30 July 2009

50% of my posts this month have been about Alonso

Xabi Alonso hands in transfer request

I’d hoped Alonso was classier than this. But a transfer request doesn’t change anything. Pay Liverpool’s valuation or Alonso stays. A transfer request doesn’t make him cheaper.

But yeah, you stay classy, Xabi Alonso. Way to wait until there are 16 days left before the season starts to shiv Benitez in the back.

I would imagine there will be more to say on this in the near future. Sigh.

Update (9:42pm): So I may have jumped the gun. In my defense, I usually take the Echo at gospel, but that's because of Tony Barrett's impeccable record, and he's gone now. And this is what the Times recently posted (Barrett's new gig, but he didn't write this):
The saga had descended into farce earlier in the day when Alonso became embroiled in a game of claim and counterclaim. Sources at Liverpool said that Alonso submitted a transfer request on Wednesday evening in an effort to hasten a move to Real, but the suggestions were dismissed by Alonso's representatives, who insisted that the player had taken no such action.
This is why I've been hesitant to post about transfer gossip in previous summers. I can't imagine what I would have been like if I was writing during the Gerrard to Chelsea fiasco. I haven't been able to restrain myself in regards to this saga - which probably shows how important I think Alonso is. But, obviously, not at the expense of the team as a whole.

Man, I can't wait for the season to start.

29 July 2009

On Alvaro Arbeloa

Unfortunately, it’s not surprising, although the fee is lower than expected. Still, even in the last year of his contract, it’s £1m more than Benitez paid for him. Silver linings, and all.

But when Kolo Toure’s moving for £15m at the same time as it looks like Dossena’s going back to Italy for £4-6m, it feels a bit like the Rick Parry bad old days of Liverpool getting screwed on transfer fees. And couple that with the Alonso news of the last week – first, the fee was £35m, then £30m, and now, in the above Arbeloa article, the Echo suggests Liverpool will take £28m. Fuck.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m still hoping beyond hope Alonso will be in Liverpool red in a couple of weeks. On the other hand, Arbeloa is assuredly leaving, and his service over the last two and a half seasons doesn't deserve to be overshadowed by lingering malignant gossip.

I’m going to miss his goal celebrations the most. They never failed to amuse me, and were insight into one of the more likeable characters on a very likeable team.

Liverpool’s going to miss the reliable defender who replaced an aging Steve Finnan without missing a beat. The best thing about Finnan was his consistency, and Arbeloa was consistently better. At £2.5m, he’s one of the best pieces of business Benitez did. He went from the Real Madrid cantera to Deportivo to Liverpool as an unheralded right back, and is now a ubiquitous member of the Spanish national team.

98 games, two goals, and what I’m assuming is somewhere around five assists (if you can find a reliable tally, let me know). If my count’s correct, 42 of those 98 appearances ended with a clean sheet.

But I can’t quantify Arbeloa’s attributes with stats. He was a dependable, hard-working defender who could play anywhere along the backline. He was a Benitez player to a tee. And yes, it feels weird using the past tense with Arbeloa, but he’s not a Liverpool player anymore. 'Dead to me' is a bit too harsh, but, well, there you go.

Even though he’s joining that mob, I can’t begrudge him the move or do anything but wish him all the best in the future. He wanted to return to Spain, to the club where he started, and he was out of contract in a year. Given Liverpool’s other options in defense, I’d wish he’d seen out this season – £3.5m is less important to me than squad depth, especially when I don't trust Degen any farther than I can throw him – but again, it’s understandable.

The writing was on the wall with the Johnson deal. Now, instead of fighting with Glen for a starting berth, he’ll be competing with Sergio Ramos.

Good luck, Alvaro.

26 July 2009

Liverpool 5-0 Singapore

First Half:
Degen Carragher San Jose Agger
Benayoun Mascherano Lucas Babel
Ngog Voronin

Gulasci for Cavalieri 46’
Riera for Babel 46’
Insua for San Jose 46’
Kuyt for Benayoun 61’
Torres for Voronin 61’
Plessis for Mascherano 61’
Pacheco for Lucas 61’
Nemeth for Ngog 61’
Spearing for Degen 61’
Kelly for Carragher 61’
Reina for Gulasci 78’
Alonso for Agger 78’
Dossena for Riera 78’

Voronin 45+1’
Riera 54’
Nemeth 73’ 83’
Torres 80’

Bit different than the first three friendlies, eh? So much for struggling for goals.

