Maestro Thiago the perfect fit to pull the strings for Liverpool
Spain international’s arrival from Bayern Munich can add a different dimension to Klopp’s already formidable midfield
Liverpool’s imminent signing of Thiago Alcantara has removed one of the persistent questions put to Jurgen Klopp over the past 12 months: “How do you evolve a Champions League-winning midfield?”
Klopp has often touched on the subject, perhaps not being so specific as to focus on one area of the pitch, but acknowledging the difficulties in meddling with a successful formula. “A squad like this, to improve easily would be really strange,” he said at the end of last season. It would have to be 100 per cent the right player.”
The multinational, multilingual and multifunctional Thiago is evidently that man.
When Liverpool were first linked with him at the end of last season, despite fervent club denials, it did not require extensive research to find a quote in which Klopp named him and Naby Keita as the best players in the Bundesliga.
Liverpool say the key to pursuing a deal with Bayern Munich was the reciprocated enthusiasm of the 29-year-old to work with Klopp and play for the Premier League champions. Klopp was eager for the club to take advantage of a situation in which an established player of the highest pedigree was keen to make the switch. Now he has the option of having both Thiago and Keita in his line-up, although in some respects it is the inconsistent performances of the latter which added to the clamour to reinforce.
Since 2018, Liverpool’s midfield three, certainly for the biggest games, has comprised Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Fabinho. They have been generally highly valued and occasionally underappreciated for their tactical excellence, given how much energy they expend covering the tracks of scurrying full-backs and free-flowing attackers. Although not identical in their qualities, they have a similar profile in the execution of their task.
Whenever Keita or Alex OxladeChamberlain has been introduced, the dynamic has shifted, with Liverpool having greater attacking productivity, but slightly compromised in their defensive shield. That was evident most recently against Leeds United last weekend.
With Thiago, Klopp hopes he has one of those treasures who will offer elements of both, possessing the discipline to control from a deep midfield position, combined with the vision and penetration to move the ball forward quicker and with more precision to the front three.
That is not meant to sound harsh on those who have excelled for so long, but the difference is between midfielders who see and deliver the right pass, and those who deliver passes others do not see.
Bred in the Barcelona system, Thiago is a midfielder as close as there is to the ultimate Nou Camp maestro, Xavi Hernandez, making him as much a No8 as No6, despite securing his favourite No6 jersey at
A pass map of Thiago's performance in last season's Champions League final demonstrates his range of passes and how he was Bayern's conductor. His few wayward passes are denoted in red
Anfield. Liverpool have not had such a controller, someone who can change the tempo and make a game bend to his will.
Witness recent fixtures against Arsenal, when Liverpool had much possession but could not penetrate. It was similar over two legs against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League round of 16. That is where Klopp knew a team who for most of last season had a near-flawless record could be elevated.
Ultimately, Thiago’s arrival is about fresh options. When asked why he has signed Thiago, Klopp is sure to explain it is because he offers something different to any other midfielder at the club.
In Munich, he has often played in a 4-2-3-1 formation alongside Leon Goretzka. Klopp could tweak his tried-and-trusted 4-3-3 to make Thiago and Fabinho a formidable pairing, freeing Keita, OxladeChamberlain and Takumi Minamino from defensive duties. Alternatively, he can use Thiago further forward in the position he occupies for Spain, or use the new recruit as the shield with Fabinho playing at centre-back. That is a useful alternative against sides who pack their defence at Anfield.
Where that leaves the future of some of those competing for a midfield spot remains to be seen. Liverpool are adamant the arrival of one does not signal the beginning of the end for another, even if Barcelona’s interest in Wijnaldum is sure to be revived.
Having seen how much Liverpool paid for Thiago: £20 million with a possible £5million in adddon,