Alonso deserves more plaudits

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

The usual suspects are grabbing the headlines for Real Madrid so far this season. Cristiano Ronaldo, albeit for not-so-positive reasons, Jose Mourinho (when does he not?), Sergio Ramos for the rumours of a bust-up with his manager, and the new signings, as they do, in Luka Modric and Michael Essien. Mesut Ozil has been making a lot of column inches for his sluggish start to the campaign, while Kaka's 'will he or won't he play' story continues at pace after his hat-trick in the Santiago Bernabeu Trophy in midweek.

One player who doesn't attract the same attention is a man who's presence in the Madrid team is, in my opinion, as important as anyone else's. Xabi Alonso. The Spain international goes into Sunday night's La Liga clash against Deportivo at the Bernabeu as the only outfield player to have featured in every single minute of Madrid's competitive matches this season - all 756 of them. Iker Casillas is the only other player to have to same impressive statistics so far, something expected of a goalkeeper and captain.

For those who've been reading my articles on Madrid for a while, you'll know I'm a big Alonso fan. Some have agreed with my high praise for the former Liverpool man, some haven't. One man who certainly has agreed this season is Mourinho, who's yet to give the 30-year-old a minute's rest. All this despite Los Blancos struggling out of the blocks and new faces such as Modric and Essien, who can both play in Alonso's position, coming in to bolster Madrid's pack.

For me, he's one of the first names down on the team-sheet. He orchestrates Madrid's attacks, linking defence to attack, he controls the pace of the game, he can slow things down when things need slowing down. He does the 'dirty' things that others won't, battling for the loose balls and trying to win it back, yet at the same time can produce that defence-splitting pass that will put Ronaldo, Ozil, Angel di Maria, Karim Benzema or Gonzalo Higuain through for the goal.

Footballing qualities aside, his mental approach to the game is also one to admire, especially at a club such as Real Madrid. A cool head, yet someone you'd like alongside you in the trenches. An experienced campaigner, an intelligent footballer. Although he's not getting any younger and his legs won't get any faster, he has the speed of thought that's so important in today's game, with players playing longer than they ever have, mostly thanks to having that extra split-second of thought in a pass, or anticipating a tackle.

While Benzema and Ronaldo got the plaudits for scoring the goals in Monday night's 2-0 victory at Rayo Vallecano, Alonso produced an almost equally important piece of play when he was well-position on the line to stop an otherwise goal-bound shot with Madrid leading 1-0. Had that gone in to level the scores, who knows what would have happened to a Madrid side lacking last season's confidence and swagger. As it happened, Alonso's quick-thinking to get on the line stopped that happening and the rest is history.

Alongside Casillas and Ronaldo he's likely to be one of the first names down on Mourinho's team-sheet for Sunday's visit of Depor to the Spanish capital. He's likely to play another 90 minutes, too, to continue his ever-present start to the campaign (I hope I haven't put the kiss of death on that start right there).

But how long does the midfielder have left at the Bernabeu? Two years remain on his contract but reports over the summer suggested Madrid may look to cash-in on Alonso while they still can at the end of this season. Los Blancos are understood to be keen on offering him a two-year extension on his current deal but the Spaniard, according to reports, is set to turn that offer down. A return to the English Premier League with former club Liverpool has been suggested. Madrid aren't exactly going to break the bank to keep a player at the club until he's 34, but they should do their best to retain a player who's been superb since his arrival.

In the meantime, Madridistas can expect the Basque-born player to continue his key role in Mourinho's side on Sunday, and for the remainder of this season as Los Blancos look to narrow, and ultimately surpass, the eight-point lead accrued by Barcelona already in La Liga.

Follow me on Twitter @nicholasrigg

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