David Alaba – World Cup Failure Demonstrates his Midfield Shortcomings

David Alaba is Austria's best player, but is he used at the right position? (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

David Alaba is Austria’s best player, but is he used at the right position? (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Manuel Veth –

David Alaba and Austria will not qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. Hosting Georgia at the Ernst Happel Stadion in Vienna das Team could not get beyond a 1-1 draw against the post-Soviet Caucasus Republic. Having lost 1-0 to Wales thanks to a wonder goal by the 17-year-old Liverpool winger Ben Woodburn Austria needed three points to stay in the hunt for one of the top two spots in Group D of UEFA World Cup qualification.

It was, however, Georgia that took an early lead thanks to BATE Borisov forward Valerian Gvilia. Austria was, therefore, chasing the game early on and despite big chances—Martin Harnik’s header in the 18th minute hit the crossbar. Then in the 37th minute, David Alaba had to be substituted in the 37th minute. Ahead of the game, the Futbolgrad Network identified David Alaba as the key man for Austria’s success.

Without him, Austria was going to struggle to gain the three points needed to stay in the race to reach Russia. Without Alaba Austria lost their only player capable of that moment of genius that can set one team apart from another. This was true despite the fact that Alaba’s replacement Louis Schaub scored the equaliser Austria in the 43rd minute.

David Alaba is not a Suitable Number 10

In the second half, Austria was pressing to score the equaliser. But das Team lacked the creative spark to break through Georgia’s defence. The game, therefore, represented Austria’s biggest problem since the European Championships in France last summer.

Although he is not a typical number 10, David Alaba is the only player in Austria, who can bring structure to what is a side that although talented lacks depth in the major areas. Alaba has always been adamant that he wanted to play a central role not just for Austria, but also for his club side FC Bayern München.

David Alaba had to leave the game against Georgia with an ankle injury. (GEORG HOCHMUTH/AFP/Getty Images)

David Alaba had to leave the game against Georgia with an ankle injury. (GEORG HOCHMUTH/AFP/Getty Images)

Wanting to emulate former FC Bayern captain Philipp Lahm David Alaba wants to take a greater leadership role at the club. Mostly deployed as a left-back for his club Alaba feels that he cannot take a more major role for the club while playing out wide. On the other hand, the left-back position is where Alaba is at his best.

Austria’s head coach Marcel Koller complied with Alaba’s wishes to play a more central role. The result has been inconsistency for Austria since Euro 2016. It is true that Alaba is the most creative Austrian player. At the same time, Alaba does not have the same game intelligence that Lahm demonstrated towards the end of his career. The 25-year-old Alaba does not have the same sort of short passing ability and leadership to take control of a game.

Alaba is Best out Wide

Alaba has played 160 games as a left-back from where he has scored 14 goals and 29 assists. It is where he has been the most productive. Playing for Bayern and Austria Alaba has also been used playing as a centre-back (50 games, three goals, two assists), central midfield (32 games four goals, two assists) and defensive midfield (14 games, two goals and two assists).

It is for that reason that Carlo Ancelotti has not toyed with the idea of moving David Alaba to a more central position. The Italian head coach has never been one for experiments. While that has been an issue for players like Thomas Müller, who does not have a clear position in Ancelotti’s system, in the case of David Alaba it is the right call.

Austria’s failure to qualify for the World Cup demonstrated how coaches should not utilise David Alaba. Substituted with a severe ankle sprain, it will be hard to tell when Bayern will be able to use their left-back again in the Bundesliga. Hence, while a long term injury will hurt the club shortly the club at least now know that the Austria should not be played out of his position.


Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and social media junior editor at Bundesliga.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada.  Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.