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Replacing Xabi Alonso

If Steven Gerrard is the heart of Liverpool then Xabi Alonso was one of the lungs. So Liverpool just lost a lung. It’s lung-wrenching. I know they have a potential organ donor lined up (AS Roma) and that a new lung (Alberto Aquilani) could be on the way already, but what if the operation doesn’t take? They won’t know until the season gets going.

You really want to know your key organs are working before you get out there and start running about full tilt. Things can quickly go awry. See: Robbie Keane.

When Liverpool finished second last season, four points shy of the top, it was clear this season would require some tweaking. No serious overhaul needed. A lick of paint here. Replace some vinyl siding there. Liverpool finished last season with a group of players who could almost win the title. They could look at it up close and admire its shine. They could definitely smell it. No touching. A couple adjustments could put the title in reach.

Enter Glen Johnson for Alvaro Arbeloa. The proven right-back who loves to get forward and create chances. Kuyt and Benayoun are at their best drifting in toward the box from wide areas and with Johnson providing reinforcement on the wing, they’ll each have much more freedom to do so. Potentially a stellar adjustment.

After the Johnson pick-up, I put Liverpool at the status of title-ready. Maybe one more purchase to be safe (perhaps a back-up striker for Torres, yes?) But Boom! Crash! Now the Reds have hit a wall. Last season’s most influential playmaker packed his bags and went to the great Spanish talent vacuum: Real Madrid. It feels like as Liverpool got in sight of the top of the ladder, Florentino Perez cut the middles out of the upper rungs. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.

I know this was unavoidable. Real have the money (well they don’t actually have the money – they have banks who don’t care that they don’t have the money, which is just as good), and Xabi wanted to go back to Spain. Two inexhaustable  forces.

Despite my naive belief that the deal would collapse at the last minute, Xabi’s leaving now seems like it was a forgone conclusion all along.

There’s nothing to be done but move on.

Today, the same buzzing network that told us Xabi was going seems convinced Aquilani is on his way. Searches on Bing and NewsNow call up a slew of articles that claim the deal is nearly done. (Liverpool have also been linked with Standard Leige’s Steven Defour and there’s still talk they might go for David Silva. Though it feels like they’ve been going for Silva since the Bronze Age.)

If it is Aquilani to replace Alonso (reports insist the deal could be tied up in the next week), hopefully the feeling Rafa and co. have about the 25-year-old Italian comes from the part of their instinct that told them Torres and Mascherano were the right targets. Not the instinct that told them to spend £7m on Andrea Dossena.

I know a club is not any one man and, as a supporter, I have to accept my favorite players are not always going to stick around. But Xabi is a tough one to let go. Other than Gerrard and Torres, I think I’d rather give up any other Liverpool player over Xabi. (Ooh: Javier… I didn’t really mean that… please don’t go anywhere, dude!)

Really, I don’t really want to give up any of the first team players except Dossena, Lucas and Andriy V*****n. But Xabi going leaves that big empty hole in the middle. It feels irreparable. It’ll take a lot of convincing from the new kid (whoever he may be) that we’ll be alright.

Again: a lung is missing. I’m feeling wheezy.

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  1. edgaraurelius

    August 7, 2009 at 6:57 am

    Benitez wanted Alonso gone last summer, now his wish comes a summer late and probably not at the time he wanted it to happen. I still think Alonso would be staying at Liverpool if Benitez hadn’t tried to push him out the door to get Barry last summer.

    • RaiderRich

      August 7, 2009 at 5:53 pm

      OK, I’ll buy Benitez didn’t want him… but still… Real Madrid?

    • RaiderRich

      August 7, 2009 at 6:52 pm

      Sorry, it’s just that Xabi doesn’t strike me as someone who would move to a club strictly for money reasons.

  2. RaiderRich

    August 7, 2009 at 3:49 am

    What I don’t get is this:

    Why would someone from the Basque country willingly, without management kicking him to the curb, request a transfer to Real Madrid given what that club represents in Spain. That’s the Francoist club, the conservative club, the one all the Basque clubs hate, etc.

    Is Xabi going to be able to go home again or face his family?

