Player Profile: Xabi Alonso

Perhaps my favorite player around now is Real Madrid and Spain’s Xabi Alonso.  I prefer to watch him play for Real Madrid because he with them he plays a more central role as the deep-lying playmaker, which means he collects the ball from the defense and acts as the key transitional point through which the ball is supplied to the offense.

It never ceases to amaze me how players like Xabi Alonso are so thoroughly deferred to by the defense, in that even if a defender has the ball under no pressure, Xabi Alonso will frequently shuttle back and pick the ball up off the defender’s feet in order to begin orchestrating the attack.  This occurs even when the players are people like Sergio Ramos or Pepe, both defenders who are quite capable of passing well.  This is partly so that the defenders will not be caught out of position, but it’s more out of deference to the increased potency of Xabi Alonso on the ball.

Other players who do this are Xavi from Barcelona, Pirlo for his clubs (AC Milan and Juventus) and Italy, and Schweinsteiger for Bayern Munich.  I like watching all of those players, but I like Xabi Alonso best, for reasons known and mysterious.

The known reasons are, in nor particular order, his beard (which is red like mine), his stocky and almost ungainly legs, and his brilliant passing.  The first two are aesthetic qualities which I would probably not even care about if it weren’t for the third characteristic, the passing, so let’s start there.

As a player in my pickup games, and even dating back to when I played in school, I love to pass.  I am a pass-first player.  I don’t dribble or shoot if I have a good pass I can make.  This preference for passing can work against me if I am not careful, because it can temper the aggressiveness and diversity needed to help me play a complete game. (In fact, some of the joys I relish most in my recent pickup games are the times I have incorporated some slashing dribbling runs from the wing to the middle of the field near the goal area.  I find that if I bide my time from the start of the game and wait for the opposition to tire a bit and become complacent in their expectations of me, that it is then that I can make my move.)

As such, I love a good pass, and Xabi Alonso does so many types of passes so consistently and creatively that I love watching him play regardless of opponent.  On Real Madrid he often hits cross field passes to his wingers Angel Di Maria and Ronaldo, and despite traveling extensive distances they land with pace right on the player’s chest.

This montage from a single game when Xabi Alonso was at Liverpool showcases his long passes.  Or watch this compilation from Real Madrid.  The way he can take a ball form inside his own half and knock it out to the wing puts the team into instantly on the attack, and the defense knows it can’t rest when he is on the ball.  As the clips also show, you can’t take the ball away from him easily either.

Xabi Alonso may not have quite Xavi’s majestic touch when passing inside up the middle to his center forward or players clustered in front of goal, but he is damn close.  When the two play together, Xavi plays much higher than he normally does with Barcelona, and I think this is because he can be provided with passes from Xabi Alonso.  I noticed that when the two were in the spot on the field with the ball that Xabi Alonso deferred to Xavi.  I like Xavi, but I don’t think he can hit the long ball as well, and I find those passes the most graceful and beautiful to watch.  The through balls are great too, but there’s just something thrilling about the instant switch from dormancy to action that occurs when Xabi Alonso flings the ball out wide far up the field.

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