Tactical Insights

Should Xabi Alonso pick Liverpool, Bayern or Barcelona? | Bayer Leverkusen

If you were Xabi Alonso, would you pick Bayern Münich, Liverpool or Barcelona – or wait for the Real Madrid job to come open? Natalie

Reports in Germany at the end of last week suggested that Munich is now Alonso’s preferred destination, which feels a little disappointing. He’s almost certainly going to lift the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen this season and I’m not entirely clear why, having won the league on hard mode, he would now try to do it again on an easier setting. Yes, the way the Uefa coefficient works means that there’s likely to be a relatively straightforward passage into the quarter-finals of the Champions League, and experience in that competition is the one thing still missing from his CV, but it still seems an unambitious step. Leaving Leverkusen makes sense given his stock cannot really climb any higher there and repeating this season’s feat is so unlikely, especially with players probably going to be sold this summer. Barcelona seems an improbable destination given his Madrid connections and his assumed desire at some point to become Madrid manager. While there’s probably a little trepidation at being Jürgen Klopp’s successor. Liverpool looks ideal – and, unlike Bayern or even Madrid, it’s not necessarily a job that’s going to be available every couple of seasons.

Why is Gareth Southgate being linked to the Manchester United job? Would his style with England translate to club football? He has been out of the club management for 15 years. Damien

The why is easy: he’s a successful English manager with strong name recognition even among execs with little specialist knowledge. This summer feels like it’s going to be one of great turbulence, with a lot of major clubs looking for new managers and the sense that a lot of the experienced names are out of the running. There’s a real chance for one of the upcoming generation of coaches to accelerate their careers but, amid the uncertainty, Southgate is a solid, reliable name.

Would he work at club level? Maybe – but, as you hint, there’s very little evidence. His record at Middlesbrough was fine without being exceptional and included relegation in 2008. He seems ideally suited to the demands of international football, particularly the diplomacy and big-picture developmental work, but that’s very different from club management. Half the battle at international level is making the players feel they want to play for their country, creating a calm and welcoming environment, while the lack of time available on the training pitch means that tactics are necessarily less complex than in the club game. Perhaps Southgate could make the adjustment; the problem is that we just don’t know.

What’s next for Xavi? It seems he was made for the Barcelona job. Could you see him coaching in the Premier League? Bradley

To be honest, I was surprised Barcelona won the league last season. I have some sympathy with Xavi in that the club at the moment is clearly in a mess with mounting debt and the various restrictions on spending, but I’ve never been convinced by him as a coach: he spouts the Pep Guardiola doctrine but with little evidence he is able to implement it or develop it according to circumstance. The defeats to Bayern in the Champions League last season were predictable, but I thought Xavi fared pretty poorly against Inter and then, in the Europa League, Manchester United.

His regular bleating about opponents who didn’t play the game the way he wanted them to just sounded petulant, as though he couldn’t quite accept that the opposition were allowed to try to win, rather than existing to permit Barcelona to put on an exhibition of Guardiolismo. I really don’t know where he goes next: his name means he will probably remain in demand for at least one or two more jobs, but I’d be very surprised if he ends up in the Premier League.

Are you happy with a penalty shootout as the way to settle a cup competition or a tournament? I’m not, and I would like to see things decided by actual soccer. My proposal: if a final (or other knockout game in a tournament) ends level then extra time should be played without the offside law. Steve

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Shootouts should stay. They’re dramatic, easily understood and rely on a footballing skill; if replays are impossible – and given the modern calendar they are – they’re the least bad option available; an almost elemental test of what the sport is.

You say you want things decided by “actual soccer”, but if you remove offside what is left is not soccer. There’s a reason why offside was one of the initial 12 laws of the game when they were first drawn up in 1863. It’s fundamental. Without offside, forwards could stand in the opposition’s six-yard box, waiting to try to get a touch from long balls belted into the area. It may be that seeing teams keep a couple of 6ft 8in lumps on the bench then bringing them on in extra-time to whack the ball at would produce something exciting, but it would not be football.

Equally, without offside, teams pressing would have no protection, so what you’d probably end up with would be a ludicrously stretched game with half the players in one box and half in the other. I wrote about this in 2010. Without offside, football has no structure, no need for passing combinations, no need for dribbling, no need for any of the things that make it great.

This is an extract from Soccer with Jonathan Wilson, a weekly look from the Guardian US at the game in Europe and beyond. Subscribe for free here. Have a question for Jonathan? Email so**********@th*********.com, and he’ll answer the best in a future edition

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