David Alaba’s free transfer to Real Madrid in the summer of 2021-2022 caused a sensation in the Real Madrid community. Alaba walked into a locker room this summer that had just been released by Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane – two giants of the central defense industry. Although he played in this position at Bayern Munich, Alaba’s forces had to be elsewhere (left-back and even defensive midfielder). Four months after its debut, Alaba has more admirers than skeptics at Real Madrid.

Alaba’s leadership quality quickly caught the attention of Real Madrid loyalists. Real Madrid had great leaders on and off the pitch with several international captains donning their shirts. Alaba was added to this list, but not just on paper. At the start he started at left-back with Nacho and Militao in the middle. Currently, he is well established in the role of central defender with Militao as a partner. But Alaba has been a vocal presence throughout this season so far, regardless of position. From organizing the defense to communicating with the goalkeeper, Alaba takes care of the entire routine of the reliable defensive leader.

With the departures of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, Real Madrid’s air dominance was set to crumble. Real Madrid have won 49.5% of their aerial duels this season compared to the 55.4% of their aerial duels won in the 2019-20 season (when Ramos and Varane played all season with the team) . Alaba wins 58.3% of its aerial duels compared to its center-back partner, Militao (65.7%). His limitation in the air even led him to concede goals. Lots of lost aerial duels inside the penalty area isn’t really a trait a center-back would want to have.

Alaba’s positioning and interception capacity were two of its advantages. The ability to filter the movement of the opponent’s ball is a trait more associated with Alaba’s central partner, Eder Militao. But the Austrian is not far behind in this regard. Alaba often comes out to pick an opponent’s pass, especially if Real Madrid are trying to defend their center channel. The defensive action card above also suggests that he has done well in collecting balls from deeper and higher positions of the field.

Since Ferland Mendy’s return, David Alaba’s offensive avatar has freed itself to a new degree. He already seems to have great communication with Mendy to change positions on the fly. With Mendy stepping inside, Alaba walks away and unleashed his deadly crosses more consistently now.

Alaba’s resistance to the press and his tendency to present himself as a passing outlet greatly helps his teammates to get out of difficult situations. In this particular streak, Barcelona move their press from left to right, but Alaba remain completely calm under pressure, moving between players to put it under pressure. Eventually, Real Madrid get the ball back due to the foul on Mendy.

Alaba was an elite player before arriving at Madrid and he showed no signs of stopping. Among Real Madrid players, only Toni Kroos and Casemiro provided more assists in the final third than Alaba. For passes in the penalty area, Alaba is only behind Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr, the team’s two top scorers. Alaba is also in Real Madrid’s top five for total progressive assists. He is also in the team’s top five players for total number of progressive litters and second best for progressive distance traveled, just behind Vinicius.

David Alaba came to Real Madrid with a wealth of experience at another big club. He feels no pressure, adjusting to the high demands of the Santiago Bernabeu. Some defensive issues need to be corrected (or require additional adaptation from the manager). From David Alaba’s performance in the first few months, this is a galactic signature that we not only needed but deserved as well.

[Statistics were collected from Fbref up to the Real Madrid match against Rayo. Visualizations were also prepared for the same timeline.]

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