Alexis Mac Allister: Is Brighton’s World Cup Winner Ready to Move?
The Argentina international has been linked with Premier League giants Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea, but where might he fit best?
Is Alexis Mac Allister ready to move? “Shush!” Brighton fans will say, which is fair enough.
When Mac Allister headed in his first ever goal for Brighton against Portsmouth in the League Cup second round in September 2020, he probably didn’t picture himself lifting the World Cup with Argentina just over two years later.
The Santa Rosa-born midfielder signed for the Seagulls in January 2019, remaining on loan at Argentinos Juniors for the rest of that season before a temporary move to Boca Juniors, where he was re-united with his brother, Kevin Mac Allister (no, really), who presumably didn’t want to be left on his own.
Brighton recalled him for the second half of the 2019-20 season, where Mac Allister was used sparingly, making just four starts and nine appearances overall. His first three games of the following season all came in the League Cup, scoring in wins against Portsmouth and Preston North End before Brighton were eliminated in the fourth round by Manchester United.
Mac Allister went on to make 21 Premier League appearances (14 starts) that season, before establishing himself fully in the 2021-22 campaign. He had been a number 10 throughout the early years of his career, but manager Graham Potter was trying to turn him into a deeper lying midfielder, much to the player’s chagrin.
“I wanted to kill him… but that’s part of football,” Mac Allister diplomatically said about his former boss playing him deeper in an interview in October after Potter had left for Chelsea. “He was very helpful – improving my versatility and physicality. I’m a much better player today because of it.”
It seemed to work, especially in turning him into an expert ball winner. Despite only winning possession 149 times in 33 Premier League games in the 2021-22 season, Mac Allister did so an incredible 64 times in the six league games of 2022-23 before Potter left for Chelsea, which was the most in the league at that point. By the time things came to a halt for the World Cup, Mac Allister had recovered possession for his team 124 times in 14 league games, still the second most in the Premier League at the time, behind only West Ham United’s Declan Rice (139).
It was presumably due to the influence of Potter’s replacement, Roberto De Zerbi, that Mac Allister slowed that rate down considerably after becoming a world champion. In his 21 Premier League appearances after the World Cup, he won possession just 89 times, ranking him 95th in the league in that period, and seeing a reduction per 90 from 8.9 to 4.9.
At the same time as his numbers went down, midfield partner Moisés Caicedo’s went up (from 5.9 per 90 pre-World Cup to 7.9 post), so it was presumably a deliberate instruction from De Zerbi that the Ecuadorian was instead tasked with being the primary ball winner and Mac Allister’s role has been back in his preferred attacking midfield role.
That was his predominant role under Potter in the 2021-22 campaign, but in the opening six league games of this season Mac Allister was asked to play deeper and more to the right of centre. As shown in the graphic below, De Zerbi has moved him back over to the left and has him playing further forward, averaging more than seven extra touches on the edge of the opponent’s penalty area per game.
And support the attack he has. Only Solly March was ahead of him for Brighton’s attacking sequence involvements per 90 this season, while Mac Allister managed 10 league goals in the campaign, becoming just the third Brighton player to reach double figures in a single Premier League season after Glenn Murray (2017-18 and 2018-19) and Neal Maupay (2019-20).
It must be noted that six of those 10 goals came from the penalty spot, though he also has a World Cup goal to his name. Mac Allister gave Argentina the lead early in the second half of their final group game against Poland in Qatar when he swept home Nahuel Molina’s low cross.
During the 2022 World Cup for Argentina, only Rodrigo De Paul won possession more often for the world champions (42 vs. 40) than Mac Allister. But Mac Allister was not simply a ball winner for his national side. Only Lionel Messi (17) and Ángel Di María (nine) created more chances from open play than his eight, while he had a better passing accuracy than Enzo Fernández (89.0% to 87.6%), proving himself to be more than comfortable in possession.
Only Messi (seven) created as many as his two big chances, and only Messi, Di María and Julián Álvarez took as many as his seven non-blocked shots at goal. He also provided the assist for Di Maria to give Argentina a 2-0 lead in the final against France. Put simply, the Brighton midfielder was effective on both sides of the ball.
As a World Cup winner and one of Brighton’s best players during a season that will see them qualify for Europe, it is no wonder Mac Allister is being linked with several of the Premier League’s giants. De Zerbi has publicly acknowledged his star could leave, so let’s look at the main suitors and why they might be after him.
It doesn’t look like Manchester City need much help, to be honest. They have just collected their fifth Premier League title in six seasons and are two wins away from replicating Manchester United’s famous treble, Pep Guardiola’s men appear to be as good as ever.
They didn’t get here by standing still though, and Mac Allister might represent the kind of signing that could at least help maintain their exceptionally high level. Particularly notable about their recent link with Mac Allister is that it came at the same time as stories emerged suggesting Ilkay Gündoğan could be looking to leave the Etihad Stadium at the end of the season.
The German midfielder has been integral to City’s success in recent years but is yet to sign a new deal and has been linked with both Barcelona and Arsenal in the last few weeks. According to our new player radars, Mac Allister comes close to replicating what Gündoğan provides, which suggests he could be one of the better options for enabling a seamless transition should the former Borussia Dortmund man depart.
