Player analysis: What type of player is Aji Alese’s new signing?
Alese was one of West Ham U23’s last year stars in their Premier League 2 campaign. He started 23 games for their development side, managing them six times. Impressively, Alese made the first-team bench a total of 23 times in all competitions and completed 90 minutes on his debut against Dinamo Zagreb in the Europa League group stages.
With U23 teams often mirroring the first teams in terms of tactical setups, Alese often played as a left centre-back in a 4-2-3-1 form.
One of Alese’s main strengths is his possession ability. He is technically excellent, hits his passes with good weight and speed, and very rarely his passes to his back or to midfield are misplaced.
Above all, Alese is very positive and aggressive with his first touch, looking to move the ball into a position where he can then play forward. This also allows him to constantly control the first line of opposing pressure (an attacker pressing aside for example) or to set up his next pass.
This positive first touch also allows him to carry the ball in the central areas, something Alese is again comfortable doing. He’s a good dribbler, but he’s also capable of doing it quickly with long strides and ball control, always looking to get into central areas to disrupt the opposition’s form.
He’s also incredibly composed under pressure and has surprisingly quick feet, using quick ball movements and feints to evade pressing attempts and beat his man.
Alese also has a wide passing variety, wrapping his shorter passes to midfielders and full-backs. At longer distances, he hits harder, more driven passes into the channel or directly into the front line.
His technical ability means he’s capable of breaking lines, but he usually opts for safer passes to his back or deeper midfield.
On the defensive side of Alese’s game, there are a lot of strengths, but also some weaknesses that can be exploited by top players in the league.
Firstly, an obvious strength of his game – a main attribute mentioned by West Ham fans after his signing – is his speed on the pitch. Alese is both incredibly quick over longer distances but has a vital pace which means attackers are unable to beat him to the ball over shorter distances. Alese excels when he has to cover larger areas and his pace above all allows him to recover quickly.
Alese also has good awareness and positioning when defending his penalty area, particularly when defending the front post where he is almost always in the right position to clear crosses into the box. He can move his feet quickly in relation to where the ball is and is aware of the movements of opposing attackers.
Alese also shows good patience in defense, doesn’t tend to over commit and will look to delay when faced with one-on-one situations. He is a good organizer, constantly communicates with his teammates regarding passing riders and often recognizes where the main danger is.
His timing when he comes out of his slot is also good, recognizing triggers such as a backward facing player or a loose touch.
He anticipates situations well and has a knack for being in the right position to perform an interception or a block, mainly thanks to his constant sweeping and vigilance towards runners.
However, there are some minor weaknesses to his game. Although his positioning when the ball is in wide areas is generally good, he sometimes does something unusual with his body position and turns completely so that his back is facing its own goal.
Generally, defenders are more lateral in these situations to give themselves some mobility. However, this habit leaves him flat-footed and makes it difficult for him to react to the quick movements of opposing attackers.
In the last example this can be seen, with his square positioning meaning he is unable to come out and defend the reduction. Luckily, if it’s something the coaching staff don’t like, it’ll probably be an easy fix.
Alese is also sometimes a bit too eager to get out of his lunge and face his opponent again without the correct body position (too square), leaving his feet flat or not covering the space behind.
A final positive aspect of Alese’s game, however, is his aerial ability. While it’s hard to judge this overall due to the nature of under-23 football which isn’t too physical compared to aerial duels (as opposed to football league), Alese is dominant aerially, has a good jump and is given responsibility by West. Ham as a central man at the edge of their six-yard box in their zone system from set pieces.
This again looks like a very good signing for us, mainly due to the difference in his profile compared to Ballard, Wright and Batth. Vitally, Alese provides our backline with much-needed pace and technical ability, traits that may prove important given the aggressive pressing system that Alex Neil has sought to implement in pre-season.
What’s more, Alese also seems suited to left centre-back roles in a three-back system, and will therefore give us both flexibility when it comes to setup, but also balance with him being a left footer.