Why West Ham loanee Frederik Alves has struggled for game time at Sunderland and how he fared against Bradford
Heavy defeats at Rotherham and Sheffield Wednesday understandably raised concerns about Sunderland’s defensive capabilities – while they were the type of performance that can enhance the reputations of those not in the team.
While a handful of the Black Cats’ summer signings, the likes of Dennis Cirkin and Callum Doyle, impressed during the first few months of the season, it’s been a more frustrating spell for West Ham loanee Frederik Alves.
The 22-year-old Dane is yet to start a league game for Sunderland and has made just two appearances from the bench since August.
So after the aforementioned defeats, it seemed inevitable that Alves would receive opportunities in an FA Cup tie against Mansfield and Papa John’s Trophy fixture against Bradford.
So how did the defender perform?
Well, after starting the Mansfield game in an unfamiliar position at right-back, it was hard to draw too many conclusions as Alves was replaced at half-time.
The Dane didn’t particularly do much wrong and was steady in possession, yet he lacked the attacking intent that regular right-back Carl Winchester provides, which was needed after Sunderland fell a goal behind.
Against Bradford, Alves returned to his more accustomed role at the heart of Sunderland’s defence alongside Oliver Younger, with the pair playing the full 90 minutes.
As expected Sunderland saw more of the ball against the League Two side, and Alves registered more touches (94) than any other player on the pitch.
It has been noted in his previous appearances for Sunderland that Alves doesn’t take many risks on the ball while his passes are often short and measured.
He finished the Bradford game with a 90 per cent passing accuracy (completing 73 out of 81 attempted passes according to Wyscout), with the majority of them directed sideways.
That was partly due to a lack of movement from team-mates in front of Sunderland’s defence as the hosts struggled to create chances, particularly in the first half.
In terms of his defensive play, Alves was keen to try and win the ball back away from his own goal and made 10 interceptions against Bradford, six of which came in between Sunderland’s penalty area and the halfway line when the visitors threatened on the counter attack.
There was a moment early in the match where Alves’ desire to win the ball back almost cost him as Bradford winger Lee Angol spun in behind the defender and attacked down the left. To his credit, Alves managed to get back and stop the cross.
That athleticism is one of Alves’ main strengths, while the centre-back won six of his nine aerial duels against Bradford.
Clearly the Dane will come up against tougher opponents if he was to start in League One, and obviously there have been some reservations concerning the West Ham loanee.
Alves can probably count himself unfortunate he arrived when the season had already begun, when Tom Flanagan and Callum Doyle had formed a promising partnership.
Whether Johnson feels he could play an inexperienced partnership of Alves and Doyle - who is the only left-footed centre-back in the squad - or start with two right-footed centre-halves - while looking to implement a passing out from the back philosophy - remains to be seen.