Still, it seems to me that typical match report wouldn’t accomplish much. Preseason’s not about results; it’s about the tactics, fitness, and individual ideas. So I reckon a run-down of the good (the Dalglish), the bad (the Diao), and the confusing (the Diouf) would be more helpful. Unsurprisingly given the scoreline, there was a lot more Dalglish than either Diao or Diouf.

The Dalglish:
Goals, goals, goals: It got a bit out of hand there at the end. The first half line-up struggled to break through, with the play similar to the previous three matches. But Voronin opened the scoring on the stroke of halftime with a deflected shot from distance squirming under the keeper, and the second half was a completely different story, with Kuyt at the center of much of it. The second and third goals were especially gorgeous. First, Mascherano found Riera at the back post with a great cross, and the Spaniard chested down perfectly to blast past Sunny. 20 minutes later, Kuyt intercepted as only he can, stormed down the field, and laid it on a plate for Nemeth. Workrate and intelligence that sum up the Dutchman perfectly. The fourth and fifth were also made by Kuyt, teeing up Torres and then Nemeth. The fifth was especially heartening as it was easier to blast at goal, but Kuyt still found a way to create an assist.
Dirk Kuyt: The above paragraph highlights his contribution more than enough – unselfish, diligent, and with the capacity for excellence. I'd like to remind that only five players tallied more assists in the league last season. And he could have had six today. I couldn’t be happier with his establishment on the right.
The Defense: Absolutely stifling throughout, especially in the first half, and ably assisted by the central midfielders, especially Mascherano and Lucas early on. Singapore had next to no possession or chances.
Agger on the left: I think this is the first time the Dane’s played at left back. A recurring suggestion on various Internet forums, I don’t expect it to be a regular occurrence (because he’s far better at center back), but he didn’t look out of place either.
Other standouts: Benayoun kept up his torrid pace from the end of last season. Ngog increasingly grew into the game, and held the ball up quite well. Nemeth was in the right place at the right time twice, and demonstrated that fox-in-the-box instinct Liverpool’s lacked since Fowler (yes, and Owen to a lesser extent).
Alonso on the field: Don't ever leave us.

The Diao:
Set plays: Consistently awful throughout. The few free kicks went nowhere, and corners were utterly pants no matter who (Lucas, Voronin, Babel, Pacheco) took them.
The Usual Scapegoats: I will try not to kill Degen every time he steps on the field, especially in preseason, but I haven’t been impressed by a single thing he’s done in a Liverpool shirt. Not one moment. Voronin overplayed pretty much everything, but still chipped in with a goal. And Plessis muffed a couple of tackles, although he spent most of the second half in an unusual position (central defense), so he’s got an excuse.
Overcomplicated giveaways in final third: Voronin was the most frequent offender, which is par for the course when he plays, but every attacker was guilty at some point in the first half.

The Diouf:
Pacheco as a CM: I’m not saying he played badly. Not by any stretch. It was just surprising. He sat quite deep and tried to orchestrate play, even after Alonso came on (and with Spearing at right back). And as has happened when he's played further forward, he delivered a couple of great throughballs. I doubt he has the strength to play there in the league, but it was interesting to see.
The 4-4-2: We know 4-2-3-1 is Benitez’s preferred formation. So I’m often perplexed when 4-4-2 is the primary formation during preseason, no matter the players on the field. Happened last year, and the year before that. There has to be a reason for it, but I haven’t figured it out yet.

The next friendly is against Espanyol next Sunday. I don’t know if it’s on TV in the US yet.

