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Chelsea to move for Xabi Alonso?

With all the names being bandied about in connection to Chelsea it can be difficult to know what to focus on, but among the links, the name of Xabi Alonso stands out for various reasons. For a start, unlike Edin Dzeko, or Wesley Sneijder or worst of all Hulk, this actually makes sense. A lot of sense. Secondly, unlike those names, this one would be a true test of the pull of Jose Mourinho and of whether or not he burned his bridges in Madrid. If he can persuade Xabi Alonso to follow him it will put much of that to rest. Lastly, and most importantly, Alonso only has one year left on his contract and doesn’t seem likely to sign a new one. Madrid may be willing to sell him now and focus on going after the likes of Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez with the money.

Chelsea could have great success with Xabi Alonso in their midfield because they already have the personnel the like of which he has had success with before. At Real he plays alongside Sami Khedira, a box-to-box player known for his relentless energy and ability to nab a goal. Chelsea have Ramires and Frank Lampard who can do that. With Spain he plays behind Iniesta and Silva, little technicians that he can supply intricate passes to. Chelsea have the three amigos. At Liverpool he was able to supply a rapid and constantly moving Fernando Torres with endless supply. Chelsea seem likely to sign Edinson Cavani. And do also have a now broken version of Fernando Torres just in case.

Xabi Alonso

The Chelsea midfield lacks a little for tactical intelligence and sensible positioning. Ramires can be a little reckless, like an untamed colt desperate to show what he can do. Jon Obi Mikel is pedestrian and prone to defensive error and Lampard is much more dangerous on the front foot. Alonso has won the World Cup, two European Champions, the Champions League and La Liga, so knows how to organise a team. He also possesses a passing range that none of Chelsea’s options do and is always open to receive the ball.

At times last year Chelsea got a bit frenetic, lacking a calming presence in the midfield. Whilst Ramires and David Luiz were buccaneering options and Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar needed the ball supplied to them quickly and often, this left them liable to getting split open. Alonso can bring the calm and control and make himself available to receive an easy pass and change tempo.

Mourinho has had success with Alonso in that role at Real Madrid and has usually liked a player of his type. At Porto he had Costinha, at Chelsea he had Claude Makelele, at Inter he had Esteban Cambiasso. Chelsea don’t have one at the moment so a move for Alonso could be ideal. Real would probably hold out for £10-12m and although he is 31 and only has a year on his contract it’s an acceptable amount.

The final advantage with signing Alonso is the effect it could have on Nathaniel Chalobah. The 18 year old was a star on loan at Watford last season and has a lot of Alonso about him. If Alonso is signed, he will be coming for a three year stint as the starter, during which time Chalobah can be readied to take over from him and learn from him.

Signing Alonso would give Chelsea exactly what they need right now and help them plan for the future.

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Real Madrid vs Bayern Munich: Six tactical factors that could decide the Champions League tie

Perennial European heavyweights Real Madrid and Bayern Munich have been coupled together in the semifinals of the Champions League, in what should be a captivating and close tie.

The first leg will be played at the Allianz Arena on 17 April, with the deciding fixture in Spain a week later on 25 April. With world-class players on both sides, here are six tactical situations that could well decide which team progresses to the final.

Can Real Madrid Be exposed in wide areas?

One of the areas that Bayern will look to get joy from, especially in the first leg at home, will be out wide. In former Santiago Bernabeu wideman Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, Jupp Heynckes’ side have two of the most potent wingers in the game, who play a major part in orchestrating the Bavarian outfit’s attack.

With attacking-minded full-backs such as Marcelo and Fabio Coentrao in Los Blancos’ side, and Philipp Lahm looking to get forward for the German team, Bayern may well find joy down the flanks. Although Madrid will most likely play two holding central midfielders in front of their defence in the away leg, out wide the likes of Angel Di Maria will be reluctant to track back—Bayern can use this to their advantage.