  3. ROD

    August 6, 2009 at 8:20 am

    All – is there any chance you are getting carried away with yourselves here? I am a HUGE Alonso fan (not sure what to do with my #14 shirt now) but Xabi had 2 excellent seasons for us. And by excellent I mean he showed the sort of touches and exquisite passing that you are all referring to. The other 2 seasons he didn’t show those qualities with any consistency. For all 4 seasons, he gave the ball away a bit too much for my liking, he put in quite a few questionable tackles, and most importantly he hardly scored any goals. So even if Aquilani is not quite as good a passer as Alonso, then I can’t see it making a massive difference.

    Reina, Carra, Masch, Kuyt, Stevie, Torres + 5 others…that’s the teamsheet and with that teamsheet I remain confident of going out and playing anybody in the league and beating them.

  4. The Binocular

    August 6, 2009 at 7:24 am

    Xabi is your modern playmaker.

    Sits deep and dictates terms.

    Liverpool will have no immediate replacement no matter who they buy.

    Alonso should have stayed one more year

  5. thisladsbroke

    August 6, 2009 at 5:21 am

    So Aquilani is in for certain, it looks, like, i remember him being decent the few times i saw roma last year but i think liverpool have to buy at least one more midfielder to challenge for the title

  6. MarkB

    August 6, 2009 at 2:19 am

    I hate to see a player of such class leave, but if his heart isn’t really into it…… As for Aquilani, I’ve read quite a few adjectives attributed to him: gifted, temperamental and injury prone just to name a few. I would have liked a deal along the lines of 15 million + Wesley Sneijder, then use up the remaining cash for David Silva. But since we’re not playing Football Manager here that’s not going to happen. The reality of the situation is that I can’t see any way that the team will be improved by this, so I’ll just have to hope for the best. Hopefully Aquilani works out. I remember Riera being rubbished when he signed last year, and he turned out to be quite useful, so you never know.

  7. Lyle

    August 6, 2009 at 12:24 am

    Big loss, big loss. I still think Liverpool is favorites to win along with Chelsea and Man Utd, but losing Alonso will disrupt the side a bit, I think.

  8. kopman

    August 6, 2009 at 12:24 am

    we havent only sold xabi – we have just sold championship # 19! the logical thing to have done would to bring in david villa at whatever price instead of bringing an injury prone italian who will take at least a season to get used to the english game!!! IF HE EVER WILL!!!

    how many players from the italian league have made it in the EPL?!

    1, HENRY
    2, …

    and will people stop saying alonso was our best player last season ‘coz Ste G was by a mile…

    • ROD

      August 6, 2009 at 8:28 am

      2. Van Der Sar
      3. Zola
      4. Vialli
      5. Ravenelli
      6. Di Matteo
      7. Vieira
      8. Davids
      9. Asprilla
      10. Bergkamp

  9. Graham

    August 5, 2009 at 11:49 pm

    I have to a agree that this is a huge loss for Liverpool. Although I can still see them playing a huge role in this years title race. I also agree that Lucas is trash and but I can see Voronin stepping up this year. WHERE IS BABEL in all this talk ..

    will he play this year

  10. Raphael

    August 5, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    I can’t believe you rate Degen better than Voronin.

    Voronin is a proven player in the German league at the very least. He can be a good bench player while Degen is just a piece of s**t

    • The Gaffer

      August 5, 2009 at 10:06 pm

      To me, Voronin is frustrating. He’s great at passing the ball around and making one-two passes. But he always seems to miss the relatively easy chances in front of goal and finally nets one after several chances. In the game of football where some teams only get a few chances a game to score, Voronin is not going to cut it for Liverpool again this season.

      I wouldn’t be surprised to see him being loaned out again.

      The Gaffer

      • Eric

        August 6, 2009 at 1:29 pm

        Spot on, Gaffer. If Voronin spent more time taking his chances rather than wave and shout at his teammates for not getting the ball, maybe he’d be of use to Liverpool. And I would rather LIverpool be rid of him rather than be loaned.

    • Ethan Armstrong

      August 6, 2009 at 10:44 am


      I honestly keep forgetting that Degen “plays” for Liverpool. After I had put up this article and was watching the friendly with Lyn Oslo, he came on and I thought “Oh yeah, Degen”. I would drop Degen before anyone else. But I’m trusting him to get injured by October and take himself out of the mix for the rest of the season.

      V*****n is awful in England. He should go back to Germany. He can score and start and enjoy his career. At Liverpool, he’ll flounder again, he’ll get benched and we’ll see him in the Carling Cup.

