The hype that surrounded Thiago’s incredibly exciting transfer to Liverpool has all but died.
The spaniard is probably the only readymade world-class, elite star, Liverpool have signed since Fernando Torres (Alisson and Virgil van Dijk were admittedly close) but for multiple reasons, it hasn’t been the smoothest 12-and-a-bit months since his arrival from Bayern Munich.
Covid, injuries, team crisis, etc. It’s been tough for everyone at Liverpool this past year, but especially for an incoming player with such enormous expectation attached to his every pass, let alone performance.
The reality is his stock has fallen. Before we signed Thiago, he was the best player in the 2020 Champions League Final for Bayern v PSG – and rightly regarded as one of the best, if not the best, controlling midfielders on the planet.
This summer just gone though, he was only used as an impact sub for Spain at the Euros and has yet to make a Premier League start this term – largely due to a niggling injury which disrupted his already short pre-season for Liverpool.
But this is all about to change. The silver-lining of Thiago’s slow start to this campaign is that Luis Enrique left him out of the Spain squad for this set of international fixtures, meaning he’s had time at Kirkby to get fully up to speed. As a result, he should be back in the starting lineup for the Leeds game this Sunday – especially given Naby Keita’s bad luck in Guinea and the precautionary withdrawal of Harvey Elliott from the England U21 squad…
And better yet, he could lineup alongside Jordan Henderson and Fabinho, for only the second time since he’s been at the club. Given that on paper that is our strongest midfield, it shows just how horribly injuries have shaped Liverpool starting XIs throughout Thiago’s tenure.
On that fateful day at Goodison Park, in which Thiago started with Hendo and Fab, Liverpool lost van Dijk for the season and the Spaniard for half of it – yet the 30-year-old was given Man of the Match for his wonderfully clever 90 minutes – despite this being soured by Richarlison’s cowardly tackle.
For most of last season, Thiago started with Curtis Jones and Gini Wijnaldum – both good players – but the balance didn’t work. There was little drive, and Thiago took too much defensive responsibility and gave away far too many fouls centrally.
But when Jurgen Klopp decided to bring Fabinho back into midfield from defence, Thiago shone – and was our best player during the ten game run at the season’s end that eventually saw us finish in third place and qualify for the Champions League despite being huge outsiders at one stage.
In the video below, you’ll see highlights of Thiago’s outrageously good Champions League performance v Rb Leipzig, for example:
I hear Thiago slander???
Throwback When Thiago Alcántara & Fabinho were reunited in midfield for Liverpool 🔥pic.twitter.com/cOTOM8NNwy
— Bass (@lfcbass11) September 6, 2021
Nat Phillips, Rhys Williams and even Alisson (for his goal against West Brom) kept winning the Man of the Match award domestically; but rest assured: Thiago was easily our most impressive player during our best period of 2020/21.
He controlled tempo, he flew into less and dictated our attacks from either deep or between the lines – while similarly choosing smart, protective positions that allowed our fullbacks to bomb on and do what they do best.
Now, barring any more bad luck with injuries, it’s quite possible that we’ll see a prolonged run of Fabinho, Thiago and Henderson – playing in front of a defence that includes a fully fit van Dijk – who has looked like he’s never been away since his return.
With Roberto Firmino injured, Liverpool’s ideal starting XI looks something like this: Alisson; Trent, Robertson, van Dijk, Matip; Fabinho, Thiago, Henderson; Salah, Mane, Jota.
The only player in that side who is currently underperforming is Sadio Mane, but the Senegalese is world-class and will find his top level again. Besides, Salah and Jota are so lethal right now that we can get away with it offensively.
Thiago brings class and balance to that side when he’s with not only the strength, size and defensive nous of Fabinho, but the running, leadership and passing of captain Henderson.
Thiago and Henderson have hardly ever played together so far, remember.
With those two pulling strings, Liverpool will dominate possession against every side bar perhaps Manchester City – but will also have the creative long passing of van Dijk and Thiago himself to stretch opponents – along with the traditional fullback crosses and an increased set-piece threat due to the return of our taller, more physical players.
The fact the world is less excited about Thiago in Liverpool red is probably a good thing. He knows there is competition for his spot internally, but in terms of talent and high-level experience, he has the highest ceiling of all of our midfielders – and finally will have the opportunity to show this in a healthy, fully-functioning team.
The hype has died down, but by the time the next international break comes around, it’ll be back. Thiago is ready to take this season by storm now he’ll be part of a trio that stands up against any other on the planet.