There were 18 minutes on the clock in FC Schalke 04‘s Veltins Arena when a free-kick was awarded to FC Bayern. They were the first 18 minutes Xabi Alonso had ever played in a Bayern shirt. There was, however, absolutely no question as to who was going to take the free-kick. Elegantly, Alonso dinked the ball into the Schalke box to begin yet another Bayern attack.
Authority of a winner
As a FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championship winner, Alonso’s authority on the field in considerable; it marks him out as a leader. His experience with Liverpool FC in the Premier League as well as Real Sociedad de Fútbol and Real Madrid CF in La Liga makes him the ideal man to set Bayern’s tempo in the middle of the park.
In the 1-1 draw with Schalke, Alonso was involved from the very first minute. He ran the game, barking commands, giving and receiving the ball with his own brand of nonchalance - playing the same way even when under pressure. His passes would find their man; even from 50 metres away, the ball would land perfectly with the receiver. His statistics prove quite how impressive Alonso was: he boasted a 91 per cent pass completion rate. Furthermore, until his substitution in the 68th minute, he had touched the ball more than any other player (84 times) and run the furthest (nine kilometres).
More varied with Alonso
The 32-year-old marries his long and short passing abilities with strength in the tackle, game know-how and a high level of tactical awareness. His anticipation is something to behold, and was on show time and again against Schalke. There was one occasion when Sidney Sam was breaking on the right and looking to find Max Meyer inside in a shooting position. In between the two, however, stood Xabi Alonso, plucking the ball out of the air to initiate another Bayern attack.
It is this mixture of qualities, both defensive and offensive, which makes Alonso so valuable to Pep Guardiola’s Bayern side. He provides the security to allow them to be more flexible and varied.
Against Schalke, the Basque played at the base of the midfield alongside Sebastian Rode and in front of the back four. However, as is customary for a Guardiola side, when Bayern were in possession, he dropped back between the two centre-backs, dictating the play from a deeper position and allowing the full-backs to push higher into midfield.
Alonso avoided the pitfalls so common to players at a new club. He read his team-mates’ movements with a certain assuredness and became, over the course of his 68 minutes, a key reference point. There were no adaption problems on the field, and although Alonso suffered a foot injury which makes him a doubt for with VfB Stuttgart, the time away offers the chance to master what might prove to be his toughest challenge in Bavaria's capital: learning German.
Dietmar Nolte/Daniel Thacker
Check out one of Xabi Alonso's first media calls with FC Bayern - even in Lederhosen he didn't look out of his comfort zone! There's more where this came from on the official Bundesliga YouTube channel: