Football News

How Real Madrid learned to deal with false No.9 Lionel Messi, according to Xabi Alonso

By Ben Green

Published: 18:49, 9 October 2019

Former Real Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso has explained how his side learned to adapt their tactics to deal with Lionel Messi in the false No. 9 position. 

During his five-year stint at the Bernabeu, the ex-Liverpool man came up against bitter rivals Barcelona on 20 occasions, losing nine times to Messi and Co.

How did Real deal with Messi? Five things to know…

  • In his first 10 matches for Real against Barca, Alonso would win just one El Clasico.
  • However, his final six matches would yield three wins and just the single defeat.
  • The former Spain international believes Real eventually worked out how to deal with Messi.
  • Alonso says the Argentinian used to drop deep and drag Sergio Ramos out of position, creating space between Real’s defenders.
  • Alonso then explained how the Madrid club eventually learned to stay in position when Messi came deep, which solved the problem.

In fact, it took six La Liga Clasicos before Alonso would finally taste victory against Barca, and from there, results would pick up against the Catalonian club, particularly towards the latter stages of his Los Blancos career.

Alonso has now attributed that change in fortune to Real’s handling of Messi, with the 37-year-old explaining how his side tweaked their tactics to stifle the diminutive Argentinian after working out how he used to exploit space in the false No.9 position.

The Real Sociedad B manager told The Coaches’ Voice: “He used to be in this, like, false nine, you know, it’s been told so much about the false nine.

“But Xavi used to come forward to get the ball and when I used to go to press him, a space was created, and Messi came from the number nine position to this position behind me.

“And they used to go two against one against me. When [Sergio] Ramos came to press Messi, a big space behind him would be created, and when Messi got [the ball] he then used to play for [David] Villa or for Pedro into that space.”

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After explaining Messi’s deep-lying role in Pep Guardiola’s system, Alonso went on to discuss how Real tinkered with their own tactics to try and shut out the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.

He added: “That’s when we started controlling better, I think that Ramos used to say, ‘Xabi, Messi’s coming.’ And I didn’t go to press Xavi but instead I would stay with Messi.

“They used to have more control, but they were not that dangerous.

“When we controlled a little the situation became better, I think that we were closer to compete with them.”