Here’s a question for you. Who is Real Madrid’s most important player? Many of you will reply Ronaldo or maybe Higuain who bang in the goals in what seems to be a ten minute basis. Or perhaps you feel its playmaker Di Maria, whose assists this season have been nothing short of sublime. Maybe you’re a fan of the defence and the ever present lion Sergio Ramos is your man of choice. Or you may be a Liverpool fan and reply Xabi Alonso, whose departure you have never really recovered from. Here I agree with you.
In Alonso, you have a man at the very heart of Real’s team. An ever present, the boy is certainly one of Mourinho’s core players and an untouchable. He dictates the tempo at which Los Blancos play and provides a shield in front of the back four, slotting in should a player make a run forward and not be able to get back in time. Add to this the sublime vision and range of passing Alonso possesses and you have a very special player.
Yes Real’s front three are vital – Ronaldo scores for fun, and would be an immense loss if struck by injury or suspension, yet Real would be able to cope without him. They are in possession of such a wealth of creative, goal scoring players who are able to change a game in a second, and really make the difference in tight games. Should Higuain get injured, there is Benzema. If Ozil succumbs to fatigue or loss of form there is Kaka. If Khedira is out of favour, there is Lass.
Likewise in defence, should Pepe, a man who pays his disciplinary fines by direct debit they occur so often, be serving a three match ban, there is Carvalho, Ramos, Varane… You get the picture. The strength in depth at the Santiago Bernabeau is frightening – well if you’re Barcelona that is.
But with the risk of sounding like a cult chant, there is only one Xabi Alonso, and Real know it. Last season, when opposition teams clocked on to how Alonso was the one to make Real tick, they near enough man marked the Spaniard, and Real struggled to function.
Alonso is the deep seated creative outlet that Real rely so heavily on, and is it any wonder, with the player’s distribution of the ball one of the best – if not the best – in world football. Not only this, but Alonso also possesses the ability to see what others are about to do, and can anticipate where he needs to be in order to block an opposition shot or pass.
It is such a rare commodity for a player to be such an efficient defender, literally becoming a shield in front of the back four, and still have the range of passes in his armoury that Alonso has. Look at Makelele – a more effective defensive midfielder there has never been – yet his forward passes are not even worthy of being mentioned at the same table as Alonso’s. Likewise with Xavi, who dictates the tempo at Barca and has a range of passes much like Alonso, but defending? I think not. Not to mention the ability he has when it comes to defending set pieces, or indeed taking them.
Something that may not be displayed in La Liga to the fullest extent is Alonso’s aerial ability, yet in the Premier League it was clear for all to see. The player is more than capable of defending from corners and set pieces, and was able to cope with the physicality of the Premiership with ease. It is qualities such as this that often go un noticed, and the fact that Alonso has proven he can play in such different leagues at the top of his game speaks volumes about the player.
This is why Alonso is such a key player for Los Blancos, and why Liverpool have struggled to replace him so badly. It is debatable if the player ever really wanted to leave the city he and his young family had fallen so in love with, and if a row with Rafa Benitez had not come to pass, and the feeling of being underappreciated by the manager rectified, Alonso may not have left at all. Captain Steven Gerrard stated at the time it was a mistake to let an irreplaceable player leave, and attributed his departure to Liverpool’s subsequent run of poor form.
For a player who made such a vital impact for Liverpool – none more so than in Istanbul, where all Liverpool fans will remember how pivotal Alonso was to the second half comeback – it seems ludicrous that Benitez let the player go. Neither Alonso himself or the Liverpool fans wanted this to happen, with Alonso himself stating they ‘could not have done more to let me know they wanted me to stay.’ Yet it was not meant to be, and what was Liverpool’s great loss was Los Blancos’ gain.
Even at Real Sociedad Alonso was hailed as ‘seeing the game with such clarity’ and it was always clear that Alonso would go on to do great things, yet even the player himself cannot have realised how just how good he could actually be. Not only is Alonso a key man for Real, but he is also a key player for the Spanish national side, starting every game in the 2010 world cup, and in a team blessed with such quality this is no easy achievement.
The real test of a key player is the way teams operate without them, and without Alonso, Liverpool have struggled to an extent few would have believed. Mourinho is fully aware of how important Alonso is to his team, and the Spaniard is ever present in the Special One’s starting eleven, being his voice on the pitch, especially with skipper Casillas in goal, with Alonso’s influence only set to grow as the season progresses.
As Xabi Alonso only gets better and better, how Liverpool fans will be wishing he was playing his trade at Anfield still. Sadly for them, Mourinho would rather buy a Barcelona shirt with ‘Guardiola, the real special one’ on the back than let that happen.
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