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Gary McAllister: Xabi Alonso knows the standards at Liverpool

20 Feb | news | BY Betway Insider | MIN READ TIME |
Gary McAllister: Xabi Alonso knows the standards at Liverpool
Source: Alamy Stock Photo

In our exclusive interview, the former Liverpool midfielder looks ahead to life after Jurgen Klopp at Anfield and discusses his time as Steven Gerrard's assistant at Aston Villa.

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What was your reaction to the news that Jurgen Klopp will be leaving Liverpool at the end of the season? 

To be brutally honest, it’s one of those things in the footballing world that pushed me back on my heels. I think everybody who’s connected to Liverpool, who played or supports the club, was shocked, but I also think it shocked the whole footballing world. It came from nowhere. 

There was no talk or any rumours or anything that might be happening. Now it’s time to truly celebrate his entire career at Liverpool through this run of games from now to the end of May, whether it be in cup finals, league games, FA Cup games or European games. But it will be strange not seeing Jurgen Klopp in the Liverpool dugout.

What did you make of the timing of the announcement? Do you think it has affected the squad?

Well, I hope not. I’ve actually been to a few games since Jurgen announced he was leaving and I went to the game immediately after the news against Norwich in the FA Cup and obviously Anfield was buzzing. The atmosphere was unbelievable against Chelsea when they won very comfortably. The atmosphere inside Anfield is going to be very special because people want to see Jurgen Klopp, they want to see him because they know it’s coming towards the end. 

Could this be the end of an era for Liverpool? Could you see players like Salah and Van Dijk potentially following Klopp this summer?

This has obviously been brought to the fore because of the announcement. Clubs always like to get their business done early. Both players don’t have long left of their current deals and you don’t know how this season is going to pan out. It could be unbelievable.

But why would you want to leave? The opportunities are there because it looks as if Liverpool will get Champions League spot for next season, and I think that might influence decisions as well. One further consideration is where do you go after Liverpool? There’s not many clubs that can give you more than what Liverpool can. 

You also need to look at what Jurgen is leaving at Liverpool. I think he has changed the front three well since Liverpool won the title and Nunez, Jota, Gakpo and Diaz are good players for the future for Liverpool. Trent has been rotated between full back and midfield which gives Liverpool options for the future. A new head coach coming in will not have to massively tinker with the squad, just add their way of playing and adding a few fresh faces, but the basis is there for Liverpool to continue to challenge for trophies.

After performing so well with Leverkusen this season, Xabi Alonso has been heavily linked to take over in the summer. Would he be a good appointment?

He has done his apprenticeship at Real Sociedad and worked his way up from there. If he can get to the end of the Bundesliga by winning it and finishing above Bayern and Dortmund, well that is surely enough experience. 

If you’ve won a title in your early managerial career, it does help. The big thing for me is that Xabi knows the expectation of the Liverpool fans and what the levels and the standards at the club. He’s been there, he’s done it and he’s won big trophies with the club, so that’s a big advantage.

It is looking like a three-horse race for the title this season, do you think Liverpool can go on and dethrone Man City and win the league this season?

Well, it’s a club that knows how to win and I would say Arsenal are in the race too after their win over Liverpool. Both these sides are set up to win. The clubs that have got a rich history and I always think that helps. But look at Manchester City, they are very strong. 

You look at their squad which has two top players in each position and you don’t see them dropping many points. Liverpool are in front and they have to keep winning to put the pressure on City. Liverpool’s home game versus them is massive and they are likely going to have to win this one. It’s a tall order to stop Man City. 

How important would winning the EFL Cup be for Liverpool this season?

It would be great for Liverpool to get their hands on the EFL Cup and put a trophy in the cabinet so early in the season. It gives momentum to go and add more trophies. From my time at Liverpool, looking back at the 2001 season, should Liverpool win the EFL Cup, it can be a catalyst to go and get more as the players can taste the success.

Liverpool are favourites for the EFL Cup final, but I was impressed by Chelsea at Villa Park in the FA Cup and I didn’t see that performance coming. It just shows with the group of players they’ve got, Chelsea are a big threat in the final and it won’t be an easy game for Liverpool. Chelsea have top players and Liverpool can’t take it for granted they will have a comfortable win.

