The final part of the Klopp masterplan: will Thiago Alcântara take Liverpool on to the next level?
As the news of the Thiago deal reverberated around social media, Liverpool fans slipped into an uncontrollable state of ecstasy.
Over the last two seasons, Liverpool fans, whilst in awe of the mentality monsters, have craved for some flare and guile in the Liverpool midfield, in order to unlock the most stubborn of defences (Burnley’s defence is immediately summoned to mind). Is Thiago the man to fill this midfield lacuna?
Since the departure of Coutinho (I do apologise for mentioning his name), Liverpool’s midfield has lacked the majesty and flicker of creativity. It was hoped that Naby Keita would ignite the Liverpool midfield and fill this creative void, but most Liverpool fans agree that Keita, whilst producing some good recent performances, has much to prove if he is going to secure a consistent place in the first team.
It must also be said that Fabinho, Chamberlain, Henderson, and Wijnaldum, have all shown glimpses of creativity in matches, but, significantly, not on a consistent basis. It is also right to say that Liverpool’s midfielders all share a similar skill set which can sometimes make Liverpool’s play appear stale when confronted with teams with a low block.
Liverpool’s success under Klopp has been built on the mercurial front three running riot, and the Liverpool midfield, the engine of the team, providing a robust shield from opposition attacks, stifling opposition transitions, and winning the ball back. Will the inclusion of Thiago alter the team’s DNA coding?
It remains unclear how Thiago will be deployed in a Klopp team: will Thiago, for example, be used as a deep holding midfield player, displacing Fabinho? Or, will Thiago be asked to play a more advanced role, orchestrating the play in the final third? It has been said that Thiago’s game has parallels with Xabi Alonso, in that Thiago has an impressive passing armoury and can be particularly effective in transition play. Thiago has also been praised for his ability to play incisive passes.
Thiago’s stats last year would certainly support the conclusion that he will improve the Liverpool midfield. When compared with Liverpool’s midfield, Thiago tops the list in terms of his ball recovery, dribble completion, and interceptions, all of which are key components in the Klopp blueprint.
— Thiago Alcantara (@Thiago6) 20 September 2020
What should not be ignored, however, is that Thiago’s appearance and injury record is not impressive or flattering: he has suffered close to 25 injuries in his career, and, coupled with this, he has just once played 30 or more Bundesliga matches in a season.
This may temper some of the excitement over the signing of Thiago, particularly when Klopp’s style of play is brought into the equation; Klopp’s heavy metal football is not suited to those players who spend too much time on the medical table.
There are some Liverpool fans who suggest that Thiago’s age is a problem; this argument becomes less impressive and less attractive when one considers that the top central midfielders in the world are of a similar age to Thiago - Kevin De Bruyne, Toni Kroos, Sergio Busquets, to mention a few. In addition to this, a number of Liverpool’s key midfield generals are of a similar age to Thiago.
As well as age concerns, some Liverpool fans question whether Thiago still has the appetite and desire to be successful; after all, he is a serial winner, and has played for some of the best teams in the world. Klopp has an impressive radar for identifying players with the correct mentality; there is no reason to question his faith in the Spanish playmaker on this front.
The arguments against the signing of Thiago fall away when two points are considered closely. The first is that Thiago, as with the rest of the Liverpool midfield cohort, will be subject to rotation, thereby diluting the concern that Thiago does not have the robustness to play in a Klopp team; the second is that the fee purportedly agreed makes this transfer irresistible. The reported £27m fee for Thiago (£20m upfront) pales into insignificance when the fee that Liverpool received for Solanke is brought to attention.
When the astronomical fees for current players are considered, such as Jadon Sancho’s proposed eye-watering £100m fee to United, the Thiago transfer represents, on any view, good business.
It remains unclear how Thiago will fit in to the Liverpool team and how he will fare in the Premier League, a league which is arguably the most competitive in world football. Liverpool fans will be optimistic, not pessimistic about this transfer, especially when considering that Thiago has won 8 league titles in his last 8 seasons.
There are fears that Thiago’s arrival could signal Wijnaldum’s exit. If this is how the saga concludes, the debate on the merits of the Thiago transfer takes an interesting volta, as it is far from clear whether Liverpool fans would take Thiago in a straight swap for Wijnaldum. We should not forget that Wijnaldum is a proven Premier League player, a player who has turned up for Liverpool on countless occasions in the biggest games.
As the dust settles on this transfer, Liverpool fans, and the football world, will be eagerly monitoring Thiago's first few games in a Liverpool shirt. Is Thiago the final part in Klopp’s masterplan? We will find out this season.