‘X’ marks the spot in Liverpool’s midfield

It’s transfer silly season again and not a day seems to go by without yet another centre midfielder being linked with a move to the Anfield club. Having lost the one man who seemed such a perfect fit for them in 2009, Liverpool have tried, and thus-far failed, to find a suitable replacement in the middle of the park for Xabi Alonso.

Charlie Adam, Diego, Joey Barton, Gago, Moussa Sissoko, James Milner.

These are the names of just a few of the midfielders that have been linked with a move to Anfield over the last two weeks, with Adam in particular, identified as a target to possibly fill the void left vacant by the Spaniard’s departure two seasons ago.

Gerrard, Mascherano, Aquilani, Meireles, Poulsen, Lucas, Spearing.

Those are the players who have occupied central midfield roles at Liverpool since Alonso’s departure. Some, with varying degrees of success – others, with none. Of those seven names, one is no longer at the club, one spent the entire past season on loan (and is seemingly unwanted), one has been used further forward more often than not, one has been pushed wide more often than not, two have been deemed ‘not good enough’ for the majority of their Liverpool career, and one shouldn’t have even made it through the front door! I’ll leave you to decide which is which…

It’s a far cry from just a few seasons ago when the Kop previously sang: ‘We got the best midfield in the world – we got Xabi Alonso, Momo Sissoko, Gerrard and Mascheranoooooo!’ Now, just one of that famed quartet remains.

And herein has been Liverpool’s problem. The central midfield area was the position they were most blessed in – and Alonso was the key. With Alonso at the helm Liverpool were virtual top four certainties and Champion’s League contenders. Without him, they have struggled. In Alonso’s last season Liverpool finished runners-up in the Premier League – their highest position for seven years. Since Alonso left, they’ve finished 7th and 6th. It’s no coincidence. Whilst there have been many other factors to do with their decline, on the pitch at least, it has been most evident that the Spanish midfielder’s departure has had the biggest impact.

Xabi used to elegantly patrol the centre-circle areas, like an athletic version of the hefty former red’s legend Jan Molby, dictating the tempo of the match and spreading the play with his varied but pin-point passes. Those passes opened up the pitch and linked defence to attack. His presence allowed Steven Gerrard to roam further forward where he was more dangerous. Different to any other deep lying centre midfielders the Premiership had seen, he was a thinker. Always moving and scheming from his deeper playmaker role, he was also tactically astute. As Gerrard once stated: ‘he is the manager on the pitch.’ High praise indeed from a player who was his captain at the time.

Alonso could also win the ball back AND launch direct attacks himself. Fans joked he could ‘packle!’ – a one touch move which incorporated a tackle and a pass – intercepting play, winning possession and moving the ball onto the nearest red shirt, all in one fluid move.

Most importantly to the fans however, Alonso was true to the most sacred of Liverpool traditions – he kept possession. He passed and moved. Indeed Alonso is one of only a handful of players in the last 20 years at Liverpool who you could actually see fitting into those all-conquering sides of the 70’s and 80’s. A player who played the Liverpool way.

An alleged bust up between himself and Rafael Benitez saw Alonso seek pastures new and Liverpool’s loss has been Real Madrid’s gain. Liverpool have been searching for his successor ever since. However the man charged with finding any such replacement, Liverpool’s Director of Football Damien Comolli, has seemingly struggled so far in his pursuit of recent targets. Although it’s still early days in regards to this summer’s transfer activity, there are a few warning signs that Liverpool fans have seen before – most notably under the much maligned Rick Parry. A series of botched transfer deals after the club seemed in pole position to sign these targets occurred under Parry’s watch, something which is rumoured to be central to the fall out between himself, and the then Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez.

The rebuilding job at Liverpool is underway – a return to the traditional values being ushered in. Last summer’s doom and gloom is in stark contrast to this summer’s optimism. Transfer targets have been set and money is available to spend. Whether those targets are secured, remain to be seen, but Liverpool fans hope, one of those many midfield targets is finally the ‘X’ man for the job.