Liverpool start one of its biggest and strongest assaults ever on the Premier League this season yet they are badly handicapped. Like a blind man walking without purpose, without Xabi Alonso, Liverpool's attack lacks that sense of direction which it so dearly needs to end a 19-year wait for the title.
Defense and attack are two different things in football. The success of any team depends on the quality of the link between the two. Alonso has been that key link for Liverpool. While Mascherano may be a monster in tackling and winning the ball back, Liverpool still needs Alonso to complete his work.
Alonso is a genius in his own game. There are few in football who can match his passing skills. He is the vital source behind almost every single Liverpool attack. Like a chess master analyzing his opponents and making a move, Alonso makes the toughest and the most intelligent decisions in the field.
Most often it is his decision that decides the quality of any Liverpool attack. It is his insight that foresees how well Gerrard or Torres may engage in destroying the opposition. It is Alonso's vision that Liverpool will so sorely miss.
Alonso was a very good servant for the club, the likes of which are so rare in these Adebayorish days of football. Good luck to him, but he is one player very difficult to replace. His departure leaves a massive hole in a Liverpool side vying for the title.
Is Alberto Aquilani his replacement? Definitely not. Alonso had passing skills Aquilani can only dream about. While Aquilani is good at his game, it will take him years and he will still struggle to be an Alonso for Liverpool. But was he meant to be a replacement to Alonso? That I really doubt.
All Liverpool fans must clearly understand that Aquilani is not Alonso's replacement. Aquilani is Rafa's closest answer for Liverpool's 19th league title.
While so many others were mourning at the prospect of losing Alonso, Rafa had bigger plans running. Rafa went after the final piece missing in his Title Jigsaw. Did it solve the puzzle? We are yet to see, but an injury free Aquilani is the closest Liverpool will ever get to the title.
Aquilani adds more pace and trickery in Liverpool attack, something different from Xabi, something more important for Liverpool.
Let's analyze Alberto Aquilani in detail.
Aquilani was Roma's prodigy and his performances in the Champions League and his successful exploits with the Italy Under 21s are well documented. He was tracked by Arsenal when he was 16 in 2001. Who in his right mind would go against Prof. Wenger's eye for talent?
The more important thing to comprehend is what made Rafa buy Aquilani. Liverpool needed more fire in the front in the absence of Gerrard and Torres. Aquilani brings exactly that. Unlike Alonso, Aquilani is faster on the ball and will complement Gerrard and Torres well. Liverpool will have a three-pronged attack instead of two.
Liverpool needed more quality in the attack without compromising the defense. Mascherano's sale would be the bigger loss for Liverpool if they are to sell him to Barcelona as rumored.
With Alonso in the middle, Liverpool's attack was an art. It was spread out to the wings beautifully; he was never an attacking midfielder. Now that he has left, Alonso's work has to be redistributed. Difficult yet possible.
Players like Johnson, Agger, and Carra may not be as good on the ball as Alonso was, but are still good enough and are expected to step up and do what Alonso so easily did for them in the past—distribute the ball from defense to offense.
Aquilani's addition makes Liverpool's attack more direct. With Aquilani, Liverpool is expected to charge through the middle, which leaves more space in the wings. All those draws against small teams, which are forced to defend at Anfield, should be made into wins.
Both Johnson and Aquilani can potentially do that. It is winning against the small teams that matters most in winning the League; Aquilani is more than capable of doing it for Liverpool.
While his injuries are definitely a gamble and Rafa is not good at gambling, anybody who watched Aquilani play for Roma week in and week out would never doubt his quality. Players of quality have come and gone at Anfield without leaving any significant mark. Hopefully, Aquilani is not one of them.
Rafa definitely thought well in his purchase. But will Liverpool end its 19-year deadlock this season? Was Rafa wrong in selling Alonso? Is Aquilani Liverpool's missing piece in the Title Jigsaw? Only time will tell.