Xabi Alonso was undoubtedly one of the bright spots in Manuel Pellegrini’s ultimately ill-fated reign as head coach of Real Madrid, and having successfully established himself as the lynchpin midfielder at the Bernabeu, the classy central man further cemented his reputation as one of the world leaders in his role by providing similarly excellent service to Jose Mourinho.
Coming into the campaign off the back of starting every game in Spain’s successful World Cup 2010 push, fatigue might have been an issue for a lesser player, but the 29-year-old showed remarkable fitness in being able to compete in 52 competitive club encounters – a tally greater than in any other season during his professional career.
Having chiselled out a role as the ‘quarterback’ of the Madrid set-up under Pellegrini, it was little surprise that the Basque-born player would maintain that position under Mourinho, who valued his all-round play immensely.
|"In a recent poll conducted by Marca, Alonso was favoured by 75 per cent of Real Madrid fans to be the successor to Iker Casillas as club captain."
Alongside Sami Khedira in the heart of the side, Alonso would be the key figure in helping the Bernabeu club to dominate the vast majority of games in which they played, living up to his moniker of 'El Pulmon' – ‘The Lung’ – by continually breathing life into the side.
|MOMENT OF THE SEASON
| COPA DEL REY FINAL:
REAL MADRID 1-0 BARCELONA
|Providing a solid platform for his side, Alonso claimed his first senior silverware in Spain by helping Madrid get the better of their fiercest rivals.
Prior to season 2009-10, Madrid were often criticised for lacking cohesion between their defence and attack. Alonso’s arrival from Liverpool has undoubtedly provided that, and though he was not as noticeable as an offensive force last term, he quietly provided a vital link from back to front.
From his position sitting in front of the back four, it is the passing range and vision of the former Real Sociedad man that often catches the eye. His distribution is accurate, varied and intelligent, and this helped him to directly create six goals in the league last season.
In the past, Alonso’s scoring ability from his deep role has been praised, though over the course of the last term, he managed only one strike – a largely meaningless late effort in a 5-1 Copa del Rey victory over Murcia.
This is testament to the greater discipline that Mourinho has installed in his side, restricting his central midfielder’s wanderings to some extent. Not that Alonso has allowed this change in mindset to affect his game, for he is equally adept in a more defensive mentality, breaking up play consistently with well-judged challenges.
That the former Liverpool man was sent off against Ajax – his only red of the campaign - was not due to a deficit in tackling technique, but a clever plot that allowed him to sit out a meaningless Champions League encounter against Auxerre, rather than risk suspension in the knockout stages. Along with Sergio Ramos, who was also dismissed for flagrant time wasting, Alonso would be called in front of Uefa, but would receive only the standard one-match ban.
Even this display of gamesmanship would not help Real Madrid to a 10th European crown, but under Mourinho, they would finally end their lengthy trophy drought by defeating Barcelona 1-0 after extra-time in the final of the Copa del Rey, allowing Alonso to pick up his first ever senior domestic title in Spain. Inevitably, he performed an important role in the final, playing the entire match and doing a fine job of stifling the Catalans’ famous midfield.
|"His distribution is accurate, varied and intelligent, and this helped him to directly create six goals in the league last season."
The Copa proved only to be a battle won for Mourinho’s men; Barcelona, in winning the La Liga crown and another European title, would take the war. If Madrid are to end this dominance over the course of the next season, Alonso surely has a major role to play.