In the space of seven days Real Madrid have lost two key members of the side that won the Champions League just three months ago on that glorious evening in Lisbon.
Angel di Maria, man of the match against Atletico de Madrid in the final, completed a 75-million-euro move to Manchester United. That departure upset many Madridistas, who felt that despite the arrival of the World Cup’s top-scorer James Rodriguez, Los Blancos would be losing some spark and creativity in midfield. Furthermore, as well as his trickery and ability to get past defenders, di Maria is also a grafter and put in a shift in midfield every time he played for Real.
That news earlier this week was followed by confirmation of Xabi Alonso’s surprising switch to Bayern Munich on Friday. The 32-year-old signed a two-year deal with Pep Guardiola’s side after the Bavarian outfit agreed to pay Madrid 10 million euros.
While he’s certainly in the twilight of his career, I’m of the opinion that Alonso’s departure will hurt Madrid more than di Maria’s, and has automatically strengthened one of their main rivals for the Champions League trophy.
Alonso offered so much on and off the field, and while Toni Kroos is a wonderful player, he’s not the same and Madrid could pay the price for the loss of the defensive stability Alonso offered.
The former Real Sociedad and Liverpool man remains one of the most accomplished holding midfielders in world football. His positional awareness and work in the middle of the park allowed players such as Luka Modric and Angel di Maria to push forward and help out in attack last season.
Carlo Ancelotti was well aware of Alonso’s importance in the team in his first season in charge at the Bernabeu. The midfielder missed the early part of the season with a groin injury, and Madrid looked vulnerable in defence, while tactically, Ancelotti didn’t know his best formation. As soon as the Basque midfielder returned in November, Ancelotti made the switch to 4-3-3 and the rest is history, as Los Blancos went on to win the Copa del Rey and European Cup.
Not only will Alonso’s defensive duties be missed, so too will his passing. While the spotlight often falls on the more glamorous players such as Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, in four out of his five seasons at the club, Alonso completed more passes than any other Real Madrid player – says stats expert OptaJose on Twitter.
On top of that, Alonso was a leader, and indeed one of the most experienced outfield players at the club. While Sergio Ramos and Pepe are also leaders on the field, they are prone to losing their heads at times. Whatever the situation, when others would fall apart around him, Alonso was always a calming figure on the pitch, encouraging his team mates to play their natural game.
I can’t help feel that Florentino Perez has a lot to answer for the two major departures this summer. The club president always feels the need to sign a global superstar every summer. While the arrivals of Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez will undoubtedly strengthen the squad and offer something new, sometimes there is no harm in keeping already established players onside. Alonso and di Maria had both earned the respect and affection of the their team mates and fans alike, but perhaps they felt their importance in the side was not recognised by Perez, who signed two superstars to ultimately replace them in the team.
I just hope Madrid don’t live to regret the sale should they be matched up with Bayern in the latter stages of the Champions League this season.