THE summer was one of significant upheaval at Rugby Park. Steve Clarke left Kilmarnock to take the reins of the national side, key players left Ayrshire for pastures new and Angelo Alessio took charge of the Rugby Park club.

It's fair to say that the Italian had quite a job on his hands. Succeeding Clarke - arguably the best manger that Killie have had in their recent history - was an unenviable task. And the departure of half the first team didn't exactly help matters.

Jordan Jones moved to Rangers once his Kilmarnock contract expired. Yusuf Mulumbu left after a successful loan spell. Kris Boyd retired. Kirk Broadfoot returned to St Mirren. Greg Taylor was sold to Celtic late in the transfer window. To say Alessio had a major rebuilding job on his hands is something of an understatement.


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But rebuilt them he has and Alessio deserves a huge amount of credit. Kilmarnock might not be Scotland's third force this campaign, as they were last season, but the Ayrshire club are sitting comfortably in the top half of the table and European qualification for next season does not look beyond them by any stretch.

When the window closed in the summer, the general consensus was that Kilmarnock looked a little short of bodies in certain areas. And while this remains true in some specific positions - up front, for example - many of Alessio's new charges have settled into life in Premiership with consummate ease.

The majority of Kilmarnock's summer signings were somewhat unknown prospects and fans were understandably hesitant about the club's transfer policy. But with the calendar year coming to a close, many of these new players have proven to be highly effective acquisitions.

Take Dario Del Fabro, who was recruited on a season-long loan from Juventus. Clearly, Alessio's links to the club where he previously served as assistant manager helped bring the centre-half to Scotland and he has only gone from strength to strength since his arrival.

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Del Fabro has the highest defensive duel success rate of any Premiership player this season, with around 82% of his challenges successful. That's slightly better than Celtic's £7 million summer signing Christopher Jullien (81%), Aberdeen centre-back Scott McKenna (80%) and the Italian comfortably eclipses Rangers' £3 million recruit Filip Helander (63%).

Given the departures of Taylor and Broadfoot and the long-term injury that Stuart Findlay sustained, Del Fabro has brought a sense of consistency and composure in Alessio's defence which would otherwise have been sorely lacking. His contribution to Kilmarnock's defence - the third-best in the league, by the way - should not go unnoticed.

Another new face in the Killie back line is left-back Niko Hamalainen, another loan signing in the summer. Taylor's deadline day switch to Celtic left a void for the Finnish internationalist to fill and he has done so admirably.

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In Alessio's system, both full-backs are expected to contribute to attacking phases of play and the on-loan Queens Park Rangers defender has quickly become a key player in this Kilmarnock team. Hamalainen has hit 24 through balls this season - the fifth-highest total of any Premiership player and only two fewer than Steven Davis, James Tavernier and Steven Lawless who are tied in first - and has proven to be an adept dribbler of the ball, too.

Hamalainen has completed the fifth-most progressive runs (dribbles where the ball is carried at least 10 metres up the pitch) of any player in the division and has linked up particularly well with Liam Millar who plays further forward on the left flank. Millar, who re-signed on loan from Liverpool in the summer, is also one of the best players in the league by this metric and is statistically one of the leading dribblers of the ball in the Premiership.

While Kilmarnock's long-established central midfielders Alan Power and Gary Dicker regularly earn plaudits for their performances in the middle of the park, Mohamed El Makrini, another of Alessio's recruits, has often flown under the radar.

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The Moroccan plays a somewhat unorthodox role in Alessio's system. The 32-year-old is nominally an attacking central midfielder but El Makrini's primary focus appears to be defensive in nature: no other top-flight footballer attempts as many defensive duels per game as El Makrini. And while his success rate of 63% isn't as high as his team-mate Del Fabro's, it is still around the same as more high-profile players like Helander (63) and Celtic captain Scott Brown (62%), and no Premiership player completes as many successful defensive duels per game than El Markini.

With two goals and two assists to his name this season, El Makrini has shown that he can contribute at the other end of the pitch as well and the former Roda JC midfielder has demonstrated that he is a somewhat unique player in the Premiership. There aren't many that possess his skill-set and he has proven to be another valuable summer addition to the Killie ranks.