Liverpool have a big hole to fill in the centre of their midfield with Gini Wijnaldum departing, but the early indications are that a replacement might not necessarily be brought in.
Thiago Alcântara arrived last summer when it was anticipated that Wijnaldum could leave. One train of thought is that Thiago was always the Wijnaldum replacement and therefore another option this summer will not be added by Liverpool. That, though, would represent a risk.
Wijnaldum is not as good at passing as Thiago. He is not as good at organising and dictating the play as Jordan Henderson. He is not a patch on Fabinho as a number six. Nor is he as explosive as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. When it comes to pressing, creativity and ball progression, according to the underlying numbers, he is not as well-rounded as Naby Keïta. But what he is very much is better at all of them at is being consistent, available and injury-free.
That, in many ways, is the biggest thing that is missing from the Liverpool squad, and injuries were certainly the biggest downfall for Jürgen Klopp last season. The Reds simply cannot afford for there to be a repeat.
It could simply be that Liverpool are waiting to sell a few fringe players before they make a move for another player, having agreed to pay £36m up front for Ibrahima Konaté from RB Leipzig, but the idea of using Thiago to replace Wijnaldum is not totally nonsensical. Curtis Jones can step up again and Oxlade-Chamberlain will hope to use the summer as a window in which to get fit again and regain full sharpness.
Not replacing the body, though, even if not like-for-like, could leave Liverpool light. If they are not to sign a ready-made replacement for Wijnaldum to slot straight into the Liverpool side, another path should be considered as a result – and that is where Xabi Alonso comes in.
Alonso has earned many plaudits for his coaching career so far, which has been with Real Sociedad’s B team in the third tier of Spanish football. So successful has Alonso been, he was linked – very realistically – with the Borussia Mönchengladbach job left vacant by Marco Rose’s move to Borussia Dortmund. That never materialised in the end – Adi Hütter is now in charge – but that it was even considered likely for Alonso to take the step to the Bundesliga, and one of the better German teams at that, says a lot about his progression as a coach to date. There were even tentative links with Real Madrid’s top job after Zinedine Zidane departed last week, though those were quickly quashed.
With Sociedad’s B team, the emphasis is not on getting results, but on improving players and getting them into the first team. Alonso’s measure as a manager is not where he finishes in the table, but how many of his B team stars make the step up to work with senior Sociedad boss Imanol Alguacil and feature in LaLiga. There have been a few notable examples of that, not least Martín Zubimendi, who is set to star at the U21 Euros this week with his country, Spain.