After mass speculation surrounding a summer saga, the Reds announced the signing of Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich on Friday, instantly elevating their midfielder to a new level.
Ahead of public confirmation, Bayern boss Hansi Flick paid tribute to the midfielder on Thursday and it is no surprise that he is saddened by Thiago’s departure. After all, he’s losing a truly world-class midfielder.
The arrival of Thiago will do several things. Firstly, it will give Liverpool midfielders something to think about.
A deal of over £ 20million has brought the midfielder to Anfield, and he is set to play for Jurgen Klopp.
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Assuming Jurgen Klopp sticks with his proven 4-3-3 – and he should say how he is adjusting to his first three – one of Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, Georginio Wijnaldum will surely give way to the new signing, who will aim to join one of the most exclusive clubs in football by winning a Champions League medal with a third different club having conquered Europe with Barcelona and Bayern.
Secondly, it will give the aforementioned attacking trio a primary supplier, a player whose skill and cunning have propelled teams including Robert Lewandowski and Lionel Messi.
Finally, it will further strengthen the dressing room of the champions of Liverpool. After all, Thiago has won nine league titles in the past 10 years at Barcelona and Bayern. He’s not coming to England to end this race.
While it’s easy to think of Thiago as a luxury playmaker, an intriguing Rolls-Royce who takes pride in distinguishing defenses from the opposition, there is a lot more to him. He can, of course, be a creative linchpin, though he’s a much more rounded player.
Under Flick, Thiago has often played a pivotal role in midfield as part of Bayern’s 4-1-4-1, acting as a deep creator ahead of the excellent Joshua Kimmich. Most recently, in Bayern’s run to the Champions League final last season, Leon Goretzka accompanied Thiago to midfield as Kimmich returned to right-back to cover injured Benjamin Pavard.
Thiago has performed various interpretations of the No.6 role at Bayern, having paired Javi Martinez under Carlo Ancelotti and Jupp Heynckes and operating in the middle of a three in Niko Kovac’s 4-3-3.
An exceptional passer, Thiago’s low center of gravity and close control allow him to impressively maintain possession under intense pressure and in tight spaces.
He often lands to receive the ball from center-backs, but can take his team higher up the pitch in an instant thanks to his superlative passing range. A shrewd student of space and angles, Thiago knows when to drop a single pass, execute a brace with a teammate to create room or try to unlock the opponent’s defense with a well-judged ball.
It is the latter weapon, in particular, that has exciting potential for Liverpool’s top three Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, who are all adept at running tilted runs off the shoulders of defenders.
Of course, Thiago is already well known to the English football public. Although he was an unused replacement as a youngster in Barcelona’s 2011 Champions League final triumph over Manchester United, he has often been a thorn in Premier League sides since.
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In 2015, he played a central role in Bayern’s 5-1 dismantling of Arsenal in the Champions League group stages. In 2017, he haunted the Gunners once again, scoring two goals and netting one assist in another 5-1 victory as the Bundesliga Pivots overtook the North Londoners and practically booked their spot in the quarter-finals.
Last season he came off the bench at halftime to make Tottenham Hotspur’s misery worse, creating the third of Serge Gnabry’s four goals in a stunning 7-2 win.
Then, with Bayern determined to regain their European crown, he produced a masterful display against Chelsea in the round of 16.
While Gnabry again made headlines with two goals, Thiago was irresistible in midfield. Its 93% pass accuracy looks orderly, but it’s even more impressive considering the reach and verticality of its distribution, as illustrated in the Wyscout graph below.
According to Wyscout, Thiago completed eight of his 10 long passes, made four interceptions and won 12 of his 18 total matches. Impressively, he made 10 of 12 attempted passes in the final third.
As you can see from the screenshots below, Thiago almost managed to kill Chelsea in one pass.
Returning to receive the ball from Alphonso Davies, he immediately raised his head and saw Lewandowski on the run.
While Chelsea’s pressing of Olivier Giroud and Mason Mount is mediocre, Thiago takes the entire Blues squad with a heat seeking ball on top.
This created a one-on-one for Lewandowski although Willy Caballero was able to load the shot.
Thiago’s playing prowess is clear, though he’s also extremely skilled without the ball.
A good reader of the game, he is often able to cut the passing lanes of the other team. It’s no coincidence that he often gets a subtle touch or deflection of the ball to get possession back to his side.
Thiago’s injury toll will be a bit of concern for Liverpool fans – he’s never made more than 26 Bundesliga games for Bayern in a 34-game season – but there’s no doubt the Reds have won a jewel.
A player who has always excelled for two of Europe’s heavyweights, controlling match after match at the highest level, he has the potential to be a revolutionary addition to Klopp’s squad, making an already impressive Liverpool unit even stronger.