship.

Firstly, one obvious strength to his game - a main attribute mentioned by West Ham fans following his signing - is his speed over the ground. Alese is both incredibly fast over longer distances, but vitally has a quick turn of pace which means attackers aren’t able to beat him to the ball over shorter distances. Alese excels when he has to cover across in the wider areas and his pace importantly allows him to recover quickly.

Alese also has good awareness and positioning when defending his penalty box, especially when defending the front post where he is almost always in the right position to clear any crosses into the box. He can move his feet quickly in relation to where the ball is, and is aware of the movements from opposition attackers.

Alese also shows good patience when defending, doesn’t tend to overcommit and will look to delay when confronted with one-on-one situations. He is a good organiser, constantly communicates with team mates in relation to passing on runners, and often recognises where the main danger is.

His timing when stepping out of his slot is also good, recognising triggers such as a backwards facing player or a loose touch.

He anticipates situations well and has a knack of being in the right position to make an interception or block, mainly thanks to his constant scanning and awareness of runners.

However, there are some minor weaknesses to his game. Although his positioning when the ball is in wide areas in generally good, sometimes he does something unusual with his body position and completely turns so his back is facing his own goal.

Typically defenders are more side-on in these situations to give themselves some mobility. However, this habit leaves him flat footed and makes it difficult for him to react to quick movements from opposition forwards.

In the last example this can be seen, with his square positioning meaning he is unable to step out and defend the cutback. Luckily, if this is something the coaching staff don’t like it will likely be an easy fix.

Alese is also occasionally a bit too eager to step out of his slot and confront his opponent again without the proper body position (too square), leaving himself flat footed or not covering the space behind.

A final positive aspect of Alese’s game however is his aerial ability. Although it is difficult to judge this overall due to the nature of U23’s football not being too physical in relation to aerial duals (as opposed to the football league), Alese is dominant aerially, possesses a good leap, and is given the responsibility by West Ham as the central man on the edge of their six-yard box in their zonal system from set pieces.

Overall

This again seems to be a very good signing for us, mainly due to how different a profile he is in comparison to Ballard, Wright and Batth. Vitally, Alese provides our backline with some much needed pace and technical ability, traits which may prove to be important given the aggressive pressing system Alex Neil has looked to implement in pre-season.

In addition, Alese looks like he would also suit the left centre-back roles in a back three system, and will therefore give us both flexibility in relation to setup but also balance with him being a left footer.

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