Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Xabi Alonso and the mysterious Aquiliani

Following the loss of the arguably most consistent Liverpool player of last season, an atmosphere of regret and mild distress has set in at Anfield.

The consistent and tiring question about the void left by the Spanish midfielder appears to influence performances off the pitch in as well as on it, with a collection of current and former players, in addition to the media concentration, citing his departure as the short circuiting of the
Liverpool electrical make-up.

It is certainly true that the age of Alonso – the dictator of play through exquisite vision, a superb passing range and technical ability – is over. However, as fans and neutrals alike mourn the loss of an apparent idol, it is important to examine the issue in detail after one of the main instruments in Liverpool’s directional play has been removed.

Spoken of as a key choreographer of play, Alonso on the reverse side of the coin placed a strong emphasis on defence by sitting deep next to the Argentine captain Javier Mascherano. The reluctance to burst into opposition territory, while Mascherano sat deep, is seen as some critics as counter-productive. The style of play is the reason for countless attempts at goal from distance, scoring a handful of spectacular goals from inside his own half due to the fact that Alonso hardly ever ventured out of it.

The Spaniard averaged a small number of three goals a season during his stay at Anfield, with the number of direct assists sitting similarly low next to this number. However it is the manoeuvring of the football up to the vital and most important stage, with a series of connections to bring about the act that wins football matches.

Analysing the current balance of play truly shows life without this influential midfielder. As things stand, Alonso has been replaced by the mystical figure of Alberto Aquiliani, an Italian international who arrives with plenty of buzz. It appears that Aquiliani is the antithesis of the departed Alonso, placing emphasis in attacking areas through a high level of dynamicity.

The mysterious figure of Aquilani is yet to surface, leaving Liverpool with fewer options in central midfield and the employment of the crab-like Lucas Leiva. Lucas is the epitome of neutrality, who offers less than zero as an attacking threat, while at the same time neutralising the opposition in the centre of the pitch with strong and niggly tackles.

At present as it stands, the core spine of Reina, Carragher, Alonso, Gerrard and Torres, which nearly won Liverpool the title in the previous year is broken and ageing. The middle man has been removed with a local hero behind him ageing and struggling to deal with an adapted style of play. Liverpool have no doubt strengthened in wide areas with the acquisition of Glen Johnson from Portsmouth, who plays more like a winger at times. However the increase in pace and power exhibited by Liverpool in attacking areas, which has seen them rocket to the top of the Premier League’s goals scored column, has consequently had an adverse affect on the defensive capabilities.

Liverpool after resolute and dismissive displays of the past now find themselves locked in an shootout to win games. The vulnerable Carragher finds himself dropping that little bit deeper to accommodate for the lack of pace against and an increased tempo game. The results of which is the eradication of draws, which hindered title ambitions of last season.

The type of “crazy” games which Benitez hates so much appear to be growing at a faster rate than ever, with Liverpool already equalling their loss tally for last season. The Merseysiders look to have lost their disciplined and efficient element of control in the loss of Alonso. However, until Aquilani materialises it is impossible to say who will be the better catalyst in a game, which is effectively won and lost in midfield.

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