Xabi Alonso was a truly sensational midfielder for Liverpool – so replacing him was always going to be difficult.
The Spaniard joined Real Madrid in 2009 after 210 appearances for Liverpool and the Reds struggled to fill that void for several years.
Here are the 16 central midfielders Liverpool have signed since Alonso’s departure, ranked by how well they fared at Anfield. It should be noted that we’ve not included attacking midfielders like Philippe Coutinho.
16. Alberto Aquilani
Aquilani was brought in to try and fill the hole left by the departed Alonso in 2009, but he was never able to fill the Spaniard’s boots as Liverpool went from title challengers to seventh place.
The midfielder was hampered by injuries and made just 28 appearances for the club, eventually departing in 2012 after loan spells with both Juventus and AC Milan.
“It was hard,” Aquilaini told Italian reporter Gianluca Di Marzio in 2019.
“I had to go to England, to a cold place, a huge change, but I played with incredible players. Torres, Mascherano, Kuyt, and Gerrard: one of the greatest I have ever played with. The fact that he was there influenced a lot, I’m not hiding it, he’s a champion.”
READ: 17 of the best quotes on Xabi Alonso: ‘It was clear he was royalty’
15. Kevin Stewart
Liverpool picked up Stewart after his release from Tottenham in 2014 and the midfielder went on to make 20 appearances for the club before joining Hull City three years later.
“It was a difficult decision to leave Liverpool. It’s a club that I love and have loved for a long time,” Stewart said in 2017.
“I’ve supported Liverpool since I was a young boy and it was my life goal to be a regular there. But at the same time I felt this was a move that I needed to make in order to further my career.”
Sure enough, he’s since established himself as a regular for the Tigers.
14. Christian Poulsen
Poulsen arrived at Liverpool from Juventus in 2010 as a replacement for the departing Javier Mascherano but failed to win over the Anfield support.
Perhaps the best summary of his time at Anfield came from Roy Hodgson, the man who signed him and who was trying to defend him from fans’ criticism: “He’s not that bad on the ball, but let’s not beat about the bush and try to disguise the fact – he’s had a bad start.”
Damned by faint praise.
READ: Where are they now? Roy Hodgson’s eight signings as Liverpool manager
13. Nuri Sahin
Sahin joined the club on a season-long loan deal in 2012 after struggling for game time following his move to Real Madrid from Borussia Dortmund.
The 31-year-old got three goals in 12 appearances for Liverpool, but his loan spell was cut short in January 2013 so he could move back to Dortmund.
“I did not fail at Liverpool. Brendan Rodgers wanted me to play as a No.10,” Sahin told AS in 2013. “But I do not play behind the strikers.
“I talked to him and asked him why he was playing me there. It is not my real position. The coach could not answer me … Still, no regrets. To play at Anfield was a wonderful experience.
“And maybe if I had not gone there I would not have been able to return to Borussia Dortmund. For that, I am happy. Thank God I have left Brendan Rodgers.”
12. Marko Grujic
Grujic became Jurgen Klopp’s first signing as Liverpool manager in January 2016 after impressing for Red Star Belgrade, his hometown club.
The midfielder has only made 14 appearances for the Merseysiders and has spent three seasons out on loan, but he still has a long-term ambition of starring for Liverpool.
“I still hope for that, of course. You can’t just give up on your goals,” Grujic told Goal earlier this year. “In fact, I’m probably working harder now than I’ve ever done before in my life.”
It remains to be seen if he will get his wish.
Marco Grujic scoring for Hertha last night. ❄️🆒
— Anfield Watch (@AnfieldWatch) August 17, 2019
11. Charlie Adam
Adam had caught everybody’s attention with his impressive performances for Blackpool in the Premier League and earned a dream move to Liverpool in 2011.
But the midfielder was unable to recapture his best form and managed just two goals in 37 appearances in his only season at the club.
10. Jonjo Shelvey
Shelvey made his Charlton Athletic first-team debut at 16, and he was rated as one of the most exciting prospects in the country when Liverpool won the race for his signature in 2010.
However, though he showed signs of his potential, Shelvey ultimately fell down the pecking order under Brendan Rodgers and left for Swansea City in 2013 in search of regular first-team football before later joining Newcastle.
“I probably shouldn’t have left Liverpool,” Shelvey told the Newcastle Evening Chronicle in 2019. “I had the option to stay, but I felt I had to go away as I was at that age where I wanted to play football matches.