  11. Tyson

    August 5, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    This is nothing short of a disaster for Liverpool.

    I think its game over for Liverpool now with the Premier League title completely out of sight.

    Players in Alonsos position don’t get much credit but last year he was arguably the best player in the Liverpool squad. During the second half of the season he was nothing short of instrumental in getting the ball to Gerrard and Torres.

    If you took away Xabi from the last second half of the season last year Liverpool would have performed even worse than they ended up performing.

    The guy is a phenomenal player he pretty much set up camp in the midfield and distributed and administered the ball as required by the team. He was like a one man machine that couldn’t miss the feet of Gerrard and Torres even if he tried.

    I can’t think of a player that is as effective at doing what Xabi did at any price point in the world. Aquilani couldn’t tie Xabis shoelaces on his best days. The man is hardly a like-for-like replacement for Xabi and I think will probably have to be dropped in behind Torres or something to that effect.

    He is incredibly injury prone though which is why Roma were so quick to get rid of him.

    Now we move onto Mascheranos saga. Mascheranos manager and brother mentioned only 2 days ago Masch wants to go to Barcelona so I think that is going to be Liverpools next problem.

    I don’t think Masch is nearly as instrumental as Xabi Alonso but its still a nasty blow if both left.

  12. Lorenzo LFC

    August 5, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    incredibly sad still, Alonso has been so important to us over the years, especially last year he often demonstrated that unique ability to administer and manager whole matches from the midfield, be it in the offensive or defensive, with his passing and movement, but also giving the team a certain calmness it seemed to me. in that sense i can only see that gap filled if Stevie returns in that position which he left to partner Torres as an offensive midfielder. therefore we actually need an offensive player not a replacemente for Xabi (which doesn’t exist): VIlla is a dream. Silva a possibilty.
    In any case: IN RAFA WE TRUST and You’ll Never Walk Alone

  13. edgar

    August 5, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    Xavi is gone. Masch is rumored to be heading to Barca. Liverpool is screwed. This is why they haven’t won the title.

    • ROD

      August 6, 2009 at 8:12 am

      This doesn’t make sense. Liverpool haven’t won the title in the past because of a transfer that has just happened and one that may occur in the future.

  14. Matt

    August 5, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    Bah! Liverpool need more than a lick of paint and more than a new Xabi. They need what they’ve needed for a long spell now – quality depth. Splashing so much on two players AND losing Xabi sets them back further.

  15. JoeScribe

    August 5, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    “Kuyt and Benayoun are at their best drifting in toward the box from wide areas.” Umm, no. Benayoun is a central player who is out of position on the wings.

    • Ethan Armstrong

      August 5, 2009 at 1:07 pm

      He was played in the Kuyt position throughout last season. He switched on in the second half of the year and was at his most dangerous when allowed to cut into the box from the side. I see this happening a lot more with Johnson getting forward.

  16. Carl

    August 5, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    As good as Alonso is, I still see him as one of the more easily replaceable parts on this team. Slick ball controlling creative midfielders? Real had two we coulda taken, so did Roma. I could go on.

    I think it needs to be stated that it was Mash who allowed Alonso to do his job as much as anything else. Without that bulldog protector roaming around the field, Alonso is placed under more pressure, something he never really learned to cope with in England.

  17. CA_backpacker

    August 5, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    Alonso was a proven performer, one who made Gerrard and Torres better by getting the ball to their feet. Now we roll the dice and see if any replacement (Aquilani? It sure can’t be Lucas!) can fill the role…without strong performance in that central midfield role, Liverpool are going to be lucky to qualify for Champions League next season.

  18. Ethan Armstrong

    August 5, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    Update: BBC and Sky Sports are now reporting Liverpool and Roma have agreed to a fee around £20m for Aquilani.

  19. steve

    August 5, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    and there in lies one of the flaws of European soccer….players really hold all the cards, much more so than in the States.

    No way a contending, championship caliber team would allow a top player to leave who is under contract. With the losses at ManU, the graying of Chelseas, Liverpool would have had a very strong chance of winning that elusive title this year.

    But because a key player decided he absolutely HAD to play for Real Madrid, never mind that he’s under contract for another year and never mind that his current team absolutely 100% wants to keep him…., Liverpool’s title dreams have been severely eroded.

    We have our problems in American sports, but something like this would never happen to the Red Sox, Lakers, Patriots, Celtics, etc. Such a shame.

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