Deportivo desperate to subdue the artistry of Alonso

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The Independent Online

Xabi Alonso will tonight strive to be a Spaniard in the works for Liverpool, knowing that his compatriots in the Deportivo La Coruña side believe defeat at Anfield would effectively end their chances of advancing to the knock-out stages of the Champions' League.

Xabi Alonso will tonight strive to be a Spaniard in the works for Liverpool, knowing that his compatriots in the Deportivo La Coruña side believe defeat at Anfield would effectively end their chances of advancing to the knock-out stages of the Champions' League.

Alonso, one of three Spanish players who are likely to be in the team named by the former Valencia coach Rafael Benitez, returned last week from international duty with Spain against Belgium and Lithuania. The subject of the back-to-back tussles on Merseyside and in Galicia was inevitably raised.

"Both [Joan] Capdevila and [Albert] Luque told me the Depor players realise this could be their last chance to stay in contention to qualify," the £10.6m summer recruit from Real Sociedad said yesterday. "Things will be difficult for them if we finish the game with six points and they still have only one. It would also be psychologically harder for them when we go there."

Alonso, 22, has been Liverpool's outstanding player this season, sparking an overdue away win at Fulham on Saturday. His form in midfield has prompted some supporters to suggest that selling Steven Gerrard might not be so shocking a proposition after all. But while the newcomer has little to prove to the Kop, Deportivo's arrival reminded him he still has personal goals to achieve.

Prominent on the list is to defeat Deportivo. Not simply because it would put Liverpool in a promising position entering the second half of the Group A campaign, but because they are his bogey team. In eight encounters as a Sociedad player, he never finished on the winning side, despite the fact that he scored his first senior goal against them. "A nice one, too," he recalled, wistful and proud. "From outside the box, into the top corner of the net."

Together with Pedro Duscher, the Argentinian who first acquainted the English with the word "metatarsal" by breaking one of David Beckham's, the Brazilian Mauro Silva is the heartbeat of a Deportivo side who reached the semi-finals last spring. Silva said on arriving that stopping Alonso was the key to success for Javier Irureta's team.

Alonso was quick to reciprocate. "Mauro Silva is their rock in midfield - strong, intelligent and with a good shot. There's also [Walter Gerrardo] Pandiani, who is one of the best strikers in Spain - a killer, a true No 9 - and [Juan] Valeron, a great player. They're always hard to play against.

"I was surprised they didn't start the season well, but they beat Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in their last away match and won again on Saturday at home to Getafe. So they're gaining in confidence all the time. They like to keep the ball and slow the game down. We have to make it a high-tempo match so their best players are not as comfortable as they would like to be."

In Monaco last month, Deportivo conceded both goals in the opening 10 minutes to raise the spectre of last season's 8-3 defeat there. Such facts may encourage Anfield to expect a goal glut. However, Liverpool have not scored in four of the last six visits from Spanish clubs or on the last three trips to Spain.

Benitez saw his old club beat Deportivo 5-1 in early season. "Duscher and Silva were injured and it wasn't typical of them," the Liverpool manager cautioned. "They're a very compact, counter-attacking team." Tonight's match also marks the refereeing return of Anders Frisk, whose last Champions' League outing ended with a head injury after an object was thrown by a spectator in Rome.

Liverpool (4-4-1-1; probable): Kirkland; Josemi, Carragher, Hyypia, Riise; Finnan, Xabi Alonso, Hamann, Kewell; Luis Garcia; Baros.

Deportivo La Coruña (4-2-3-1; probable): Molina; Manuel Pablo, Cesar, Andrade, Capdevila; Mauro Silva, Duscher; Victor, Valeron, Luque; Pandiani.

Referee: A Frisk (Sweden).

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