Rafa Benitez hails Xabi Alonso’s managerial qualities but urges caution over Liverpool job

Bayer Leverkusen manager Alonso is being linked with former club Liverpool, where he starred as a player under Benitez

Harry Latham-Coyle
Friday 01 March 2024 09:10 GMT
Xabi Alonso is a candidate to replace Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool
Xabi Alonso is a candidate to replace Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool (PA Archive)

Rafa Benitez has hailed Xabi Alonso’s tactical acumen, but warned the Bayer Leverkusen manager to be careful before rushing into taking a role at Liverpool.

Alonso is the favourite to replace Jurgen Klopp at Anfield after taking Leverkusen to the top of the Bundesliga this season.

The Spaniard thrived as a player at Liverpool under Benitez’s management, operating as the midfield linchpin in the Champions League-winning side of 2005.

Benitez believes it was clear to see that Alonso had the qualities to become a top coach during his playing days, but has cautioned that the clamour for him to become Liverpool boss may simply be a by-product of the social media age.

“He was clever and analysed,. When you explain things to some players, you have to repeat. Xabi was one who learned quickly,” Benitez said of Alonso, recalling a quarter-final against Juventus during that run to the Champions League final.

“They had Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alessandro Del Piero up front with Pavel Nedved between the lines. We had to play with three centre-backs. I changed to play 5-3-1-1, with Milan Baros up front, Igor Biscan and Antonio Núñez [in midfield] with Xabi in the middle. I told Xabi: ‘Stay in the middle! Don’t move!’ Because he couldn’t run. ‘Núñez will run! Warnock will run! You stay there! Be sure you protect the centre-backs from Nedved.” Alonso played the role perfectly and Liverpool drew 0-0.

“Tactically we did everything really well but the [key] thing was to recover Xabi quickly to make sure he could play as holding midfielder.

Rafa Benitez (centre) has praised his former player Xabi Alonso (second from right) (Getty Images)

“He’s a big name, good professional, good lad, clever, doing really well so I understand why [Alonso is being linked with Liverpool]. [But] imagine Steven Gerrard was around and doing well. Then it would be: ‘Gerrard!’ With social media everything is going too fast so that people don’t see the big picture.”

Liverpool are still in the hunt for a quadruple having secured a first trophy of the campaign in last week’s Carabao Cup final.

Klopp will depart at the end of the season after a nine-year stint at the club that has included both Premier League and Champions League triumphs.

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