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Luis Alberto: The Magician of Rome

 

Two years Luis Alberto was on the verge of retirement. Now, he is one of the leaders of a Lazio side determined to make history. Stats Perform crunches the numbers that tell the story of the Spaniard, who went from Liverpool reject to Serie A star.

By: Enzo Costanzo

Luis Alberto’s professional career got off to a stuttering start. The Spaniard began his career in Andalusia within Sevilla’s youth setup, and after two promising years in Spain’s second division with Sevilla B between 2009-12, he got his shot with the first team. However, as was the case across his early career, he struggled to make a lasting impact and would leave Sevilla having made only seven senior appearances in two years.

He then joined Premier League giants Liverpool in 2013, but he again found minutes hard to come by and was loaned back out to Spain, with spells at Malaga and Deportivo La Coruña. It was his spell at Deportivo that caught the eye of his current employers, Lazio, who brought him to Rome in 2016.

His first season for Lazio wasn’t much better. The then 23-year-old only managed nine appearances and 363 minutes under Simone Inzaghi. Throwing in the towel was becoming an alluring thought even for a young Luis Alberto, and it would have been easy for Inzaghi to abandon the Spaniard as others had done. But the young coach had seen something in him that made him think twice.

Now, with Lazio gunning for their third Italian title, Lazio have Inzaghi’s foresight to thank. Luis Alberto has grown into one of the club’s most important players and one of the best playmakers in Italy.

Without a doubt, Luis Alberto’s strength is as a creator. The Spaniard is leading Serie A’s assist chart this campaign with 12, just two away from equalling the Italian record (14) which Luis Alberto shares Marek Hamsik (2012/13) and Ronaldinho (2009/10). Atalanta’s Alejandro Gómez sits two behind him with 10, and Roma’s Lorenzo Pellegrini has eight.

Looking at the whole calendar year 2019, the ‘Magician’ assisted 15 goals: only Antonio Cassano (2009), Andrea Cossu (2010) and Dries Mertens (2017) were able to match this amount.

Serie A Most Assists in a Season (since 2004/2005)

PlayerTeamSeasonAssist
Luis AlbertoLazio2017/201814
Marek HamsikNapoli2012/201314
RonaldinhoAC Milan2009/201014
Andrea PirloJuventus2011/201213
Andrea CossuCagliari2010/201113
Michele FiniCagliari2008/200913
Massimo OddoLazio2005/200613

However, an assist is only registered when a striker is good enough to convert the chance. This is one reason why counting assists in isolation is not an entirely representative way to assess creativity. The creator is often reliant on the finishing skill of the player receiving the pass.

Expected assists (xA) measures the likelihood that a pass will be a primary assist. In other words, it credits a player’s underlying creativity regardless of whether the player receiving the ball scored, or even took a shot.  Luis Alberto sits atop the xA chart for this campaign, demonstrating the dangerous opportunities he has created for his side. He also has the likes of Ciro Immobile, who has been clinical this campaign, to thank for dispatching his chances.

Serie A 2019/20 - Expected Assists Top Performers

PlayerExpected Assists (xA)AssistsAssist-xA
Luis Alberto6.3125.7
Josip Illicic5.55-0.5
Darko Lazovic5.14-1.1
José Callejón5.061.0
Lorenzo Pellegrini5.083.0

Another reliable marker of Luis Alberto’s creativity is demonstrated by the chances he creates for his side. Here, too, Lazio’s No. 10 is leading the way in Italy with 75, and he’s fourth overall across Europe’s top five leagues: only Kevin De Bruyne (98), Dimitri Payet (84) and Filip Kostic (76) have created more chances.

Chance Creation Across Europe Top 5 Leagues

 

At the beginning of his career, Luis Alberto mostly played as a classic trequartista, operating between the central midfielders and strikers. At Lazio, he has had to adapt to Inzaghi’s favoured 3-5-2 formation, expanding his range of positions and finding a lot of joy as a left midfielder, massively increasing his influence on the game.

In the map below, we can see how most of his most dangerous passes come from that inside left channel.

Luis Alberto xA plot

As modern football grows increasingly physical, Luis Alberto has proven he is comfortable in becoming more and more of a focal point within matches. His increasing influence is underlined by the total number of passes he receives per match (62), compared to 54 in 2017/18 and his touches per game, which are up from 78 in 2017/18 to 83 this season.

Now an athletic and dynamic midfielder, he is also prepared to carry the ball upfield for his side. Only Atalanta’s Alejandro Gómez has carried the ball further upfield than Luis Alberto this season.

Serie A 2019/20 - Progressive Carries

PlayerTotal Progressive Carry Distance (metres)
Alejandro Gómez4,347
Luis Alberto4,261
Theo Hernandez3,959
Gaetano Castrovilli3,544
Piotr Zielinski3,465
Rodrigo de Paul3,256
Jeremie Boga3,139
Juan Cuadrado2,869

The end product is there, too. Lazio’s number 10 has created the most chances following a carry in Serie A – 26 – six of which turned into assists.

Looking further at Stats Perform’s sequences metric shows how integral Luis Alberto is to Lazio’s attacking play. He has been involved in more sequences that ended in a shot than any other player in the league.

Serie A 2019/20 - Shot Ending Sequence Involvement

PlayerTeamOpening Play Sequences Ending in a Shot
Luis AlbertoLazio180
Piotr ZielinskiNapoli178
Alejandro GómezAtalanta175
Cristiano RonaldoJuventus173
Lorenzo InsigneNapoli172

Inzaghi stuck with Luis Alberto. A more complete player has grown out of that vision, and Lazio find themselves in a title race in part because of him.

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