Outlining the Tactical Importance of Ricky Alvarez
Ricardo Alvarez is one of the best playmakers in the world but unfortunately his talent is misunderstood. Let’s analyze the player tactically…
Ricky Alvarez is not your typical tequartista, yet he does not get either the attention or the opportunity he truly deserves. The first time I saw him play for Velez a couple of years ago (2010), I knew the kid was money and that sooner or later he’d become one of the most important players in football. Today, while most of Inter’s managers (Gasperini, Ranieri and Stramaccioni) have used him quite regularly in their systems, I still believe that we have not seen the full potential of this player, mostly because he has not been used at his optimal position.
As I said, he is not a typical attacking midfielder and maybe this is why his talent and efforts on the pitch get overlooked. When he started his professional career in Argentina for Velez around 2008, he was a classic number 10, the offensive leader and the guy who controlled the game’s tempo. Many described him as the new Riquelme. He was very slow but his passing abilities and his technique made him an interesting prospect. However, it was during his last season in Argentina that he proved he could be a world-class player. During that season he played everywhere in the midfield: on the wing as right/left midfielder, as a classic number 10 but mostly as deep-lying playmaker and to be quite honest that’s where he impressed me the most. He often looked like Pirlo but bringing much more offensive upside to Velez while still being pretty solid defensively. His versatility was crucial to Velez’s wonderful run in the Copa Libertadores in 2011.
As an Inter Milan fan, I was very happy to hear him sign with them in the summer 2011. Many questioned the move and argued that Inter did not need such a player. What would’ve been the role of a young playmaker considering that the team already had Sneijder as their central attacking midfielder and Dejan Stankovic could come off the bench at any time? I have a feeling most people in the football world (including people in Argentina) don’t understand the importance of his game. They probably still have the image of the slow 19-year-old playmaker in their mind. Unfortunately, those people were/are wrong and Ricky has a lot more to offer.
This season, Ricky’s best performances came when he was used at his natural position, a central midfielder that plays deeper than the main attacking midfielder of that team (more often Sneijder, sometimes Zarate) and along side two other more defensive midfielders (Cambiasso, Zanetti and Stankovic). His best games of the season came versus Milan (in the Supercopa Italia and in both Serie A games) playing at this position. In those games he controlled Inter’s pace, slowed down the tempo when necessary and provided the much needed creativity Inter, specially with an out-of-form Sneijder. He often exploited space left by off guard defensive midfielder and full backs of the opposing team with his runs out wide. His sudden runs to the left are one of the most interesting aspect of his game when he plays in the center.
His worst performances came when Gasperini (and then Ranieri) used him as a left midfielder. Ricky is a versatile player and a very hard worker thus he’ll always accept to be misplaced on the pitch and he’ll always do his best. However putting Ricky on the wings is pretty much like putting Mesut Ozil on the wing. You don’t get 75% of the full potential of those two wonderful players when they are placed out of their preferred central position. The only difference between the two being that Ozil has more speed and better pace than Ricky. Even out of position in the left wing, Alvarez (and Ozil) managed to do an impressive job. The Italian Serie A is probably the most physical and tactical league in Europe and not many classic number 10 have succeeded in the past decade. In the past, successful midfield maestros always played a hybrid role rather than the classic number 10 role for example Nedved, Kaka, Sneijder and even Pirlo.
If Inter wants to come back on top of the Serie A, they need to understand that the best way to use Ricky is in some form of hybrid deep-lying playmaker along side Sneijder (see figure 1).They’ve done it on certain occasions this season most notably on the last league game in which they beat Milan 4-2 (see figure 1). They also need to understand that only Alvarez’s vision can lead this team and create goal opportunities. Sneijder is still young and I believe he can still play the game at a very high level but his style is too bulky. He does not take his time to create and too often he makes a shot when a pass would’ve been the better option. Dejan is past his prime. Forlan has been disappointing and will probably leave. Guarin, though very energetic, is not a creator. Only Alvarez can truly help this team take another level and help Sneijder both offensively and defensively.
If Inter and Argentina can figure it out, Alvarez can become one of the best playmakers in the world.