The predatory instinct of Mario Gomez

In Mario Gomez, Bayern have one of Europe’s form strikers, whose predatory instinct, finishing and movement off the ball is pivotal for club and country. The Bundesliga’s current top scorer showed his calibre in front of goal in the last round, hitting the back of the net four times against a hapless Basel side in the quarterfinals.

Jose Mourinho’s team selection at centre half will be interesting given that Gomez will need to be paid close attention. With Sergio Ramos currently on the sidelines through injury, the Portuguese trainer will pray that the Spain international returns in time to go head-to-head with Bayern’s main forward. If not, the less-assured Raul Albiol, hotheaded Pepe and ageing Ricardo Carvalho may well have their hands full.

Sami Khedira vs Thomas Muller

Real Madrid have recently looked to the Bundesliga for new signings, with Nuri Sahin, Mesut Ozil, Hamit Altintop and Sami Khedira all moving from Germany to the Spanish capital. Khedira may well have an important role to play in limiting the impact of Bayern playmaker, and international colleague, Thomas Muller.

At times petulant and inconsistent, Muller has the ability to be anonymous or a match-winner; at his best the attacking midfielder’s supply to hitman Gomez is a key feature of Die Roten’s play going forward. Muller will look to play in the hole between Madrid’s defence and midfield, and as such Khedira looks like the most likely option to shackle the talented playmaker.

The goalscoring threat of Cristiano Ronaldo

Despite it being widely acknowledged that Lionel Messi is the world’s best player, Cristiano Ronaldo has inspired Madrid to the top of La Liga and is having a record-breaking season. The Portugal international has matured from a tricky winger at Manchester United to a powerful and at times almost unplayable attacker in his time in Spain.

Ronaldo’s threat is two-fold. Given a free reign to wreak havoc by the Spanish giants, CR7’s mobility, constant movement and lethal eye for goal make him a devastating attacker, and a major goal threat.

To be shackled or even partially stopped, Bayern will have to instruct the likes of Anatoliy Tymoschuk and Luiz Gustavo to be very disciplined in their positioning, and combative in their tackling. However, over-exerting resources to stop the world’s second-best player may well leave room for the likes of Di Maria, Ozil and Kaka to dominate possession.

The creativity of Mesut Ozil

An unsung hero in a star-studded Madrid attack, Mesut Ozil will be an all-too-familiar face for the German side. Where the likes of Ronaldo pose a direct threat through pace and power, Ozil’s main strength is passing and precision.

The playmaker is the fulcrum of Madrid’s possession play, and arguably has the most ability to supply the likes of Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain, and create goalscoring opportunities.

With the Germany international’s guile, ability to slip a marker and superb eye for a pass, Bayern’s aforementioned defensive midfielders will need to get through a lot of work if the Allianz Arena outfit are to stand a chance.

Bastian Schweinsteiger vs Xabi Alonso

Two of the most accomplished midfielders in the European game, the battle between Xabi Alonso and Bastian Schweinsteiger will be key in the outcome of the two-legged tie. Although not always in direct competition due to Alonso’s deep-lying position, the pair are the heartbeat of their respective midfields and teams.

Alonso has the passing ability and regimented positional sense to allow those more gifted teammates in attack to prosper, whilst Schweinsteiger’s energy and influence on Bayern’s other players makes him a vastly important man for the Germans. With the pair potentially locking heads for their countries at Euro 2012 in June, these influential midfielders will be key men in deciding this tie over 180 minutes.

Published – Bleacher Report

Five strikers ready to light up Euro 2012

Interest and excitement is starting to build around Euro 2012, with the international tournament less than six months away. All the usual suspects will travel to Poland and Ukraine, with holders Spain sure to be tested by Germany, Netherlands and maybe even England, amongst others. The following five attackers have their nation’s hopes resting on their shoulders, and will battle it out for the competition’s golden boot.

