Alonso return a timely one for Madrid

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

The positives and negatives were shared out pretty evenly from Real Madrid´s thrilling 3-2 victory over neighbours Rayo Vallecano on Saturday night, but the return to action of Xabi Alonso will have been a delight for manager Carlo Ancelotti, who described his side´s second-half performance without the experienced middle man as a "disaster".

The 31-year-old made his first start for Los Blancos this season after suffering a double injury blow over the summer with a groin operation quickly followed by a metatarsal injury that kept him frustratingly sidelined for the opening weeks of the season. A substitute appearance in Madrid´s midweek goal-fest against Sevilla was timely and another 45 minutes against Rayo will get the Spanish international up to speed at just the right time for an unpredictable Madrid that´s been crying out for some leadership in the middle of the park.

-Ancelotti: Pressure is on Juventus
-Rzouki: Victory possible for Juve


It was little coincidence Madrid turned from a commanding force against a struggling Rayo side to one that scraped home with three points after Alonso´s departure at half-time. Los Blancos seemed to be cruising at the interval and added another through Ronaldo early in the second half, but the hosts soon took the game, and the midfield, by the scruff of the neck to almost cause the surprise of the weekend.

After an open first minutes at Vallecas, Alonso soon helped the visitors orchestrate the game, protecting the defence and propelling the attacks with his array of passing qualities. Long balls, short balls, square balls. Madrid were in control with the former Liverpool man steering the ship and seemingly in no danger of getting anything other than a comfortable three points against a side struggling second-from-bottom in La Liga.

Alonso needed to be there. Ancelotti, perhaps encouraged by his side´s mauling of Sevilla just days before and Rayo´s leaking defence, fielded an attacking lineup -- Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale, The Three Amigos. Angel di Maria also started in a middle three in which Luka Modric played the other side of Alonso. The Spanish international was the glue that held all that together, offering direction and calm to a Madrid side that had been pretty crazy, if entertaining, in their preceding matches.

An 88 percent pass rate, but with the vast majority going forward. Pushing and penetrating, not sitting back and acting solely to maintain possession. Crucial pass interceptions and passages of winning the ball back for his side, one of which kick-started Madrid´s second goal, when he set Bale away down the right and he produced the cross for Benzema to head home. Alonso was back.

It would be harsh to lay the blame solely at the feet of the man who replaced Alonso after the break -- Asier Illarramendi. With Madrid´s attacking lineup, it was always going to be difficult for an inexperienced player, albeit a hugely talented one, to control a more experienced and adventurous Madrid side around him.

Madrid got their third goal with him on the pitch, too, but Madrid´s Alonso-less midfield failed to put pressure on a Rayo side that was simply not going to lie down on home soil.

“Rayo pressurize high up the pitch, that’s what they are good at," Ancelotti said. "We suffered in the second half but not in the first half. We should be able to read the game better and hit our opponents on the break. The second half was disastrous”. Reading the game was key, and there are few better than Alonso.

Madrid hung on and they will be buoyed by the return of a player who will almost be like a new signing. Los Blancos travel to Turin to face Juventus in the Champions League Tuesday and a fit Alonso will be a big bonus. It´ll take time for a return to full fitness after missing so much in pre-season and the start of this campaign but a Madrid side with Alonso in its starting eleven is much stronger than without, especially against a tactically impressive Juventus side to which Ancelotti will need no introduction.

Juventus will need little introduction to Alonso, either, given reports linked the Italian giants with a move for the midfielder when his contract is up at the end of the season.

Not only will Alonso´s return add quality, experience and calmness to Los Blancos, but it should also add some consistency to a midfield that Ancelotti has struggled to find the best formula for, and stick with, during the opening weeks and months of his reign as Madrid boss. The only benefits of his early-season absence should mean end-of-season burnout should not be a problem -- another bonus, injury-permitting. Alonso´s desire to earn a new contract, either at the Bernabeu or elsewhere, is not a bad thing, either.

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