The Value of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid
Real Madrid dropped their first points of the season at Villareal on Saturday in yet another unconvincing display.
New boy Gareth Bale notched a goal on his debut and Cristiano Ronaldo found the net again, but Los Blancos were far from dominant. With such a surplus of talent in attack, many are scratching their heads as to why the team has been unable to earn a comprehensive victory thus far.
Look no further than the absence of Xabi Alonso.
For both club and country, Alonso plays a pivotal role deep in the midfield line. His sturdy physicality combined with his precise passing make him among the most complete players in the world. Alonso specializes in transitioning from defense to attack, and can spray balls around the pitch with ease.
The 31-year-old's role with Madrid is two-faced. By sitting in front of Sergio Ramos and Pepe, the Spaniard is called upon to win balls and slow down the opposition's attack. But once possession turns, Alonso is equally responsible moving forward by sending through balls into the wide channels for Ronaldo—and now Bale—to run on to.
Statistics from last season highlight his importance in the squad.
In league play, Alonso made an average of 65.7 passes per game, good enough for ninth best in the division. In fact, only two other players in the top 10 come from outside Barcelona, via WhoScored.com.
It is important to note that Madrid didn't dominate possession on a regular basis (owning 55.7 percent compared to Barca's 69 percent average), but sought to counterattack opponents as much as they attempted to break them down.
Alonso boasts a remarkable 83 percent passing success rate, made all the more impressive when adding his 6.3 accurate long balls per game, via WhoScored.com.
Even his remarkable statistics fail to tell the whole story. Alonso is a leader on the pitch. He doesn't wear the armband, but Madrid's No. 14 is a captain to his teammates, a calming presence in midfield and an inspiring playmaker in attack.
When healthy, who will partner Alonso in the midfield?
The Madrid man rarely scores, but is more than capable of shooting from distance when the time is right. Fans of the club should recognize how many goals he has played a role in over the years.
The double pivot is a crucial component to Madrid's success. Through Sami Khedira and Alonso, Los Blancos had an impressive partnership. The addition of Luka Modric, Asier Illarramendi and Casemiro have added more pieces to the puzzle, but nobody doubts that Alonso will slide into the starting IX once he returns from injury. Who his long-term partner will be remains to be seen.
Madrid are off to a decent start, but observers know they have the tools for more. The incredible array of creative talent in the final third appeases the fans, but the dirty work in the heart of midfield is lacking.
Alonso's conspicuous absence in the middle highlights his importance to the club, and they will be a far superior side upon his return.
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