22 July 2009

Liverpool 1-1 Thailand

First Half:
Degen Carragher Agger Insua
Kuyt Lucas Plessis Babel
Ngog Nemeth

Second Half:
Kelly Skrtel San Jose Johnson
El Zhar Mascherano Spearing Babel
Pacheco Voronin

Other Subs:
Dossena for Skrtel 55’
Arbeloa for El Zhar 58’
Reina for Gulasci 79’
Riera for Babel 80’
Torres for Pacheco 81’

Babel 6’
Sutee 72’

My mantra for preseason football is usually ‘As long as the ideas are right, the execution doesn’t really matter.’ And the result really doesn’t matter. Fitness and form go a long way at the highest level, and both are often lacking after a month or two away from competitive matches. These games are for getting first team players in shape, getting young players time on the pitch, and making money. You can’t get carried away with good performances or awful ones.

Six minutes in, and Liverpool had scored their first goal of the preseason. Babel controlled a wonderful ball over the top from Carragher, similar to his pass to Torres for the goal of last season against Blackburn, and slotted home with his right after he held off one defender and Lucas dragged the other out of position with a smart run.

If you thought the early goal would lead to a high-scoring after, well, you’d forgotten it’s preseason. It was cagey, it was sloppy at times, and chances were few and far between. Babel was through again five minutes later, but was too close to the keeper to get a shot away seconds after the Thais were almost through only to be ruled offside (Cavalieri made the save anyway). The other memorable opportunity came in the 20th from a lovely Lucas diagonal that Babel could only volley wide of the near post.

Babel and Kuyt were involved in almost all of Liverpool’s attacking play throughout the first half, while Lucas and Plessis did well limiting Thai forays forward, with the home side's best chance coming from a free kick sent over the bar in the 37th. Nemeth often popped up and tried to run at defenders, but was frequently over-intricate. Still, it was nice to see him offer a different option.

Unsurprisingly, the second half saw wholesale changes, but Liverpool remained in the 4-4-2. Once again, Johnson was deployed at left back, even with Darby injured and Dossena back in the squad, but I wouldn’t read too much into it. I imagine Benitez is testing his limits, checking his versatility, and encouraging him to work on his weaker foot. Once the season starts, he'll be on the right more often than not.

And unsurprisingly, Liverpool got worse as the second half went on – probably a combination of the elements (oppressive heat then heavy rain) and the changes. And it wasn’t helped by knocks to Skrtel and El Zhar, which prompted more subs – Dossena ended up at left midfield with Babel on the right and Kelly moving into central defense.

Masch forced a save with a vicious shot in the 63rd and Babel headed over a minute later, but Sutee equalized in the 73rd after a lovely one-two through Kelly and San Jose, with Johnson unable to get back.

The rest of the Spanish contingent came on around the 80th, and Torres did more in 10 minutes than most did in 45. He almost broke through the backline multiple times, nearly set up Voronin twice, and wanted to run at every defender in his sightline. Encouraging to say the least.

I was most impressed by the most diligent workers: Kuyt, Carra, and Babel (who has a massive point to prove) in the first half, and Spearing and Torres in the second. Kuyt and Carra never give less than 100 percent, while Babel did many of the things we’d been hoping for – cutting in from the left, running at players, battling for balls, as well as scoring a great goal.

Liverpool may purchase an attacking player for the left, as I assumed earlier in the summer, but it’s looking less and less likely. As Babel got fewer chances as last season progressed, I expected he’d make way. But if he stays, and it seems as if he will, it’s going to be a very, very important season for him. And if he builds the positives from today’s game, he could make a major difference.

Before I criticize any player, I want to reiterate that it’s preseason, but I continue to be thoroughly unimpressed by Degen. Poor decision-making combined with a lack of effort at times won’t endear one to either the manager or the fans. Voronin’s decisions were often questionable as well, but here’s hoping that down to re-entering the rhythm of the club, because it looks like he’ll see time this season. In contrast to what I'm hoping for from Degen.

The knocks to Skrtel and El Zhar worry, but that’s pretty much the only concern. You can always hope for world-beating football, but it’s not likely at this stage. Most of the team looked decent and boosted their fitness levels, it didn’t look like the injuries were major, and a couple of players actually impressed. Young players like Nemeth, Pacheco, Kelly, Spearing, San Jose, and Gulasci all saw time. That’ll do.

