With the news today that Xabi Alonso admitted he decided he was going to leave Liverpool last summer, my first (not serious) thought was that Real Madrid should fake-try to sell him in January. Alonso put together the best campaign of his career last season, staying healthy and dominating the center circle. Maybe takes him getting mad and/or auditioning for other clubs in his mind to unlock his best performances.
My second (more serious) thought was that I wanted to look at the difference between having Alonso on the pitch and having Lucas Leiva on the pitch. Since last season was a dominant one for Alonso, that didn't seem a fair comparison. But what about a younger Alonso in a less memorable campaign against a similar opponent?
I promise I won't be turning this into The Chalkboard Blog, but dadgum that tool is fun to use. The top chart below shows the first 25 minutes of passing activity from Xabi Alonso against Aston Villa at home from the 06-07 season. The bottom chart shows the first 45 minutes of passing activity from Lucas Leiva at home against Aston Villa this year.
First of all, anyone who isn't counting impaired can see that Alonso had a much more dramatic impact on the game in 25 minutes than Leiva did in 45. Xabi controlled the center circle while generating significantly more passing traffic. Even more damning for Lucas, notice the lateral passing from the current midfielder compared to the successful bombing of the ball to the wings from Alonso. When people talk about Xabi's deadly long-range accuracy and key to the counter-attack, this is to what they're referring. In 25 minutes, Alonso lobbed 5 long-range balls from the center circle far upfield and wide to the wings, and every single one hit their target. In 45 minutes, Leiva basically kicked the ball sideways or backwards to Mascherano.
Looks like my first thought about him needing to be angry was wrong. Even 3 years ago, Alonso was dominant from midfield with passing acumen that isn't easily replaced. Keep him happy, Real; you won't find many like Xabi.