Monday, 1 September 2014

New Signing: Alex Song

Alex Song

DOB: 09/09/1987
Age: 26
Position: Midfielder

Previous Club: Barcelona
Previous Division: La Liga

Transfer Date: 30/08/2014
Reported Fee: Loan

If there was ever a transfer coup, this was probably it.

Alex Song has spent the 9 seasons playing Champions League football for Arsenal and Barcelona. He was recently touted as a rumoured transfer target for Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal. He now plays for West Ham United.

This is a new type of signing for West Ham. In recent years, our transfer policy has been to look at the squad and see what needs replacing and improving. Out with the Matthew Taylor's, George McCartney's and Modibo Maiga's. In with the Cheikhou Kouyaté's, Aaron Cresswell's and Enner Valencia's.

This signing, however, isn't like that. Central midfield is an area that we are well stocked in, and probably our strongest position on paper. This signing is simply taking advantage of the availability of a top class player.

As I've mentioned, Song's arrival sees the central midfield area turn into an incredibly competitive area of the side for West Ham. Mark Noble has been in very good form for a few years now, Cheikhou Kouyaté has had a wonderful introduction to Premier League life, and the likes of Mohamed Diamé, Ravel Morrison and Diego Poyet will all feel that they are good enough for first team football with West Ham.

So how do those players measure up to their new colleague?

Well, the two main areas that defensive midfielders in the modern game must be adept in, are ball retention and defensive capability. In terms of keeping the ball, there are few better than Alex Song.

Last season, he completed 92% of his passes, better than any West Ham player, including the new signings. His nearest competitor from last season's data is Kouyaté, who managed a 90% success, whilst the man that Song appears to be replacing, Mo Diamé, achieved just 79% success.

Song's passing success rate is all the more impressive when you consider the number of passes he played. Mark Noble traditionally has most ball for West Ham, and played 50.9 passes per 90 minutes last season. Song played a whopping 67.2.

Obviously the fact that Song was playing in Barcelona's famous tika-taka midfield machine should be considered, but his record shows that he wasn't out of place when he was on the field.

The other area in which Song needs to compete is in his defensive capability.

Last season, the Cameroonian put in more than 5 tackles per game in La Liga, completing 49% of them. This was a figure only bested by recent signing Diego Poyet's record for Charlton Athletic in the Championship.

One of Song's main strengths in the holding midfield role, is his awareness and reading of the game. He is very capable of breaking down play and shielding his defence, and has proven this on many occasions.

Last season, one of Song's best defensive performances came away to Real Betis.

During that game, Song gave the perfect performance from a defensive midfield point of view, defending admirably, and providing a platform for his attacking colleagues to go an perform.

On the day, he managed a massive 6 interceptions, and was successful with all of his 8 tackles. He also completed 88% of his passes, allowing his team mates to get forward and secure a 4-1 victory.

The images below show Song's tackles (left) and interceptions (right) from the game.

Another side to Song's game, is his creative passing. Though his team at Barcelona has yielded 0 assists and just 12 chances created, this is more a reflection on his role in the team than his ability.

In his final season for Arsenal, Song was known for his creative vision in place of departed captain Cesc Fabregas, and his pair of delightful chipped through balls for two Robin van Persie volleys will live long in the memory.

And Song was at it again for Cameroon in the World Cup, creating 5 chances in his two appearances. The image below shows the 3 chances that Song created in his side's opening game against Mexico.

Song's main weakness is widely regarded as his concentration.

In the past, he has had a tendency to have a temporary lapse and leave his team in the lurch. This seems to have been somewhat eradicated by his team in Spain, with 0 defensive errors in his 39 La Liga appearances.

However, this reputation has developed for a reason. Looking back at the last 5 seasons, Song has had a habit of losing possession by being a bit over adventurous, or by lacking awareness of his surroundings.

The chart below shows the amount of times Song lost possession via miscontrol (turnovers), was tackled (dispossessed) or had an opponent dribble past him (dribbled by) per 90 minutes.

As you can see, the numbers have declined over time, but it is hard to know whether that is a result of Barcelona's massive possessional dominance or that he has truly stamped silly mistakes from his game.

Alex Song is a player who improves the quality in our side dramatically. His presence in the team will significantly improve our ability to retain possession, and to create from the middle of the park.

His arrival does give us an interesting selection headache, but a good one.

Welcome to West Ham, Alex Song.

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