The next friendly is against Singapore at 7am Sunday morning. It’ll also be on FSC.

20 July 2009

Fun with Infographics #2 (and an apology)

So I've been a bad Liverpool blogger lately. I didn't see either of the first two friendlies, and was out of town all weekend as well. But I should get to see Wednesday's friendly against the Thai national team, which is on FSC at 9am.

And since I'm way behind on the weekend's gossip (I'm pretty sure Alonso's still with the club), I've got another infographic to hopefully hold you over. I swear, we'll get back to other type of posts soon, but I do like this graphic, which is about when Liverpool scores goals (and what kind of goals), a lot.

I reckon the graphic makes it pretty clear when Liverpool's most potent. 35 goals in the last 15 minutes. More than double the goals that were scored in any other block of time. The most goals when already ahead, the most go-ahead goals, and the most equalizers.

And it's interesting that Liverpool didn't score any consolation goals in from the 76th to the 90th minute. There were only four "Still Behind"/consolation goals: two came against Spurs in the Carling Cup, and two came in matches where Liverpool was two down and came back (against Man City and Hull City - a win and a draw respectively).

What jumps off the page for me is the late goals. Not just those in the last 15 minutes, which was undoubtedly awesome (18 go-ahead goals and equalizers!), but also at the end of the first half, which was the second highest total. I don't want to call it "proof" of Benitez's fitness methods, but it's damned close. Liverpool's best play seems to come at the end of the season, and the most goals come at the end of the game. Well then.

To save you from counting all 106 circles, the goals break down like this:

Already Ahead: 40
Go-Ahead Goals: 43
Equalizers: 19
Still Behind: 4

15 July 2009

Fun with Infographics #1

This is the first of what should be a recurring feature. And I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t think of it earlier, especially since I’ve become more and more of a stats whore over the past year.

Okay, I’ll back up. Regular readers know I was in grad school over the past year. I got my masters’ in journalism (anyone hiring?), but I really ended up making the program about magazine and graphic design. I focused on magazines, but infographics were another favorite of mine. I like doing research. I am a geek. You should know this by now.

So, I’m going to intermittently torture you with infographics I create about Liverpool stats that pop into my head. Many of the stats will look familiar; chances are I’ve written about them before. But, hopefully the pretty pictures and colors will add another dimension. The first focuses on Torres. As if I’d start with any other.

Ideally, the graphic is self-explanatory. But just in case, the goals scored when Torres was on the field are in red, and the ones actually scored by Nando are in the lighter shade. The whole circle represents the total goals scored that season.

I have a couple other ideas in the can that I’ve started designing, but if anyone has anything they want to see, let me know. Some infographics will be more in-depth. Some might even be more one-dimensional. But hopefully they’ll all be interesting.

Click on the image for full-screen view. Enjoy.

13 July 2009

On Liverpool’s Central Midfield

It’s time for another installment of “Here are the results when certain players play and let’s hope it proves something.” This edition focuses on the central midfield, as one of the midfielders evidently has Benitez tied up in his basement and is demanding plane tickets to Madrid (I think it was in the Daily Mail).

I’m only including pairings that played more than one game together, and counting games from every competition except the Carling Cup, which doesn’t add anything (unless you care that Lucas/Plessis was 1-0-1). The formation was 4-2-3-1 unless otherwise noted. As always, the formations are how I saw them, so feel free to quibble.

Mascherano/Alonso: 14-5-2
3-1 Spurs, 3-0 Newcastle, 4-4 Arsenal [4-4-2, no Ste], 4-0 Blackburn [4-4-2, no Ste], 5-0 Villa, 4-0 Real, 0-2 Boro, 1-0 Real, 2-0 Chelsea, 1-1 Everton (FAC), 2-0 Preston, 2-2 Hull, 3-1 Blackburn [4-1-4-1 with Masch sitting deep], 1-0 Marseille, 2-0 Bolton, 1-1 Atletico, 1-2 Spurs, 1-0 Chelsea, 1-1 Atletico, 3-2 City, 2-1 United [4-4-2, no Ste]

