Mohamed Salah’s goals, Alisson’s shot-stopping skills and Virgil van Dijk’s defensive dominance all take the headlines whenever Liverpool taste success, but Jack Bryant thinks Thiago’s contributions – while less celebrated – could be just as important for the Reds.
In this stat-obsessed world we live in, midfielders often get little credit in successful teams. Title wins are usually put down to a star striker winning the golden boot, a goalkeeper winning the golden glove, or full-backs breaking assist records.
The diminutive technical midfielder who can calm down a frantic match with minimal touches rarely hits the headlines. Thiago Alcantara did exactly that for Liverpool in a 3-0 win over Leeds United – Gary Neville praised the Spaniard’s performance, saying it reminded him of Paul Scholes.
Legends of the game recognise Thiago for the world-class player he is, but how come he does not get the same recognition from fans?
Liverpool already had a great team before Thiago arrived – they had already won the Champions League and Premier League, but this new signing was supposed to elevate them to even greater heights.
Unfortunately for the Spaniard he joined at the worst possible time. Expectations were higher than ever following the Reds’ title win in 2019/20, and what followed were a series of season-ending injuries, forcing players out of position and resulting in the side being stuck in seventh place by early April.
Thiago was heavily criticised during this period, results went against Liverpool as he returned from injury but that was not his fault. The loss of several important players through major injuries was the main factor for the Reds’ poor form.
Many neutrals would not have tuned in for Liverpool’s games after Thiago returned from injury – many just saw they were beaten and assumed the new signing played badly because he did not score or assist. It is not his role as a central midfielder to contribute in front of goal, but sadly that is the mindset of many modern fans.
In reality, Thiago had a great season and was key to helping his new club to a top four finish. It is no coincidence Jürgen Klopp’s side went on a great run of results once Fabinho returned from injury – it allowed Thiago to permanently move back into his natural position as a number eight.
Despite Liverpool’s turnaround in fortunes, many still claimed Thiago was a bad signing and did not fit the German’s system. The criticism began after a series of reckless challenges in his first few games. Committing fouls is not ideal, but is pressing the opposition and getting stuck in not what the archetypal Klopp midfielder does?
The Spaniard comfortably made the most tackles per game in the Premier League last season, and his ability off the ball should not be in question. He has also made 1.98 interceptions per 90 in the last year, more than 85% of midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues.
|Name||Tackles per game 2020/21 season|
Thiago also received unjustified criticism for his lack of assists. Unlike most teams, Liverpool’s creativity comes primarily from the full-backs, giving the midfielders more responsibility to track back and cover.
The 30-year-old has proven he can contribute defensively, and his role does not allow him to get forward enough to contribute with assists – but he is still one of the best creative players in the world.
The 2019/20 Champions League final is a great example of Thiago’s excellence. Bayern Munich beat Paris Saint-Germain 1-0 with a headed goal from Kingsley Coman – that may have been the defining moment but the game was won in the midfield.
Thiago dictated the game. He made 75 passes – the most in the match by far – and also completed 10 long balls, switching the play and starting attacks with ease. Even when Bayern lost possession he rushed to win it back, making three tackles and two interceptions.
Liverpool’s £19.8m signing will be integral to their chances of winning the Premier League this season, there will be huge fixtures in the season where his intelligence, passing range and ball-winning will be vital.
The Reds drew 2-2 against Manchester City at Anfield just a couple of weeks ago. It was a classic full of great goals and solo runs – they just needed a calming touch in the middle of the park to control the game and play it on their terms.
Thiago’s presence could have won Liverpool the three points that day, and his presence throughout the season could help them to win them the Premier League.
Mohamed Salah’s goals will get the headlines – rightly so – and the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson will be more celebrated for the vital roles they play, but it is the Spanish midfielder who may be the one who goes unheralded for his similarly important work.
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