Robin van Persie – Netherlands

Premier League defences will testify to the quality and predatory nature of Arsenal and Netherlands striker Robin van Persie, as The Gunners’ captain is ready to lead Bert van Marwijk’s attack in the summer. With 22 goals in the English top flight so far this campaign, Van Persie is without doubt one of the form forwards in world football. With the likes of Rafael van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder ready to supply him, expect Van Persie to continue his stellar club form on the international stage.

 

 

Mario Gomez – Germany

Mario Gomez has emerged as the spearhead for Bayern Munich’s improved showing this term, and is the Bundesliga’s top goalscorer with 17 goals so far. On the international stage Gomez scored six goals in Euro 2012 qualification, and will battle it out with veteran Lazio forward Miroslav Klose for the No 9 jersey. With a considerable contingent of Joachim Low’s squad originating from the Allianz Arena, Gomez’s bond with his club team-mates, in particular playmaker Thomas Muller, could see Germany as a real contender in the summer.

 

Roberto Soldado – Spain

Spain’s attacking options are frightening, and the holders will again be the team to beat in eastern Europe this time around. Although their midfield of Xabi Alonso, Xavi and Andres Iniesta is set, Vicente Del Bosque has options up front, with no clear cut starting No 9. With Fernando Torres struggling for form and David Villa recovering from a leg break, the stage is set for Roberto Soldado to become the World champions’ main man. The Valencia forward has consistently been a threat in La Liga and the Champions League over recent seasons, and the top Spanish goalscorer in the Primera Division this season so far could well be a massive success if given his chance.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo – Portugal

Cristiano Ronaldo has been accused of not recreating his form for Real Madrid on the international stage, but the sprightly attacker will want to prove his critics wrong this summer. Last season’s Pichichi winner, Ronaldo has continued this term where he left off, and has already netted 24 times in 21 Primera Division games this campaign. At times a one-man band for club and country, Ronaldo will have to be at his best if Portugal are to progress through a difficult Group B, which also contains Germany, Netherlands and Denmark.

 

 

 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Sweden

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s record at club level is a copybook of success, as the striker has achieved glory and won league titles at Ajax, Juventus, Inter, Barcelona and AC Milan. At 30-years-old, Zlatan will look to lead his nation to a strong Euro 2012 campaign and build on his 28 international goals. Temperamental, at times selfish but undoubtedly one of the most prolific strikers in world football, Ibrahimovic could well be the Scandinavian country’s hero or villain.

 

Published – Footbo

The draw of home: Why Chelsea could face losing Oriol Romeu

With Spanish football on an all-time high, there is no wonder that Premier League clubs are eager to bring players from La Liga to England.

With Pepe Reina’s current and Xabi Alonso’s past importance to Liverpool, Juan Mata’s immediate impact at Chelsea, Cesc Fabregas’ legendary status in North London and David Silva leading Manchester City’s title charge, the English top flight has been blessed with incredible talent from Spain in recent times.

However, seemingly more than any other nation, Spanish players yearn for home and have left English teams at the peak of their individual abilities.

An emerging talent at Stamford Bridge is quickly proving his worth and may well one day be added to the impressive list of world-beating Spanish players that have graced British shores.

Oriol Romeu joined Chelsea from Barcelona last summer, and despite only making one solitary substitute appearance for the Catalan giants before departing, he has become a crucial member of Andre Villas Boas’ squad almost instantly. Jon Obi Mikel, Ramires and even Frank Lampard have seen their time on the pitch impacted this season by the Portuguese coach’s use of the youngster, and Romeu is already one of a host of players that Andre Villas Boas is building a new-look Chelsea team around.

Romeu has a great blend of the traditional Spanish qualities, and a battling nature that has suited the pace and aggression of the Premier League. Technically gifted with the ball at his feet, Romeu has an eye for a pass and calmness when in possession that is uniquely distilled through the ranks at La Masia. Add to this his ability to read the game, a keenness to put in a tackle and excellent positional play and Romeu is already at 20 years old an accomplished defensive midfielder.