Lucas/Masch: 6-4-0
2-0 West Brom, 3-0 West Ham, 4-1 United, 1-1 City, 1-1 Wigan, 0-0 Stoke, 5-1 Newcastle, 3-1 PSV [4-4-2], 0-0 Fulham [4-4-2], 2-1 Marseille

Gerrard/Alonso [4-4-2]: 7-3-0
2-0 Sunderland, 1-1 Everton, 3-0 Bolton, 0-0 West Ham, 3-2 Wigan, 3-1 PSV, 2-0 Everton, 0-0 Stoke, 1-0 Liege (aet), 2-1 Boro

Lucas/Alonso: 2-1-2
1-3 Chelsea, 1-0 Fulham, 0-1 Everton (aet), 1-1 Arsenal, 1-0 Pompey

Alonso/Lucas/Masch [4-1-4-1]: 1-2-0
3-1 Hull, 4-4 Chelsea, 0-0 Villa

Also as always, stats aren’t the end all, be all. I don’t think Liverpool’s best in a 4-4-2 with Gerrard and Alonso in the middle (evidenced by the fact the last time that pairing featured was February), and I don’t expect Liverpool to go back to the formation even if Alonso’s sold. But there are still a couple of noteworthy tidbits.

Alonso and Mascherano, unsurprisingly, played the most games, and mostly played in the 4-2-3-1. And started in what might have been Liverpool’s best performances (4-0 Real and 5-0 Villa, although there’s clearly a case for 4-1 United), as well as the worst (0-2 Boro). Liverpool didn’t have any stale 0-0 league draws when Alonso and Mascherano were paired, scoring in 20 of the 21 matches, but the 0-2 Boro loss, 1-2 Spurs loss, and 2-2 Hull draw were arguably just as damaging to the campaign.

If you’d asked me to guess the records before looking them up, I’d have been close to accurate on Alonso/Masch, but not so much for Lucas/Alonso or Lucas/Masch. I’d have assumed Lucas/Alonso was a lot better and Lucas/Masch had one or two other tame draws. The 1-3 Chelsea loss is the only match I can remember where Liverpool was overrun in midfield when Lucas and Alonso started, and I distinctly remember praising their performance in the Arsenal match.

Given the Alonso “news,” I’m obviously most interested in the Lucas/Mascherano results. Which, unsurprisingly, are hit and miss – when they were good, Liverpool were fairly dominant, and Liverpool dominated in five of those six wins (Marseille was close throughout). And when they provided little cutting thrust, Liverpool weren’t very good, and that helped lead to the four draws. But it’s not as if you can blame a limited attack solely on the holding midfielders.

The opponents in the matches that ended even weren’t exactly a murderer’s row, which isn’t exceptionally heartening. Lucas/Masch worried me the most against teams with ten men behind the ball, and these stats don’t change that. But it’s not as if all the 0-0 draws came when Lucas and Mascherano started (just 40 percent!).

I’m most interested in the last three Lucas/Masch matches. Admittedly, Liverpool was hitting on all cylinders at the time, the attack was in blistering form, and that certainly helped. But the pairing also played to its potential, against mediocre teams happy to defend deep as well as the eventual champions, and that bodes well.

I realize I was considered a Lucas apologist back when he was a mid-season scapegoat. So you’re probably taking this with a grain of salt, and I don’t blame you. But I definitely think the kid’s got potential, and those late-season results make me hopeful something’s starting to click.

I still think Lucas needs to increase his game intelligence to be a regular starter (which comes with experience), and I still think that a replacement will be needed if Xabi leaves. But these stats will also make me feel better if that does happen.

You Reap What You Sow

Well, the Alonso saga has finally come full circle with last year’s Barry fiasco.
XABI ALONSO has told Rafa Benitez he wants to quit Anfield and sign for Real Madrid – but Liverpool will not grant his wish unless the Spanish giants come up with a fee in the region of £35m.”
Shit. Shit shit shit shit shit. Karma is a bitch. It’s the same situation as Gareth Barry the previous summer. And I expect and encourage Liverpool to act exactly as Aston Villa did.

