Xabi Alonso’s Masterclass on The Coaches’ Voice: His Role In Different Teams

Xabi Alonso’s Masterclass on The Coaches’ Voice: His Role In Different Teams

They just don’t make players like Xabi Alonso anymore. He was calmness personified on the pitch, could beat the press with his intelligence and had a footballing ability like no other. Everyone who had the privilege to watch him play in Germany, Spain and England still hold him in high regard to this day.

He is what people call a ‘complete midfielder’. While he tended to play primarily as a 6 in the midfield, his passing ability allowed him to unlock defences from deep, he was strong in the tackle and also chipped in with a few goals. He wasn’t the most athletically gifted player but his excellent understanding of the game meant he was always in the right place at the right time.

In his Coaches’ Voice video Xabi Alonso himself explains his role in the various legendary teams he was a part of and how he played a pivotal role in midfield for those teams over the course of his career.

Liverpool (2004-09)

At Liverpool, Xabi Alonso joined the club with Rafa Benitez at the helm. Rafa usually used a 4-2-3-1 formation with Alonso usually occupying the left of the double pivot. His role in the team depended on who he was partnered with. If it was Gerrard beside him, he would stay back and provide defensive cover while Gerrard had the freedom to move forward and make things happen.

When the double pivot was him and Mascherano, he was the one pushing higher up with Mascherano providing cover for him. In this role, he was the one going forward linking up with Gerrard, Torres, and the wingers.

Looking back at that team he said, “While playing we were really intense and pretty direct and that worked very well. Gerrard and Torres linked up well, my partnership with Mascherano was good, Agger and Carragher were solid and we had a really balanced team. We could beat anyone.”

And beat everyone they did, certainly in 2005. Alonso had a key role to play in the miracle in Istanbul. He scored the equalizing goal which meant the game went to extra time and we all know how that one ended.

Who Is The Free Man?

Here Alonso explains his role in the Liverpool midfield. From the image, we see that the defender has closed Alonso (6) down, which means Gerrard (8) is in acres of space making him the “free man”. This allowed the ball to be played to Gerrard directly from midfield and defence which enabled him to create or score.

Alonso says,”It’s all about having a reading of the game. Where is the space? Where is the free player? That’s the game intelligence that great players have.”

Getting these subtle, split-second decisions right every time made him such a key player in every team he was in.

Real Madrid (2009-2014)

At Madrid, initially, Alonso was a part of Jose Mourinho’s record-breaking, La Liga-winning team. Mourinho also played with a 4-2-3-1 with Alonso and Khedira forming the double pivot with Ozil in the no 10 position.

On his midfield partner, he says,” Sami (Khedira) has a lot of energy, he will start from this (deep in midfield) position but he will make a lot of runs.”

Ozil had a very important role to play in this team as the main creative threat. Alonso was full of praise for him saying, “Mesut (Ozil) between the lines was the perfect player to play there because he wanted to play here in the hole and that is the toughest position to play where there is no space, where all the defence try to squeeze you.”

Madrid under Mourinho introduced the world to one of the most exciting teams of their era. The pace and skill of the attackers had led to a lot of beautiful counter-attacking goals throughout the Portuguese tactician’s time at the club. As Alonso recounts,”In Madrid, our style was quick transitions. Not that much collaboration whereas we were more attacking with quick actions. We scored so many goals. We could score goals from nothing.”

Defending Against Messi

The El-Clasicos during those years were electric to watch. Mourinho had brought some bit of his mindset into this fixture, with both teams at the top of their game with two of the best managers at the time.

When asked out about how he played against Messi, Alonso says, “Xavi used to drop deep to get the ball and when I used to go and press him, this space would then be occupied by Messi in the space behind me. They used to do two against one.”

Alonso reiterates the role of the free man and free space again. He mentioned that his relationship with Sergio Ramos was key in these moments, “Ramos used to tell me Messi was coming and I didn’t go to press Xavi where I was staying more with Messi. They used to have more control but they were not that dangerous,” recounts Alonso.

Bayern Munich (2014- 2017)

In Alonso’s time at Bayern, by that point in his career, he was well into his 30s and had to adapt his game to suit the physical demands of the Bundesliga. At Bayern, he played as a lone no 6 with two midfielders ahead of him. He recounts how important his relationship with the Bayern centre-backs was,”You know that in that position, you have to connect well with the centre-backs to do our proper build-up and know what is happening”.

As a lone defensive midfielder, his role was more focused on build-up from the back and progressing the ball to the two advanced midfielders. And based on the formation of the opposition he’d make slight adjustments to help his teammates.

If the opposition played with a 4-2-3-1 the opposition no 10 was usually beside Alonso, so he knew he couldn’t receive the ball and hence made space for the defender to progress with the ball. But if they were playing two strikers, he’d drop in between them to create a numerical advantage and have a free man.

He also mentioned the influence that Pep Guardiola had on him. He said, “I learned a lot in three years at Bayern. I was 32, I had made a lot of my career but in two, three years I learned so, so much.”

Real Madrid Youth Team

Post-retirement, Alonso took the leap into management and became Real Madrid’s youth coach, to begin with. In this section, he speaks about his own footballing philosophy and the ideas he tries to get through to his players.

He likes his teams to be attacking. A team that takes the initiative to go win the game, that wants the ball, where the players know how to link up with each other, maintain a good amount of distance.

Most of the time his teams will lineup in a 4-3-3 but sometimes they can play a 3-2-2-3 with three strikers because he wants his young players to be able to adapt to different situations within a match and not just to know what to play in a set way.

The Madrid youth players seemed to have been very receptive and impressed Alonso, as he says, “They learned quicker than I thought. I thought it was going to take longer but once you repeat, and you show them that they are doing well, they start feeling and believing in it and they follow.”

Watch The Full Masterclass On The Coaches’ Voice YouTube Channel 

To fully understand in detail how Xabi Alonso set up tactically and played during his career in the heart of the midfield of Liverpool, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich, as explained by the Spaniard himself, you can view his entire masterclass on the Coaches’ Voice YouTube channel, as he recounts his role under Rafa Benitez, Jose Mourinho, and Pep Guardiola. He further touches upon his current role as youth team manager at Real Madrid. Watch the entire video below.

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