However, just like in the case of Fabregas and Alonso, the draw of his homeland may hamper Chelsea’s long-term ambitions and plans for the Ulldecona-born man. Reports have emerged that Barcelona have a buy-back option integrated in Romeu’s contract, which can be implemented at the Camp Nou outfit’s request in the summer of 2012 or 2013.

With the abundance of midfield talent currently at Pep Guardiola’s disposal it is unlikely that the European champions will opt to bring Romeu ‘home’ this summer, but given another season of Premier League and European football and it may well be deemed that the starlet could be an asset in the Catalan senior squad.

With Xavi and Andres Iniesta currently at the peak of their powers, Sergio Busquets filling the defensive midfield slot, Fabregas being deployed as a second striker and Thiago Alcantara an impressive back-up, Guardiola’s options in the centre of the park are simply salivating.

However, given another 18 months, the two current dominant playmakers in Catalunya may well be starting to feel their age, and with Busquets gradually making the transition to central defence, Romeu could be summoned.

This would be a big blow for a team like Chelsea, who are not accustomed to losing key players; anyone who leaves Stamford Bridge is generally surplus to requirements. With Roman Abramovich’s billions, an ambitious young coach in place and an exciting team being built around the Spaniard, surely Romeu would be tempted to knock back Barcelona’s potential advances?

Not very likely. The draw of La Liga’s top sides is huge, not least to those who have witnessed their allure up close. The fact Romeu is a Barca youth product means he has been instilled with the mindset that playing for the Blaugrana is the Holy Grail since the age of 13, and Chelsea now have a problem.

One only has to look at the demise of Liverpool since the sale of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid to see the potential effect of losing a Spanish midfield general. Cesc Fabregas openly admitted to ‘feeling English’ during his time in North London and frequently spouted his love for the Emirates outfit.

He was part of a team unbeaten for an entire season in England, played in a Champions League final and had the adoration of one of the most respected coaches in world football, his fellow players and fans. Nevertheless, he could not resist the appeal of home.

An equally concerning thought that Chelsea will need to keep in mind revolves around Juan Mata, and like his countrymen, whether or not he would be able to resist either Barcelona or Real Madrid’s charms in a year or two’s time.

Mata is a Madrid youth player who again did not make the first team, and was later farmed out to Valencia. One feels there may be unfinished business at the Santiago Bernabeu for the attacker. Finally, even Sheik Mansour’s unlimited financial resources would probably not stop David Silva doing all in his power to forge a move away from Manchester City if one of Spain’s big two came knocking.

Spain’s World Cup-winning golden generation is currently the best crop of players in the game, with the country’s top two domestic teams the biggest clubs on the planet. For an English side to snag a leading Spanish player must be seen as a massive coup, however it should be advised that over-reliance on this superstar may end in tears; only time will tell in the case of Romeu.

PublishedFourFourTwo

El Clasico preview – Real Madrid vs Barcelona: The visitors’ champions status to be tested at the Santiago Bernabeu

The first El Clasico of the 2011-12 season sees Barcelona’s Spanish dominance over the last three seasons set to be thoroughly challenged by Real Madrid. The quality, passion and electric atmosphere of a contest between Spain’s top two teams will be present as always when the duo meet, but this fixture has the potential to swing the balance of power in the country and the continent. Barcelona have been untouchable, mesmerizing and victorious at home and abroad over the last three years, but are showing signs of inconsistency and have not been at their menacing best this term, whilst Madrid are top of the standings and ready to wrestle the crown back from their bitter rivals. A mouth-watering match in the offing, football doesn’t get much better anywhere in the world than this.

The hosts are looking as dangerous and on-form as a Madrid team have over the last ten years, and sit top of La Liga with 12 wins from 14 games; Los Blancos are three points ahead of Barca and have played a game less. A 3-0 win over Ajax at the Amsterdam Arena on Wednesday night made it a club record 15 victories in a row for the Santiago Bernabeu giants, and Jose Mourinho’s men go into the game more prepared, motivated and ready than in any Clasico fixture in the recent memory. The Portuguese coach’s winning mentality and inability to accept second best has rubbed off on his team, as ‘The Special One’ looks to replicate his dominant track record with Porto, Chelsea and Inter in the Spanish capital.

Mourinho’s countryman Cristiano Ronaldo will continue his personal battle with Lionel Messi on Saturday, as the debate to whom the best footballer on the planet is rages on. Both players are in the offing for the 2011 Ballon d’Or, and the ex-Manchester United attacker will look to stake his claim by leading the hosts to victory. Midfield lynchpin Xabi Alonso will return from suspension in a massive boost for the home team, whilst Mourinho has a tough decision to make in deciding whether to go for the combative Lassana Diarra alongside the Spain international, or the more creative and attacking minded Mesut Ozil. If Madrid win they will increase their lead at the top of the Primera Division to six points with a game in hand, and receive a massive boost going into the new year.

With three consecutive La Liga titles and two Champions League triumphs in three years, Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team will go down in history as one of the greats. However, Guardiola’s genius is set to best tested, as the game on Saturday is arguably the biggest challenge the former midfielder has faced in his coaching career to date. With a world-class opponent and a hostile reception guaranteed, Barcelona will need to be at their best to leave the Spanish capital with three points. With Madrid’s current ruthless streak, the Blaugrana will know that they can ill-afford to let their age-old rivals get too far ahead in the race for the title, as even though it is early in the season they may not be caught.

Despite drawing more games than they would like this season, Barcelona have the same personnel and winning mentality that has made them deserved champions over recent campaigns. Madrid will need to breach the tightest rearguard in the Spanish top flight; Barca have only conceded seven goals in 15 La Liga games this season, and will be boosted by the inclusion of pivotal centre back Gerard Pique. The usual midfield suspects such as Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and the third Ballon d’Or contender Xavi, will look to dominate possession and starve their amped-up opponents of the ball, whilst feeding their sprightly forward line. Guardiola has a decision to make in terms of whether to play 2010-11 mainstay David Villa or exciting summer signing Alexis Sanchez, whilst all eyes, as usual will be on Lionel Messi.

Madrid go into the game as slight favourites, but small margins will settle what should be a scintillating game of football. Barcelona will be asked to prove their mantle of champions in the most daunting environment, whilst Real Madrid have to state their case that they are ready to eclipse a team of a generation in the form of their most bitter rivals.

Publishedhttp://soccerlens.com/barcelona-real-madrid/62008/

Football’s Great Chokes

Football is a funny old game. One minute your team looks like they have a match or a league title in the bag, the next it can escape their grasp. The term ‘choke’ is synonymous in sporting circles with people or teams that are in a commanding position but suffer a meltdown mentally, losing their composure and consequently the match or competition. With the United States choke against Panama in the Gold Cup fresh in the memory, I have decided to look at some of the famous footballing chokes over the years.

AC Milan, Champions League Final 2005
The Champions League final is the biggest stage in world club football and AC Milan and Liverpool contested the 2005 final in Istanbul, Turkey. The game was a story of two choking sides, firstly Liverpool were the team to freeze up as they were overawed by the occasion and let in a soft goal in the first minute to veteran Italian defender Paolo Maldini. From there Rafa Benitez’s team conceded two more in the first half, with Kaka the architect and Argentine striker Hernan Crespo the executioner. Half time; Liverpool 0 Milan 3, it looked like it could get embarrassing for the English side. However choking can be infectious and the Rossoneri caught the bug in the second half, as Steven Gerrard inspired his side to fight back and the Italian side capitulated under the pressure of being 45 minutes away from European glory. Goals from Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso saw the match finish 3-3, go to penalties and it was Milan’s darling Andriy Shevchenko who eventually crumbled under the pressure and missed the decisive penalty, giving Liverpool the Champions League title.

