LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - WEDNESDAY AUGUST 25th 2004: Liverpool's manager Rafael Benitez (r) with new Spanish signing Xabi Alonso at a press conference at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Xabi Alonso “was clever and analysed” – Rafa Benitez on next Liverpool manager potential

Former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has warned against the hype that surrounds Xabi Alonso amid links with a return to Anfield as Jurgen Klopp‘s successor.

Alonso is understood to be the Reds’ top target as they prepare for the loss of their legendary manager this summer.

That status owes much to the fact that the Spaniard has worked wonders at Bayer Leverkusen since taking over in October 2022 following three years in charge of Real Sociedad B.

The German club are unbeaten in 33 games in all competitions this season, a German record, and it is a run that has seen them take a commanding lead in the Bundesliga title race and reach the latter stages of both the DFB-Pokal and Europa League.

However, Benitez is wary that too much might be expected of his former charge too soon as a result of social media coverage of his early managerial successes.

“He’s a big name, good professional, good lad, clever, doing really well so I understand why,” he told The Guardian.

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

“[But] imagine Steven Gerrard was around and doing well. Then it would be: ‘Gerrard!’ With social media everything is going too fast so that people don’t see the big picture.”

Alonso was one of Benitez’s first signings as Liverpool boss, and went on to play a key role in the Champions League and FA Cup successes that followed his appointment.

According to the 63-year-old, that owed much to a knack for quickly digesting tactical information.

He added: “Everybody had doubts. Could he play in England? Not strong enough in the upper body, not quick. There were question marks.

“We knew he had the talent but there are a lot of players who have talent, who cannot cope with the physicality and pace.

“He was clever and analysed. When you explain things to some players, you have to repeat. Xabi was one who learned quickly.”

According to Benitez, Alonso’s brilliance was best underlined by his performance in a goalless draw at Juventus that helped propel Liverpool to European glory in his debut season.

He continued: “They had Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alessandro Del Piero up front with Pavel Nedved between the lines. We had to play with three centre-backs.

“I changed to play 5-3-1-1, with Milan Baros up front, Igor Biscan and Antonio Nunez [in midfield] with Xabi in the middle.

“I told Xabi: ‘Stay in the middle! Don’t move!’ Because he couldn’t run. ‘Nunez will run! Warnock will run! You stay there! Be sure you protect the centre-backs from Nedved.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, April 7,2008: Liverpool's Xabi Alonso and manager Rafael Benitez during a press conference at Anfield ahead of the UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final 2nd Leg. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

“Tactically we did everything really well but the [key] thing was to recover Xabi quickly (from injury) to make sure he could play as holding midfielder.”

Jurgen Klopp himself recently praised Alonso as “the standout” of a new generation of managers, with the Spaniard’s style at Leverkusen described as “absolutely exceptional.”