This news sucks. I don’t need to rehash the multiple Alonso posts from the last few months. His exit would pose some serious problems. If he goes, a replacement has to be bought – Gerrard should not be pushed back into central midfield, not at the cost of his partnership with Torres – but that’s a conversation for another day.

If you don’t want to play for Liverpool, well, honestly, fuck off. Bigger and better players have left the club before. However, he’s not leaving for less than £35m, and I still think Liverpool should hold out for more. He’s worth it, and Madrid’s got the money. Make Real pay through the nose. Make Real pay every penny in advance. And if they don’t, Alonso'll stay. Either he’ll come back with a chip of his shoulder, like this season, or he’ll rot in the reserves for three years. Whichever. The fee is £35m, Madrid. I’d take Sneidjer and £25m as well, but I’m not the negotiator.

God, I hope Liverpool meets Real in the Champions League again this year. I’d thoroughly enough another four-goal annihilation.

03 July 2009

30 pieces of silver

I’m conflicted, and I don’t know whether to laugh furiously or start breaking things.

I’ve guiltily admitted it before – Michael Owen is the reason I follow Liverpool. But were it just about Michael Owen, I’d have stopped following Liverpool four years ago.

My “soccer” watching began in earnest at Italia ’90. The US weren’t playing, and even at the tender age of eight, I was an anglophile. I remember the stingy group stage, Platt’s lone goal in the round of 16, Gazza’s tears, and my first experience with English futility from the penalty spot (against the Germans no less). Even the American hoopla four years later, which England couldn’t even qualify for, didn’t turn me back.

And then there was 1998. And that goal against Argentina. And that goalscorer who wasn’t much older than me. I had to find out who he played for. And from then on, I was a Liverpool fan. Thanks to the recent rise of the Internet, I could follow results, watch few-and-far-between highlights, and order VHSs and then DVDs. And I was hooked.

Every year I’ve followed Liverpool, I’ve cared less about individual players, and far less about England. The beauty of club football and the legacy of Liverpool, I guess. But I still admittedly have a soft spot for Michael Owen – despite his Judas transfer to Real in 2004, despite not forcing a move to Liverpool instead Newcastle, and despite him not doing a damned thing for the past three seasons. When I went to England in 2003, the second thing I did after getting off the plane was buy an Owen jersey (I was 20; the first thing I did was buy alcohol). Nostalgia is a hard mistress to dismiss.

But if this proposed move to Manchester United goes through, that soft spot’s dead. And I’m having trouble deciding if I care enough to set fire to that jersey in my driveway (to be filmed, naturally).

What it comes down to is whether Owen will really make a difference, and Ferguson’s motivation for the transfer.

I’ll come out and say it. I think this transfer is completely and totally mind games. Ferguson wants to stick it to Liverpool, and more specifically, Liverpool fans. And what better way than by signing a former “icon” (term used very loosely)?

On record alone, Owen shouldn’t have a prayer at signing with the league champions. Oft-injured, shorn of the pace that won him the Ballon d’Or, and fielding offers from the likes of Hull and Stoke (thanks to that gorgeous brochure put out by his agents). And now United’s in for him? Even though they have Rooney, Berbatov, Macheda, Welbeck, and Manucho (and Campbell, although he’s likely to be sold), and even though they’ve been linked with pretty much every top-tier striker? He’s certainly no Benzema, Ribery, Aguero, or Villa, not at this stage.

Ferguson was clever in purchasing Henrik Larsson in ‘06-07, and this, at best, is a similar deal. But I honestly think Owen has even less in the tank than Larsson did, and he’s five or so years younger than Larsson was at that stage. Plus, isn't that £80m bonanza supposed to be used for transfers?

I can’t be mad at Owen, though. Given the option of playing for a bottom-half team or the champions, well, it isn’t really an option, no matter previous loyalties. A job is a job is a job, and I’d rather a job with the more successful company. There’s little downside for Michael in this move, but that doesn’t mean I have to respect his decision.

Will Owen see games if he signs with United? Probably. Will he score goals? Probably, at least a few. Will he actually have an impact? Less likely, but a distinct possibility. However, the sure thing is that the transfer will prompt reactions like mine, and raise the stakes for next season that much more.