Bayern Munich, Champions League Final 1999
Manchester United and Bayern Munich contested the 1999 Champions League final in the Nou Camp, Barcelona, in what would be a prime example of the footballing choke. In an end to end match the German side started the brighter, and deservedly took the lead through a Mario Basler effort after only six minutes. United attacked well but the German side had key chances to win the game by getting the decisive second goal; firstly Mehmet Scholl hit the post and then Carsten Jancker struck the crossbar with an overhead kick. With time almost up, Die Roten started to defend and retreat, looking to protect their precious goal advantage. Enter substitutes Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. In injury time Peter Schmeichel came forward to attack a United corner, and in a me-lay in the German box Sheringham managed to convert a poor clearance and give The Reds parity. However the best was yet to come as less than thirty seconds later Solskjaer toe poked home the winner following a Sheringham headed effort. Totally capitulation and a great football choke achieved by Ottmar Hitzfeld’s team in three minutes of injury time.

Tottenham, vs Manchester United, September 2001 and April 2009
Tottenham took on English Champions Manchester United at White Hart Lane on Saturday September 29th 2001, with much anticipation around the London club. In a barnstorming first half performance by the home side, goals from Dean Richards, Les Ferdinand and Christian Ziege gave Spurs a 3-0 lead at the break. North London was full of energy. This could be the start of something big for Glenn Hoddle’s men. Sir Alex Ferguson and United had other ideas as five second half goals from Andy Cole, Laurent Blanc, Ruud van Nistlerooy, Juan Sebastian Veron and David Beckham broke Spurs hearts and the game ended 5-3.

Almost eight years later and Harry Redknapp took his talented Tottenham side to Old Trafford to lock horns with The Reds, and in an attacking performance in the first half the London club found themselves 2-0 up at half time with goals from Darren Bent and Luka Modric. Redknapp will have urged his team not to solely sit back and defend, to have belief in themselves and to go and win the game in his half time teamtalk, but instead his team choked and again conceded five second half goals to Cristiano Ronaldo (2), Wayne Rooney (2) and ex-striker Dimitar Berbatov, with the game finishing 5-2 to United.

Chelsea, vs Arsenal, October 1999
Fourth placed Chelsea hosted second placed Arsenal at Stamford Bridge in a highly charged match on 23rd October 1999, with local bragging rights and the Premiership title up for grabs. Arsene Wenger had started to mould the Gunners team into his own, an had signed Nigerian striker Nwankwo Kanu from Inter Milan in February 1999. In the match Chelsea took the lead through Norwegian striker Tore Andre Flo on 39 minutes and Dan Petrescu gave The Blues a 2-0 advantage on 51 minutes. The chant of “we want five” rang around The Bridge from a euphoric Chelsea support. In a wet and windy day, Kanu stepped up and got one back for Arsenal on 75 minutes, slotting home a miscued Marc Overmars shot, and the home side, and their fans, became slightly edgy. Kanu shocked the home faithful with seven minutes remaining as he drove home an Overmars cross, but the African striker still had more to come. In the last minute of the game, Kanu closed down a clearance and found himself close to the cornerflag, confronted by home keeper Ed de Goey, who had rushed out of his goal. The lanky striker avoided de Goey’s sliding tackle and converted from the tightest and most impossible angle to give the Gunners the match 3-2, with Chelsea in despair.
Real Madrid, 2003-2004 La Liga Season
In the 2003-04 La Liga season, Real Madrid had a star studded team full of world beaters, were champions from the previous season and followers at the Bernabeu had Ronaldo, Beckham, Figo, Roberto Carlos and Zidane to surely lead them to a second consecutive title. This looked very likely, as by the end of February Los Blancos were eight points ahead at the top of the standings and looking for the treble. However a four month choke by Carlos Quieroz’s side saw them lose the Copa del Rey final to Real Zaragoza, get kicked out of Europe at the hands of Monaco and lose their grip on the domestic title. A loss in El Classico and a 4-1 home defeat to Real Sociedad on the last day of the season saw Valenica lift the title, and the Galacticos finish fourth behind Barcelona and Deportivo La Coruna.

