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How Important Was Xabi Alonso?

Xabi Alonso of Liverpool..Barclays Premier League..Liverpool v Newcastle United..3rd May, 2009 Photo via Newscom

No, I will not use a picture of him in a Madrid shirt thank you very much

The man, the myth, the legend.

All the reasons surrounding Liverpool’s decline have one thing in common. They center around the fact that there are too few great or even very, very, good players in the squad. The owners are terrible, but only because they spend all the club’s revenue on interest payments instead of transfer payments. Hodgson and Benitez aren’t the greatest managers in the world (I’m still a fan of Rafa, especially now), but if you put them in charge of Chelsea, they’d at least be in the Champions League places. What it all boils down to is squad quality.

The lack of big names with big ability hits hard especially in central midfield, where Liverpool have shoehorned Gerrard because he gets scraps in the hole behind Torres. There is nobody to spray passes wide, thread balls through, give the offense at the very least some bite, some edge. The last time Liverpool truly had that, they came second in the League, and a man named Xabi Alonso had his best season in a red shirt, and ever since fans have groaned at his absence.

Stats will tell you he had three league goals, and five league assists. If he played a direct part in only eight goals what was all the fuss? He wasn’t an enforcer, winning back possession with tackles, Mascherano did that, and could retain possession perfectly well. So why is Alonso widely known as the better half of that pairing?

What he does, isn’t spectacular, (well he scores goals from over the half-way line sometimes but aside from that), he not only retains possession, but unlike Lucas, who only plays short, safe passes, Alonso moves the ball to people in space where they can make a difference. He doesn’t provide finishing touches so much as he initiates a move. Keeping the ball on the ground while simultaneously advancing up the pitch seems to be something Liverpool have forgotten how to do.

Entire sides have been built on players such as Alonso, Scholes has a hand in almost everyone of United’s goals, and Pirlo plays a similar role for AC Milan. Moving the ball wherever they want, always on point, they can run the opponent ragged, especially when part of a team that presses its opponents a lot, and the ball is won higher up the field. They also free up other players to score, providing a more balanced attack. The 2008/9 season saw Liverpool with an attack where at least four players could be relied on to score (Benayoun/Babel, Torres, Kuyt, Gerrard), whereas now most of those are preoccupied with creating chances, rather than taking them.

So how important was he? Pretty important, but even without him Liverpool should have finished higher than seventh last season and should not be in the relegation places this season. What he does can be done at, not quite the same level of success, but with reasonable quality, by lesser players, such as Meireles. His breakout year might not even have occurred if Benitez hadn’t angered him by trying to replace him with Barry. Yet, not another season of FIFA goes by that I don’t overpay to get him back, at the very least for the memories.

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  1. Thomas

    October 13, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    This is news?

    Liverpool have been half the team they were with Alonso. His presence allowed Gerrard to play behind Torres without costing the team a dynamic passer in midfield.

    Trying to quantify a player like Alonso with goals and assists statistics is senseless. He played deep in midfield, and hence was rarely “directly” involved in goals. Someone pointed out the second assist (like they do in hockey). If they tracked this stat, Alonso would surely rank very highly.

    Trying to put a number (in terms of goals and assists) on Alonso’s performances is very similar to trying to measure the importance of a player like Makelele in similar vain.

    You can’t point to the departure of Alonso as the only reason for Liverpool’s demise (Torres lack of form, inadequate players (Lucas, Aquilani), a lack of any true wingers (Riera was the only one they had, and he wasn’t even that good)). But it surely affected the squad in an immense way.

  2. bob

    October 12, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    We may not have a complete replacement for xabi alonso, but miereles might be pretty close if hodgson would play him in the deeper role instead out wide. i understand roy is tinkering around trying to find the right chemistry between the players but putting miereles and cole out wide is a big NO. This is a big reason why liverpool have look so narrow (lack of classic wingers starting, ie someone like babel, who will be getting chalk on their boots). Players like miereles and cole naturally want to drift inside.

  3. illmaticinjection

    October 11, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    It’s not just about statistics, Alonso was the heartbeat of the dressing room along with Gerrard and Hyppia. Man!! Last season I lost faith in Rafa after he drove Alonso away and made a series of mistakes that had a domino effect on the players as well as the Club. Alonso is Irreplaceable! you can’t forge that kind of squad, it took Rafa years to finish 2nd in the League(if it wasn’t for that Rant at Fergie we might have……….) For me Trying to balance Work, College and watching the League has been a nightmare the past year and the Kick Off time for most of our matches is in like 4:30AM so i’ve given up but I had fun in 08/09 Season!!! ( Torres, Riera, Gerrard, Kuyt, Mascherano, Alonso, Aurelio, Agger, Skrtel, Arbeloa, Riena) That’s the Liverpool I miss!!!

  4. Dave C

    October 11, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    I’ve often thought football statisticians should keep stats on “scorers”, “assists”, and “assists-of-assists” (i.e. the guy who plays the pass that leads to the next guy making an assist). I have a feeling guys like Xabi Alonso would rate highly in this category.

    p.s. I consider myself an “assister of assists” myself, hence why I thought of it!

    • Red20

      October 11, 2010 at 10:22 pm

      Things like this are why I’m so excited for Henry to take control of Liverpool (please God).

      He loves stats and being able to quantify everything. He’s done it with his baseball team and it’s worked extremely well. I would love to see his approach to things like you brought up. Quantifying great center mids who don’t score and so forth. Anything to maximize what we actually pay for in transfer windows.

  5. Chris McQuade

    October 11, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    Problem is Xabi had a great last season. It’s as if United sold Berbs this summer and then went into decline (which, of course, would never happen) the previous seasons are lost in a haze of revisionism. As i’ve said before.

    The thing is for 2 years Xabi was injured and for a period, not very good. Now understand me here I own two alonso shirts, I follow him on twitter (follow me following him @Kipp9). I am a massive fan but Liverpool maximised their return on him 30 mil is how much tops he was worth. He didn’t like Rafa and did like Madrid.

    Football wise he is replacable. See a Pirlo, Riquleme, Seedorf. It’s that he wasn’t replaced, Aquilani was never fit enough for the league campaign. It’s a misnomer to mark the collapse at the sale of XABI ALONSO. Rather than the SALE of Xabi Alonso. If you get my meaning.

    • hank

      October 11, 2010 at 6:12 pm

      Great point!

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