The Spaniard has played a key role in Liverpool’s charge for a historic quadruple this season
Liverpool have come leaps and bounds since Jurgen Klopp came in. It is evident in their success, the mentality of the club and the work they do. An important cause for this success has been the players they have signed since Klopp arrived. The club signed some terrific prospects who they have now turned into world-class players. These players are now leading the team on an all-conquering pursuit this season.
Liverpool are a point behind league leaders Manchester City with four games to go. They qualified for the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League finals and have already lifted the Carabao Cup this season. Hence, the Reds are on the cusp of an unprecedented quadruple. Going by what they could achieve, it won’t be far-fetched to say that Klopp’s team currently seem the best in Europe. Many football pundits have also deemed Liverpool as the favourites to win Champions League.
The work of the players and the staff is well-documented and known. But, a name that has rather not been put in the same breath as Virgil Van Dijk, Mohamed Salah and the rest and is finding more voice recently is that of Thiago Alcantara.
The Spaniard has slowly endeared himself to the Anfield faithful and is one of Klopp’s key players this season. But how has Thiago Alcantara become indispensable for Klopp? We attempted to unearth the reasons behind it.
Overcoming a tough start
After winning 25 trophies at Barcelona and Bayern, Thiago arrived for an initial fee of £20 million with £5 million in add-ons. A lot was therefore expected of Thiago Alcantara . The Spaniard made history in his first game for Liverpool against rivals Chelsea. He completed 75 passes after coming on at half-time. It broke the record for the most successful passes within 45 minutes. But Thiago endured a tough time with injuries since arriving at Merseyside. He completed his first season with only 24 league appearances and with one goal to his name.
The Spaniard needed some time to adapt to Klopp’s high-pressing style. This was a change from the usual possession-based football that he played under Pep at Barcelona and Bayern and then under other coaches at Bayern. He also has the knowledge of working and playing under two outstanding coaches in Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp.
Now with increased awareness of his role at the heart of the midfield, Thiago has matched his skill and distribution to the pace of Klopp’s game. He only has five goal contributions in 64 games for the Reds, but four of them have come this season.
What makes Thiago click for Liverpool?
The 31-year old is a wizard on the ball. This season, he is contributing more with his presence and movement in the opposition’s half. His stats (more on them ahead) are evidence of this fact. But it comes as part of him being able to perform in a free role. The form of Fabinho has also decreased the load on Thiago. Jordan Henderson’s quality in defensive midfield has also helped Thiago’s cause a great deal. The three make a fantastic midfield trio of skill, energy and tenacity. Thiago and Liverpool’s midfield also has and makes good use of the supreme talents of Liverpool’s wing-backs and their forwards.
Despite tactical switches, Thiago has been ingrained in the 4-3-3 system in his days at Barcelona and Bayern. Therefore, his role as a playmaking midfielder in the setup is well-known to him. Therefore, despite the intensity of the play, Thiago’s fundamentals didn’t change. What’s more? Klopp has also improved his game off-the-ball as well.
A player beyond goal contributions
Thiago Alcantara has shown that in a physically demanding system, he can still work as the connective tissue. He is the method among the madness for Liverpool. But the epithets and praise aside, it still comes down to raw numbers for any player.
Thiago completes close to 84 passes in a game, 12 more than what he tallied in his previous season at an accuracy of 90%. This tally places him in the 98 percentile rank in the league. With his passing and dribbling, Thiago is astute in linking the defence with the attack.
Thiago averages 9.36 progressive passes and more than eight progressive carries. These figures rank him among the top 99 percentile of players in the league, the elite level.
Thiago’s non-penalty xG+xA rate of 0.24 is higher than Jorginho and Rodri in the Premier League and is at par with Luka Modric of Real Madrid. Thiago creates 3.55 shot-creating actions per 90 (more than any midfielder mentioned above) and 0.26 goal-creating actions (more than everyone bar Jorginho and Luka Modric).
Therefore, these numbers indicate that Thiago is more than just a passive passer. He combines skill and awareness to contribute smartly to Liverpool’s fast-paced attackers. His vision aids him to be the beating heart of Liverpool’s midfield.
There is no doubting Thiago’s quality off the ball. But what he has massively improved at Liverpool is his reading of the game and his defensive output as well.
In 2021-22, Thiago Alcantara is winning more than five tackles and interceptions per game which place him in the top 90 percentile among midfielders in Europe. He also wins more than two aerial duels per game. It is a great tally for a player who is under 5′ 10″ tall and has faced a lot of injury troubles in his career and at Liverpool as well.
A key reason for the Spaniard’s increase in stock at Anfield has been the way he distributes his passes. As mentioned before, Thiago’s vision and smartness are his great strengths. Thiago averages an 82.1% long pass completion rate which is only behind Rodri in the Premier League. It is also more than the tally he managed in any of his seven seasons at Bayern Munich. He also completes 92% of his short and medium passes.
The modern era of football has given us heroes, legends and stat-hungry players. But that doesn’t take the fact away that it is still a team game in its essence. Despite Mo Salah’s heroics, Klopp’s Liverpool embodies the sentiment of teamwork. It is also evident in the rise of Thiago’s prominence in the side’s form. He is the midfield metronome that makes Liverpool tick in their gameplay. He is the artist who puts the beautiful brushstrokes to the portrait that is Klopp’s Liverpool.