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“Emotional, exciting football!” – What Xabi Alonso brings as a manager explained

With Xabi Alonso among the favourites to replace Jurgen Klopp as the next Liverpool manager, Bundesliga commentator Dan O’Hagan gave us detailed insight into the Spaniard’s credentials.

With Klopp set to step aside at the end of the season, it will be strange seeing a new manager in the dugout come August.

Alonso is the obvious name in European football to take the job, given the amazing progress he has made with Bayer Leverkusen in just 18 months, taking them to the top of German football.

Sam Millne spoke to Bundesliga commentator Dan O’Hagan (@danohagan) to discuss Alonso’s time as Leverkusen manager and what he could bring to Liverpool.

 

Should he be a candidate for the Liverpool job?

Absolutely. I saw his first game with Leverkusen last season, when they blew Schalke away 4-0, and from day one, his brand of football was extraordinary.

And last season, OK, it was a bit hit and miss, but this season they have been, for me, probably the best team in European football this season. They’re the only unbeaten team across all the major leagues across three competitions.

Alonso’s brand of football would work anywhere. It’s emotional, it’s high-tempo, it’s exciting, it’s chock full of goals, it’s fluid, it’s modern.

At Liverpool, obviously, Klopp leaves enormous, huge shoes to fill, but Alonso might just be the character, the style of coach, with the style of play, big enough to fill those enormous shoes.

 

How does he set his team up?

2WC1PC0 Augsburg, Deutschland. 13th Jan, 2024. Xabi Alonso (Trainer Bayer 04 Leverkusen) 1. Fussball Bundesliga: FC Augsburg - Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Augsburg, WWK Arena am 13.01.2024 DFL REGULATIONS PROHIBIT ANY USE OF PHOTOGRAPHS AS IMAGE SEQUENCES AND/OR QUASI-VIDEO. Credit: dpa/Alamy Live News

Alonso says he doesn’t really believe in formations. This season has been ostensibly 3-4-3, but during games that changes three, four, five times.

It can be a back four, it can be back three. It’s so fluid. He has intelligent players who can adapt.

Systems under Alonso don’t mean a great deal, because they have so much of the ball they dictate the game anyway, so the system almost becomes irrelevant because they control the game’s tempo.

At Leverkusen there’s no set structure, it’s all very, very laissez-faire.

 

How quick has his progress been?

2KA9M23 Leverkusen, Germany. 01st Nov, 2022. Soccer: Champions League, Bayer Leverkusen - FC Brugge, Group Stage, Group B, Matchday 6, BayArena. Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso looks ahead to the match. Credit: Marius Becker/dpa/Alamy Live News

He took over, they were in the bottom two, they finished in the European places last season, so across the season there was progress. But that was never a bottom two squad he took over.

But what they’ve done this season is they’ve really built on the foundations he laid in the previous season, and from the get-go this season, it has just been incredible.

The amount of goals, the kinds of goals, where the goals come from. What he’s done this season, he’s got the two wide players, so Alex Grimaldo on the left, Jeremie Frimpong on the right, and their goals and assists output is just incredible for wing-backs.

He’s identified areas that he could improve in the summer and they have done. They’ve gone from, I would say, an underachieving, high-quality squad to, this season, without question, the best team in Germany.

 

Any concerns?

2TCJJBK Stuttgart, Germany. 10th Dec, 2023. Soccer: Bundesliga, VfB Stuttgart - Bayer Leverkusen, Matchday 14, MHPArena. Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso stands in the stadium before the game. Credit: Tom Weller/dpa - IMPORTANT NOTE: In accordance with the regulations of the DFL German Football League and the DFB German Football Association, it is prohibited to utilize or have utilized photographs taken in the stadium and/or of the match in the form of sequential images and/or video-like photo series./dpa/Alamy Live News

My one question mark would be Alonso isn’t yet the real deal or the finished article because, don’t forget, it’s only his second season in charge of a senior first team in a top division.

Before this he was with Real Sociedad’s B team for a couple of years in the third and second division in Spain, before that he was with the under-14s at Real Madrid.

So, my one misgiving would be that he maybe just needs one more year or two more years at Leverkusen to perhaps win trophies and to get that under his belt.

 

Is he a specialist tactician or is he a man-manager, too?

2K6932A LEVERKUSEN, GERMANY - OCTOBER 12: head coach Xabi Alonso of Bayer 04 Leverkusen during the Group B - UEFA Champions League match between Bayer 04 Leverkusen and FC Porto at the BayArena on October 12, 2022 in Leverkusen, Germany (Photo by Joris Verwijst/Orange Pictures)

I think these days, big players at big clubs, they respect people who’ve got the medals and Alonso, you can’t deny, has got every medal in the book.

They’ll of course have seen him play, because his career wasn’t that long ago, so the players will be well aware of who and what Alonso is and what he’s achieved as a player, so the respect will be there from day one.

I think certainly the players would adapt to him and take to him from day one because of his achievements, and also the fact that he lets his players play.

He gives those players on the field a lot of autonomy and responsibility. I think Leverkusen players enjoy playing for Alonso and I don’t see that being any different anywhere else.


• Thanks again to Dan O’Hagan for his insight on Xabi Alonso. Follow Dan on Twitter @danohagan.