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

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Football - By Chris Bas­combe

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,

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