Michael Baddeley looks at Xabi Alonso’s top five moments in a Liverpool shirt after the Spaniard announced his retirement.
“It was clear Alonso was royalty after our first training session together in August 2004 … He was, by some distance, the best central midfielder I ever played alongside.” – Steven Gerrard.
This week was a sad one for football fans around the world. A Liverpool legend and footballing icon called time on his playing career, a career that lasted 18 years and was lined with many trophies, medals and personal achievements.
Xabi signed for the Reds back in the summer of 2004 for a fee of £10.7 million and under Rafael Benitez’ guidance he became the best deep-lying playmaker in the world, he was literally a human metronome.
Throughout his career, Alonso has won a World Cup, two European Championships, two Champions Leagues, an FA Cup, La Liga, two Copa del Reys, two Bundesliga’s and one DFB-Pokal Cup. Some collection, isn’t it?
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Anyway, I’m not here to look at his career moments, I’m here to look at his top five Liverpool moments, so let’s get started.
Completing the Istanbul comeback
UEFA Champions League final 2005, Istanbul, Liverpool vs. AC Milan. As you all know we were 3-0 down at half-time and fought back to 3-2 with goals from Gerrard and Smicer.
Carragher played it into Milan Baros, Baros laid the ball off to Stevie G with a gorgeous little back-heel who was pulled down by Gattuso, penalty to Liverpool.
Alonso stepped up and fired the ball to Dida’s right-hand side. The Brazilian got down quickly and saved it with a big right hand pushing it away from goal, but only into the path of the midfield maestro who fired the ball into the roof of the net, 3-3 and the rest is history.
The Spanish pass-master played an instrumental part in the comeback that night and as expected, he described it as “the best moment in [his] professional career.”
The game was everything that is special about the FA Cup. A Premier League giant going down to small-time Luton Town, it had all the makings of one of those great giant-killing moments, it nearly was one of those moments, but thankfully it wasn’t. However, it did go down in as one of the magical games in the tournaments history.
At one point in the game Luton were 3-1 up and looking like they were going to advance to the next round of the cup. Florent Sinama-Pongolle pulled one back before Xabi levelled it with a looping shot from 40-yards-out. But he wasn’t finished just yet.
Liverpool went ahead again and Luton started pushing for an equaliser, the hosts won a corner in the final moments which was cleared and landed at the feet of Alonso who cooly took the ball around the keeper before scoring from well inside his own half.
It won’t be up there with the illustrious moments of his career, but it was certainly a brilliant moment in his time on Merseyside.
Outdoing the Luton goal
Liverpool were 1-0 up against Newcastle and were fully in control of the game, the Magpies had two penalty claims correctly turned down and posed very little threat but the Red’s still couldn’t finish the game off. Up step Xabi Alonso with a magnificent piece of skill.
Newcastle picked the ball up in the middle of the park before Alonso stopped them in their tracks and won the ball back, he then had a little dance with the referee before putting the ball over Steve Harper from 70-yards out.
This was definitely a goal that put the one he scored against Luton to shame. It was a thing of beauty and will go down as one of the best ever goals to be scored at Anfield.
Ending Chelsea’s record
Going into the game at Stamford Bridge back in October 2008, every Liverpool fan would have been happy with taking one point away from the game. Chelsea were on an 86-game unbeaten run at home, a run which stretched all the way back to the start of 2004. It was a brilliant feat and the Reds were given no chance by the media.
Ten minutes into the game, Alonso hit a shot towards goal which was deflected past Petr Cech and into the back of the net. The Merseysiders spent most of the game on the back foot but were able to hold on to the win and end the Stamford Bridge curse that so many had succumbed to.
The best midfield in the world
I could have chosen that extraordinary masterclass at Juventus in the Champions League quarter-final, but I’ve gone with something different. I’ve gone for something that was a team effort in which Alonso played his part in.
As the song goes, “We’ve got the best midfield in the world, we’ve got Xabi Alonso, Momo Sissoko, Gerrard and Mascherano.”
At the time it really was one of the best midfields in the world. In-fact, I’d even say it was one of the best midfields Liverpool have ever seen and definitely the best of modern times.
Alonso had the vision and the passing ability of a god, Sissoko had energy and tenacity, Mascherano added tackling and aggression whilst Stevie added a little bit of everything including goals and leadership. How we didn’t win anything with that midfield I will never know, I suppose it will always be one of life’s greatest mysteries.
It was such a real shame that the four couldn’t be kept together for longer as we would have definitely won major silverware with them in the middle of the park.
In my opinion, selling and not replacing Alonso was the single thing that led to the demise of Liverpool. But let’s not get into that, let’s rejoice and admire a special player with a special career. Thanks for the memories Xabi, all the best in your retirement.