It’s only July and the mind games have started. Outstanding.

02 July 2009

I will pay you money to make the Alonso rumors go away

With all the gossip about a transfer to Real making me queasy, I’ve been trying to think of a way to quantify Alonso’s importance to the team. Stats are a frequent fallback, and are usually better at elucidating what I struggle to put into words.

But, as I’m quick to remind, stats don’t often tell the whole story, and that’s the case with Xabi. Liverpool’s win/loss record wasn’t much different whether Alonso started, came off the bench, or wasn't in the squad last season. He played in 47 of the team’s 55 games this season (only Carragher, Reina, and Kuyt played more), starting 40. Liverpool was 25-11-4 in games he started, 5-1-1 in games off the bench, and 5-3-0 in games he didn’t feature.

Alonso had five goals (matching his previous high from ‘05-06) and five assists – nothing special, but not too shabby (ba dum ching) for a deep-lying midfielder. And this was a season I suggested he was player of the year. And I wasn’t the only one. You just can’t get across sentiments like “…[T]he star of the show was Xabi Alonso. The Basque appears to operate in a vortex, time slowed around him so he always seems to have space. It is a rare gift.” with stats.

Liverpool’s record in Alonso’s substitute appearances is interesting, but still doesn’t paint a pretty enough picture. These were:

1-0 Sunderland 8/16 (on for Plessis 46’)
3-0 WBA 11/8 (Gerrard 80’)
2-4 Spurs LC 11/12 (Plessis 64’)
0-0 Fulham 11/22 (Mascherano 64’)
5-1 Newcastle 12/28 (Benayoun 60’)
3-2 Pompey 2/7 (Dossena 66’)
2-0 WBA 5/17 (Masch 51’)

Eight of the 16 goals scored came after Alonso entered. Highlights came against Sunderland and Pompey, with an assist to Torres for the winner at the Stadium of Light and his entrance sparking an epic comeback at Fratton Park (including an assist on the first goal). He scored the fifth against Newcastle from the spot and started the move that won the penalty with a timely interception.

Again, stats don’t tell the whole story, but that’s a respectable haul off the bench. It doesn’t show, and I’m not claiming, that Alonso’s better as a sub. But I think it helps to demonstrate – and this is the point I want to get across, no matter the stats – that he’s a game-changing footballer. You can’t say that about many. And you can’t expect a team to get better by selling players like that.

You can’t quantify the only player who’s a recurring goal-threat from his own half. You can’t quantify the jaw-dropping beauty of defense-splitting passes like the aforementioned assist against Sunderland. Or moves like this. The best stat that I can come up with that emphasizes Alonso’s uniqueness and ingenuity is the fact that he got six players (Vidic, Cahill, Zabaleta, Valencia, Lampard, and Barton) sent off this season, which has to be some sort of record. Unsurprisingly, Liverpool won all six of those games.

It’s easy to see why Madrid are wooing Alonso so intently. No matter how much money they’ve spent on other players this summer, or whomever else they deign to purchase, Alonso would represent the signing of the summer. Kaka, Ronaldo, Benzema, et al are incredible attackers in their own right, but someone has to get them the ball. And while Gago and Diarra (either Diarra) are serviceable ball-winners, neither has the passing range Xabi provides. Wesley Sneidjer’s the only one who holds a candle, and there doesn’t appear to be room for him (or any of his Dutch comrades) in Perez’s team. And that Alonso's actually Spanish represents the ultimate coup for Real.

Madrid’s spending spree was infuriating before all the attention was on Alonso (and Arbeloa, but that’s another matter). This, unfortunately and obviously, makes it personal. They’ve thrown around a distasteful amount of money so far, outspending even the nouveau riche City, and yet the figures proposed for a player of Alonso’s caliber have been at least £10m too light.

But even if Real offered a legitimate fee for Alonso, Liverpool’s response should be Xeroxed copies of Benitez’s behind. Because there are few, if any, who could replace what Alonso brings to the team and Rafa’s style of play.