Why Frederik Alves endured a challenging start to his Sunderland debut and how the West Ham loanee overcame it
Sunderland’s dramatic 3-2 victory over Blackpool in the Carabao Cup was certainly memorable for those who made the trip from Wearside – yet it was also a game which Lee Johnson needed.
The Black Cats boss handed out debuts to new signings Frederik Alves and Niall Huggins at Bloomfield Road, as the pair were handed an opportunity to step up their match fitness against a Championship side.
For Alves, who has moved to Wearside on loan from West Ham, there is significant competition to establish himself as one of Johnson’s first-choice centre-backs.
Manchester City loanee Callum Doyle is the only left-footed option, while Tom Flanagan has started the season impressively despite some unconvincing moments in the past.
Bailey Wright played alongside Alves at Blackpool and the Australian’s experience and leadership qualities showed.
It won’t have helped Alves’ cause, then, that the Danish under-21s international allowed Tyreece John-Jules to cross from Blackpool’s left after just nine minutes, setting up striker Shayne Lavery to convert.
As Johnson pointed out after the game, Alves was caught out by the speed of the game in the early exchanges and there were a couple of moments when the defender found himself out of position before being exposed.
From the start, Sunderland’s right flank looked a little vulnerable as Blackpool left-back Luke Garbutt took up an advanced position on the touchline, which gave John-Jules freedom to roam infield and midfielder Sonny Carey to break forward from midfield.
But, to their credit, after an unconvincing start, Alves and Huggins managed to shore up their flank.
In the second half, Alves’ defensive attributes were more apparent as the defender, who is an athletic figure at 6 ft 2 tall, won some important headers to repel Blackpool’s late pressure.
In his first interview as a Sunderland player, the Dane also pointed out his qualities in possession, and the centre-back attempted 62 passes on his Black Cats debut, finishing with a pass completion rate of 84 per cent.
It’s worth noting, though, that most of Alves’ passes were directed sideways to one of his fellow defenders, while the offensive passes he did attempt were often intercepted.
Still, this will have been a valuable outing for both Alves and Huggins as they look to gain more first-team experience.