Newcastle United, 1995-96 Premier League Season
Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle side of 1995-96 were labelled ‘The Entertainers’, as the Toon amassed a quality side with the likes of Les Ferdinand and David Ginola in their ranks. Keegan’s men dispatched all in front of them and rushed into a 12 point lead at the top of the Premier League. The Geordies had finished second a couple of years earlier, but for the St James Park faithful this would be the season of glory. However Keegan’s men fell victim to a run of inconsistent form and perennial strong finishers Manchester United caught Newcastle up, and won the league from under their noses. Newcastle have fallen from grace since, and the choke of 1996 has significantly impacted upon the team’s fortunes.

The old cliches of ‘it’s not over til it’s over’ and ‘it’s a game of two halves’ spring to mind when reminiscing about some of the great footballing chokes, and it shows that a team must be mentally prepared as well as physically and tactically to succeed at the highest level.

Published – http://www.footballfancast.com/2011/06/football-blogs/footballs-great-chokers-part-one

The New Liverpool Hero Helping to Push the Club In the Right Direction

Liverpool’s much publicised demise from the top four has been partly accredited to Rafa Benitez’s decision to sell wantaway midfielder Xabi Alonso in the summer of 2009, a player The Reds have missed over the last couple of seasons, and who’s influence has yet to be replaced. However with the emergence of Raul Meireles this season, although the Portuguese midfield man is a different type of player to Alonso, Liverpool have a bit of extra drive, quality and bite in the centre of the park that will benefit their ambitions to make it back into Champions League qualification contention next season.

Xabi Alonso’s talents have been much praised both during his time at Anfield and since the realisation of his importance to Liverpool upon his departure, and this article does not need to go back over covered ground. Yes Alonso did much to facilitate Steven Gerrard with his precision passing and vision, which in turn allowed Fernando Torres to prosper, and Liverpool have lacked a good passer of the ball in defensive positions to supply their more attacking players since, with Lucas Leiva having Alonso’s boots to fill without success. However with the inclusion of Meireles in the Liverpool starting XI, their attacking style has somewhat changed.

The ex-Porto man offers a different threat to opponents than Alonso through his fearless attitude on the pitch and the box-to-box nature of his play. Meireles has adapted to the physical nature of English football well, and has a steel and combatitivness that has endeared him to the Kop, with the fans respecting and responding to the midfield man’s efforts and heart during ninety minutes. In buying foreign players there is always a risk that they will not match the physicality of their British opponents week to week, but Meireles has a good work ethic, is happy and eager to close his opposite number down and will put his foot into a tackle without being reckless. Add to this good positional play and a willingness to run from the first minute to the last; it is clear to see why Liverpool fans have taken him to their heart.

Meireles is not as good a passer of the ball as Xabi Alonso, few are. However the Portuguese has in part brought back the pass and move nature of the Liverpool midfield that dominated English football in boss Kenny Dalglish’s playing days, and Meireles is much more mobile than Alonso, winning possession, picking a pass (maybe not with the same vision as the Spaniard) and bursting forward looking for a return. This energy and enthusiasm is difficult to shackle if you are playing against it, and Meireles’s breaks forward will do much to create space for Steven Gerrard when he returns to fitness, and new strikers Suarez and Carroll will have better supply than Torres did pre-Meireles. With his willingness to get forward and box to box style of play, it is inevitable that Meireles will also contribute goals to the cause himself, and he has scored five goals in 25 league appearances this season, some of which have contributed to Liverpool’s revival under Dalglish.

With Dalglish now in charge and playing Meireles in the centre of the park rather than on the flank as Roy Hodgson did, the Portugal international is in prime position to take centre stage and be the lynchpin of a different attacking strategy for The Reds. He won’t bring back the 60 yard precision passes the Kop were used to when Xabi Alonso wore the red of Liverpool, but he will offer a never say die attitude and a short and dynamic passing game that opponents in the Premier League, and perhaps the Champions League in seasons to come, will struggle to live with.

Published – http://www.caughtoffside.com/2011/03/14/the-new-liverpool-hero-helping-to-push-the-club-in-the-right-direction/

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