You were part of the Liverpool team that won the cup treble in 2001. How important was it to get that first cup under your belt that season?

Once you get things rolling and you’ve obviously got into a position where everybody’s together celebrating after winning a trophy it feels great and the squad becomes even more together. Obviously, you can’t go crazy with celebrations after a League Cup win as there are Premier League games around the corner. But winning the EFL Cup brought a coming together of the owners, the manager, the coaching staff and the players. 

We were too far away from winning the Premier League that season so the cups were important to win silverware. The Champions League was key for us to ensure we delivered for the club and therefore to secure a position in the league as key, but the UEFA Cup win was special too.

Looking at the three finals, the first one was against Birmingham who were massive underdogs and took us all the way to penalties. 

Trevor Francis did a brilliant job for Birmingham, but we managed to come out on top. In the FA Cup Final, Michael Owen got us out of jail with two top finishes. Arsenal dominated the game and after Michael’s quick brace, the Arsenal players looked shocked at what had gone on and we could have added a few more goals.

Then the UEFA Cup Final was the final part of the treble against Alaves and we won in extra time with a golden goal and as they goal went in some players and coaches didn’t realise it was the end of the game. 

What are your predictions for the EFL Cup Final?

I believe both teams will score, but the extra firepower that Liverpool have in the forward positions can be the difference in the game, so I would go for a 3-1 Liverpool win in 90 minutes to give Jurgen Klopp another trophy which may not be his last as Liverpool head coach.

How impressed have you been by Aston Villa so far this season?

Aston Villa are a good club with good people and the appointment of Unai Emery was a smart one. He’s a proven top manager with excellent experience and he’s got them playing well. So it’s good to see them getting to play with a rhythm and style which picks up results, especially at Villa Park.

Unai Emery has done an excellent job since taking over from Steven Gerrard, why do you think it didn’t quite go to plan under Stevie?

We were unlucky with our time at Aston Villa. Steven Gerrard made a number of signings and in fact we lost three or four of his major signings in the first couple of weeks due to injury. Boubacar Kamara, Lucas Digne and Diego Carlos all got injured and there were quite lengthy injuries elsewhere in the squad. But not to make any excuses, we lost a few games, and the pressure then builds on you.

What were your impressions of the squad while you were at the club? Did you see the potential for them to perform like this?

The squad had a lot of good players with capabilities to move up the table and it’s not surprising to see Aston Villa challenging for the Champions League spots and Unai has come in and just got them playing at a consistent level.

Leon Bailey, Ollie Watkins are showing what talent they have, and my eye is always drawn as an old midfielder to the middle of the park. Boubacar Kamara & Douglas Luiz are fantastic players, and they complement each other well. The longer they play together the more confident they become.

Plus, a special mention to John McGinn, who we made captain. He has everything. He can pass well, he can score, he can tackle, and he can lead well. He’s very infectious around the training ground and I’m pleased he is having a good season.

Do you think Villa can go on and finish in the top four?

I think you can never write off Manchester United, and they’re starting to get results now. They’re starting to score goals as well, so can they come with a late push. Spurs have had a good season so far and Steven Gerrard and I came up against Ange when he was brought in at Celtic. 

He has his preferred way of playing and I like how he communicates with the media, and I can imagine he is straight talking with his players which brings out the best in them. Spurs have Son back and Richarlison is scoring so they are in the driving seat to finish fourth.

For Aston Villa, they are in the race as I believe Man City, Arsenal and Liverpool will fight it out for the top three positions. Aston Villa have the Europa Conference League in their sights and with Unai’s pedigree, it wouldn’t surprise me if they went on and won that competition. Fighting on both domestic and European fronts may be too much for Aston Villa, but if they do it, it would be a massive achievement.

Leicester are running away with the Championship this season, do you think they can go on and break Reading’s 106-point record?

