Xabi Alonso: The perfect man for Real Madrid?
According to Radio MARCA, Real Madrid have chosen Xabi Alonso to be their new manager next season. This would come after the end of Carlo Ancelotti’s contract, who looks set to manage the Brazilian national team after his tenure with Los Blancos.
While no deal has formally been agreed for the Spanish coach to switch Leverkusen for Madrid, it is understood he has been made their top managerial target.
For many football fans, Alonso needs no introduction; a product of Real Sociedad, who went on to play for Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, he is widely regarded as one of the great midfielders of his generation.
He won the UEFA Champions League with both Liverpool and Madrid, as well as the World Cup and two European Championships with Spain. This is in addition to 12 more major trophies throughout his career.
With the legendary midfielder turned coach looking likely to take the reigns at the Bernabeu, I decided to delve into his managerial style, background, and how he may setup at Madrid.
Time at Leverkusen
Early in the 2022/23 campaign, Bayer Leverkusen found themselves second-bottom in the Bundesliga. Manager Gerardo Seoane was sacked, and the Werkself took a gamble in appointing Alonso, who had never managed a senior side.
Despite no prior experience, Alonso has played under a plethora of elite managers to draw inspiration from. Rafa Benitez, Jose Mourniho, Ancelotti himself, and Pep Guardiola, to name the most elite.
He steadied the ship and guided the side to a sixth place league finish. He also took them to the Europa League semi-finals after exiting their Champions League group, where they fell short against Mourinho’s Roma.
Following their stabilisation, the Spaniard is now seemingly taking them to the next level. After a successful window with players in the mould of his tactical style acquired, Leverkusen currently sit second in the league. They are unbeaten, and behind Bayern Munich on goal difference only.
The Werkself have also begun their Europa League campaign on the front foot, beating BK Hacken 4-0 to top their group.
Alonso typically sets his side up (on paper) in a 3-4-3 or 3-4-2-1. However, this is far from how the team looks on the pitch.
More often than not, Jeremie Frimpong and Alejandro Grimaldo like to push up and hold width, and Odilon Kossounou tends to progress up the pitch in possession. Thus, a 2-3 base is often formed in possession.
One of the key principles of Alonso’s style is creating overloads centrally. Like many teams have adopted recently, a flexible box midfield is created at all times, allowing for fluid interchanges to bypass lines of pressure and providing numerical advantage to try and regain possession.
Statistically, this has shown to aid Leverkusen’s possession, with the side averaging a higher volume of passes per sequence as opposed to last season, while still being relatively direct. According to http://theanalyst.com, the side rank first this season for 10+ pass sequences, while also ranking fifth for direct attacks (with 2.0 per 90).
Going forward, Jonas Hofmann is key. Not only does he contribute centrally, but he facilitates the attacking outlet that Alonso has found in Frimpong.
This is normally done in two different ways:
- Hofmann drops deeper to draw opposition defenders out of place, creating space in behind for Frimpong to exploit and fashion chances.
- The German holds width, allowing Frimpong to run forward and act as a second striker (the best example of this is Frimpong’s goal against RB Leipzig).
The combination between the two has provided great solace for Leverkusen, after losing star player Moussa Diaby in the summer. As a result, the loss has been almost unnoticeable.
Granit Xhaka has also proved vital in the side’s midfield revamp. His role contrasts that of how he was most recently used by Mikel Arteta. Instead of being an attacking eight providing late arrivals into the box, he is now profiled as a deep-lying playmaker.
The Swiss midfielder typically holds his position centrally, but has been given licence to progress and support attacks. He has put up impressive numbers in relation to final third entries, as well as multiple ‘pre-assists’, showing his ability to support Leverkusen’s goals with his playmaking.
How would he setup at Madrid?
Much like his own playing-style, it is clear to see that Alonso prioritises his side’s capabilities in possession. However, there has to be a purpose to this, as shown in his preference for a direct attacking approach. At Madrid, he would certainly be well-equipped to implement his philosophy.
As is public knowledge, Los Blancos are blessed with talent in central midfield. Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Jude Bellingham, Federico Valverde and Eduardo Camavinga are just some of the names that populate their central options.
There is a really nice balance to their options, too. They possess a range of technicians, powerhouses and magicians who can produce moments of brilliance.
As he matures with age, Summer signing Arda Guler could be a key player for Alonso. The young Turk likes to cut in from the right and operate centrally, with a vision for spectacular passes to provided chances for teammates.
Bellingham has certainly shown his attacking prowess so far this season. He has been deployed as a box-crasher under Ancelotti, and his output as a result speaks for itself. He could be used in a similar way under the Spaniard.
However, there would undoubtedly be a need for reinforcements to the squad. Madrid’s only recognised striker is Joselu, and there has been a clear need for a right-back, with Ivan Fresneda heavily linked to the club before moving to Sporting CP.
In terms of profiling, they should look toward a full-back able to run forward and contribute to attack. With the striker position, a player that is more of a target-man to act as a springboard for other attackers and not stifle the brilliance of a Vinicius Jr.
This is (roughly) how Madrid could look under Alonso:
Guler would be able to shift centrally in order to provide the overload, while also allowing his corresponding full-back to bomb forward and join the attack. This also creates a tilt, with play focused on the right leaving Vinicius isolated, and able to utilise his skill-set when looking to drive at defenders.
Bellingham’s role is also important, able to contribute centrally while also being able to act as a second striker for the side. The striker that Madrid (might) purchase should be able to hold play up well, allowing the likes of Vinicius Jr. to progress and get into the box to finish off attacks.
There is also flexibility here, with the likes of Fran Garcia also able to bomb forward. As such, Guler would hold width, and Vinicius Jr. would be able to come inside to allow for Garcia to overlap.
Overall, it is clear that the system would enable central dominance for Alonso, while also having mercurial talent at his disposal to progress play and attack directly. It is almost certain that he would have the Spanish giants playing beautiful, dominant football once again.