“You’d get a game one week, big players would come back and you’d be out of the team next week.”
9. Raul Meireles
Meireles’ performances for Portugal in the 2010 World Cup led to a £10.7million move to Liverpool that summer.
The midfielder made a slow start to life at Anfield under Roy Hodgson but turned things around under Kenny Dalglish and was voted the PFA Fans’ Player of the Year in 2010-11.
However, he accused the club of breaking their promises and swapped Liverpool for Chelsea in a £12million deadline-day move in 2011.
READ: Raul Meireles and the strangest Player of the Year award in Prem history
8. Joe Allen
Brendan Rodgers spent £15million to sign Allen from Swansea in 2012 but the midfielder was often a divisive figure among Liverpool supporters.
The 30-year-old made 91 league appearances for the club in four years and found a consistent first-team place hard to come by, so he moved to Stoke City in 2016.
7. Naby Keita
Liverpool spent £48million to bring Keita to the club from Red Bull Salzburg in 2018 and a lot was expected from the midfielder.
The 25-year-old is clearly a talented player but injuries have hampered his time in England so far and there is definitely a sense that the best is yet to come.
6. Emre Can
Can joined Liverpool from Bayer Leverkusen in 2014 and established himself as a regular in the side, making 167 appearances across four seasons.
However, the 26-year-old allowed his contract to run down in 2018 before signing for Juventus. He would later reject a move back to the Premier League in favour of joining Borussia Dortmund.
“I had three Premier League deals alone, including one from Manchester United, but I didn’t think about that for a second because of my Liverpool past,” Can told Kicker.
🗓 OTD in 2014 the Reds signed Emre Can from Bayer Leverkusen for £10m.
⭕️ 167 appearances
⚽️ 14 goals
🚲 Including this 2016/17 Goal of the Season effort against Watford!
Shame he arrogantly left for Juve to win trophies – how’s that CL title going? pic.twitter.com/2J2CizQe4U
— Empire of the Kop (@empireofthekop) July 3, 2019
5. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Oxlade-Chamberlain would probably be higher up this list if it wasn’t for bad luck.
The 26-year-old had a bright start to his Liverpool career but missed over a year of football after suffering a serious knee injury in April 2018.
He returned to full fitness in 2019-20, though, and certainly played his part as the Reds finally got their hands on the Premier League title.
4. Georginio Wijnaldum
Wijnaldum was signed from Newcastle United as an attacking midfielder, but at Anfield he has developed into an industrious all-rounder who often does the work that doesn’t get noticed.
He also played a crucial role in helping Liverpool lift the Champions League in 2019, coming off the bench at half-time to score two goals in as many minutes in the semi-final second leg against Barcelona.
3. James Milner
Milner left Manchester City to join Liverpool in 2015 and has only begun to be truly appreciated after reaching the latter stages of his career.
He hasn’t always been the most exciting player, but he’s never let anybody down and has been hugely important to the Reds’ growth under Klopp, be it in midfield or at full-back.
READ: Six times James Milner was a better person than all of us put together
Fabinho joined Liverpool from Monaco in 2018 and after a slow start, he has become one of the best defensive midfielders in the world.
The Brazilian ended his first season at the club with a Champions League winner’s medal and his second with a Premier League winner’s medal. Enough said.
1. Jordan Henderson
In his early years, Henderson often became a scapegoat for Liverpool’s struggles on the pitch, and he originally struggled to fill the void left by Steven Gerrard.
However, he was determined to prove people wrong and has become an undisputed starter in Liverpool’s midfield under Klopp.
The 29-year-old won the 2019-20 FWA Footballer of the Year award and will go down in folklore as the first man to lift the Premier League trophy for the Liverpool, not to mention the Champions League.
“It’s been an amazing journey so far, one that I have thoroughly enjoyed,” Henderson told Liverpool’s official website in 2019.
“I think everyone would appreciate that no matter what – through the good and the bad times since I’ve been here – I’ve always given everything for the team, for the club.
“And that’s what I will continue to do, it’s the most important thing; continue to work every day for the team, the club, the fans, for everyone.”
Six times James Milner was a better person than all of us put together
Raul Meireles and the strangest Player of the Year award in Prem history
Can you name Liverpool’s top 30 goalscorers in Premier League history?
Henderson’s pass was so good it would make Xabi Alonso go weak at the knees