I think that’s something realistic for Leicester City, without a shadow of a doubt. They should have promotion confirmed by March or early April and then can focus on breaking the points record. I was in Singapore with Liverpool in pre-season and Liverpool played against Leicester and they looked like a Premier League team. They looked like a team that could move the ball well and created many chances. Their style of play has been impressive and can score goals. Jamie Vardy is showing his experience and has scored some crucial goals for them. 

The race for 2nd in the Championship is close this season, with Leeds, Southampton, and Ipswich the contenders. Do you think Leeds are strong enough to go up automatically?

I think the three relegated teams will go back up. Ipswich have done brilliantly to keep going and it will be great if they can secure a play-off spot, but Southampton and Leeds are just going to have enough for one of them to go up automatically with the other via the play-offs.

I’ve watched Leeds quite a few times this season and they can score goals from all areas of the pitch. I am impressed with Glen Kamara, who came down from Rangers and Ampadu in the middle of the park has done well. 

Summerville and Bamford are playing really well, and Championship defences can’t handle them. Whether they can keep clean sheets is another question. But I think Leeds have just got enough to finish second and get the automatic because the fans don’t like play-offs! 

How well-equipped do you think Leicester and Leeds are for the Premier League if they go up this season?

One thing is for sure and that’s next year’s Premier League is going to be a lot tougher for the bottom half because Leicester and one, if not both, of Leeds and Southampton are going up, they’re Premier League ready. And although obviously Burnley invested, it just hasn’t worked for them. Sheffield United haven’t but the likes of Palace, Wolves, Forest will worry about what’s ahead I would think.

Mark Robins continues to do an excellent job at Coventry, do you think they can go one step further and get promoted this season?

Well, it’s the Mark Robins factor again. Over the years they’ve had all the problems with their stadium and playing in somebody else’s ground and now it seems to just have settled. Mark has always put up with the pressure, which is added to by the fact that they’ve probably got to sell their best player at the end of each season. But you don’t hear any grumbling and I can’t imagine there’s a massive budget there for him to strengthen after selling these top players. But the club just keeps on producing, they keep finding a way to get results.

They were so unlucky not to not come up via the play-offs last season, but if they can get themselves in there again, especially with the three teams that came down, that’s an achievement in itself. It’s a club that I had a great time with as a player and a manager, so I’m drawn to their results. I’ve always got an eye out for the Sky Blues. I’ve not been to any games done there for a while, but they do play with a better style.

Rangers are currently top of the Scottish Premiership, do you think they can go on and win their first Scottish title since your time at the club?

Well, there’s a little Coventry connection here. I played alongside Philippe Clement at the club. He didn’t play many games. He came in and got injured fairly early in his career and went back to Belgium. But he’s another one who just quietly does his job. He’s never shouting for the rooftops, and now it’s game on. 

It’s so close this year. Naturally you look forward to the game in April and both teams don’t look as if they’re going to drop points in the games that they should win, but the old firm in a few weeks is going to be massive. 

That’s going to be the deciding fixture and it’s always special, but Rangers have given themselves a real chance. They brought in a couple of loans, just before the window closes, Cortes and Diamond. He’s bringing players his strength and playing against teams who are trying to park the bus and try to keep a clean sheet, so he needs people to unlock it.

You’ve been a part of the Old Firm and the Merseyside derbies – which one is bigger in your opinion?

It’s been diluted a touch in recent years because both clubs up in Glasgow only allow a few away hundreds to attend. When you get both sets of fans and a proper amount of travelling fans, it makes for a better atmosphere. 

Hopefully, at some point, the two clubs can get together and make an effort to actually do something about getting more than 500 fans in the away ground. The Merseyside derby at both grounds is unbelievable. I would probably just lean towards the Glasgow derby. The only other one looking up from afar is the big ones in Argentina – River Plate and Boca. I don’t think there’s any love loss there!

Betway Insider

Betway Insider

The Insider is an editorial blog for Betway, one of the best betting sites, featuring sporting insight, intelligent comment and informed betting tips for football betting and all other major sports.

Betway Insider

Betway Insider

The Insider is an editorial blog for Betway, one of the best betting sites, featuring sporting insight, intelligent comment and informed betting tips for football betting and all other major sports.