Mac Allister had similar passing accuracy (87.2% to 88.2%) and total carries (390 to 387) to Gündoğan in the Premier League this season, while both recorded 12 goal involvements each, albeit none of the latter’s eight goals came from the spot.
Mac Allister is already comfortable playing in a team that sees plenty of the ball – with only City (65.2%) and Liverpool (60.6%) averaging more than Brighton’s 60.5% possession in Premier League games this season – while having the opportunity to make his late runs into the box for a team that creates as much as City do, as well as to play behind the monstrous Erling Haaland, could see him thrive.
Unlike with Gündoğan at Man City, Mac Allister doesn’t really profile similarly to any Manchester United player, and so it would be more a case of adding a different factor into Erik ten Hag’s evolution at Old Trafford.
Improving the midfield has been a big part of that for the Dutchman, with the additions last summer of Casemiro and Christian Eriksen making a significant difference to United’s ability to control games, and allowing the previously maligned duo of Fred and Scott McTominay to play more of a supporting squad role that arguably suits them better.
In comparison to the Red Devils’ current options, Mac Allister exhibits a level of comfort on the ball that is superior to much of what they currently have. Playing in a possession-hungry Brighton will help these numbers, but Mac Allister boasted a superior passing accuracy than all of United’s midfielders in the league this season, and he is also more adept at dribbling his way round opponents – his dribble success rate is higher than any United midfielder by at least 7%. Only Bruno Fernandes (393) has recorded more carries than his (390) and more than his 66 total non-blocked shots (70).
Although Mac Allister isn’t as creative as Fernandes (47 chances created to the latter’s 119), few players are and he would at least provide some assistance to the Portuguese maestro in that regard, while also being versatile enough to perform a more disciplined role should the situation call for it.
With United back in the Champions League next season, Mac Allister would get plenty of games and could be just what they need to take that next step under Ten Hag.
Due to his previous work with Potter, Mac Allister was linked with a move to Stamford Bridge pretty much as soon as the former Brighton boss was appointed by the London club. Of course, that connection is no longer there to be made, but that’s not to say there aren’t other reasons for him to make the same move Potter did.
With fellow Argentinian Mauricio Pochettino installed as the new manager of Chelsea ahead of next season, that could obviously appeal to Mac Allister, despite the fact he would be leaving Europa League football at Brighton to join a Chelsea team that will not be in Europe at all next season. Though it is obviously reasonable to assume the Blues’ long-term prospects remain brighter than the Seagulls’, providing the owners remain willing to spend and time is given for their project to develop.
Speaking of that gigantic spend, it saw them break the world record for a midfield signing in January when Enzo Fernández arrived from Benfica for a price north of £100 million. The opportunity to link up with his Argentina team-mate at club level could be too enticing to resist.
Despite signing so many new players in recent times, Chelsea may need more as there could be some outgoings in the summer, with Mason Mount, Conor Gallagher and Mateo Kovačić being linked with the exit door. In comparison to those three in the Premier League this season, Mac Allister ranks ahead of them all in terms of chances created from open play per 90, averages around twice as many non-blocked shots per 90 and comfortably has a better duel success rate than all three (57.3% – Kovačić is next highest with 47.9%).
We know Pochettino likes players who are able to progress play vertically to break lines, and Mac Allister has shown the ability to do so with his ball carrying. The Argentine progresses the ball upfield 5m per carry on average, further than the likes of Gallagher and Kovačić.
It is one of the worst kept secrets in football that Liverpool intend to start a midfield rebuild in the summer. Such is the work that needs doing that overhaul will reportedly see at least three new players arrive before next season, with James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keïta all departing.
Mac Allister could well be the first of those new arrivals, with links to the Reds looking to be stronger than anywhere else at the moment. Although he wouldn’t have Champions League football in his first season at Anfield, he could be a key cog in Klopp’s new midfield for years to come, potentially replacing someone who actually left two years ago.
There is a belief among some Liverpool fans that a failure to adequately replace Georginio Wijnaldum after his departure in 2021 ultimately led to the decline of the team, despite their success the following season. While certainly not as close to Wijnaldum in style as he is to Gündoğan – who Klopp also managed during his time at Dortmund – Mac Allister does have some similar traits.
When comparing his performances this season to Wijnaldum’s numbers in Liverpool’s title-winning campaign in 2019-20, they both recorded four non-penalty goals, have similar total carries per 90 (12.2 to 12.0) and dribbles attempted per 90 (2.1 to 2.3), though Mac Allister has better dribble success (65.7% to 53.2%), while also competing in more duels per 90 (10.7 to 9.1) and with greater success (57.3% to 47.2%).
You also have his impressive penalty taking to consider, which has seen him score all six of his spot-kicks in the league this season, while Mohamed Salah has missed two of his four. He could put pressure on the Egyptian to take over responsibilities should he move to Merseyside.
Wherever he ends up, the rise of Mac Allister so far has been impressive and there should be few doubts about whether he can step up to that next level and start adding some domestic medals to the World Cup winners one he already owns.
We also await with bated breath to see how Brighton adequately replace him with some unknown find from the Peruvian third division.
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