| 8.6°C Dublin

Carragher view Liverpool’s results have been poorer than Thiago’s performances

Close

Manchester City's Ilkay Gundogan challenges Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara battle for the ball during the Premier League match at Anfield (Tim Keeton/PA Wire)

Manchester City's Ilkay Gundogan challenges Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara battle for the ball during the Premier League match at Anfield (Tim Keeton/PA Wire)

Manchester City's Ilkay Gundogan challenges Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara battle for the ball during the Premier League match at Anfield (Tim Keeton/PA Wire)

For much of his first season in England,  Thiago Alcantara has seemed like the luxury Liverpool cannot afford. Due to circumstances, the right player seems to have found himself at Anfield at the wrong time.

When Liverpool recruited Thiago from Bayern Munich last summer, it was a statement of intent to evolve a title-winning line-up.

Liverpool’s midfield trio of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum was fully formed but, if there was one criticism, occasionally one-dimensional. That dimension was still sensationally effective, though. Their dynamism, high-pressing and multi-tackling ensured they had lost only three Premier League games as a midfield starting trio since October 2017. Nevertheless, even champions need more.

Introducing Thiago a player who can deliver passes most do not see was intended to complement existing class, especially in games when opponents just defend the edge of their penalty area. Here was the ultimate modern playmaker, someone Liverpool have missed since Xabi Alonso or Jan Molby were in their prime.

As one of the world’s most coveted midfielders, and a hero of Bayern’s 2020 Champions League win, Thiago is the ready-made superstar Liverpool have been unable to attract for the previous 30 years. The club usually accepted defeat when Chelsea or Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United could offer more money and the security of guaranteed title bids.

Under owners Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool generally shied away from those deals, targeting younger players who would become world-renowned figures at Anfield rather than arrive as finished products with bulging medal collections.

Thiago shifted that policy. In the process, those studying Liverpool believe he has forced Jurgen Klopp to compromise how his team plays. Gary Neville saw similarities to Juan Sebastian Veron’s move to Manchester United in 2001 a world-class player who did not suit United’s style.

My friend and former Liverpool team-mate Dietmar Hamann expressed misgivings shortly after Thiago signed. His comments caused a stir.

“I’m not too sure,” said Didi. “He’s a great player, but whether he suits the English game, I think that remains to be seen.”

That was interpreted as a criticism more than a considered observation, even though it was from someone who saw plenty of Thiago in Germany. Didi’s insight has looked more credible since, and amid the desire for recrimination as Liverpool go into the Merseyside derby with top-four instead of title ambitions, Thiago has inadvertently found himself something of a scapegoat.

Thiago is certainly a different profile of midfielder to the settled three. He is technically better, but lacks pace and his tackling is noticeably erratic, earning uncomplimentary comparisons with Paul Scholes’ tendency to dive in to challenges.

When games become stretched like the frantic finale at Leicester last weekend Thiago struggles. The Leicester defeat was a prime example of how the characteristics that brought Liverpool their Champions League and Premier League success have gone this season.

At times, such as the poor final 12 minutes at the King Power Stadium, Thiago has been a defensive liability. He lost the ball and then sloppily conceded the free-kick in the build-up Leicester’s equaliser.

He made another clumsy tackle within 60 seconds against RB Leipzig in midweek, another occasion when he looked certain to be booked. He settled after that, and all the reports from the win in Budapest argued Thiago was much better.

I agree Thiago played well. Where I disagree is that he was more impressive than usual, because there have been many games where he has been excellent and Liverpool still lost.

A scoreline can camouflage the reality of an individual’s contribution. We too often believe a defeat equates to underperformance, and victory the opposite.

That’s happened a lot this season for Thiago because of the general expectation he would do more. Yet when breaking down the statistics of his season, some of the most repeated negative appraisals do not add up.

It is suggested, for example, that Liverpool are a more possession-based side when Thiago plays, and he is responsible for slowing the tempo. The opposite is true. Liverpool have more possession and complete more passes as a team without him.

And far from ‘passing for passing’s sake’ when Thiago starts, the ratio of forward balls, and those finding a team-mate in the final third, is significantly higher with the Spanish international. Liverpool create an average of two more chances per match when Thiago plays. Of Thiago’s passes, 67pc are in the opposition half, and 33pc in the final third more than any of Liverpool’s regular midfielders. He looks forward, not sideways.

Thiago is a playmaker rather than prolific assist-maker, but the passing stats show there has been an impressive level of consistency with the ball. It is there in black and white that he has been doing what he was signed to do. Unfortunately for both him and Klopp, the midfielders who would balance the line-up and contribute in other key areas have been absent.

That means Thiago has been required to fulfil the midfield duties he is seemingly less suited to. He was not signed as a ball-winner, yet has made more fouls than any Premier League player and the number of poor tackles he is making per game is higher than any during his last five seasons in Germany.

Despite that, Thiago has made more interceptions each match than any of Liverpool’s middle three made in the title-winning campaign of 2019-20. He has won more duels and retrieved possession more than Henderson, Wijnaldum and Fabinho did last year.

If these figures were presented to Liverpool’s technical staff in September they would have been purring with anticipation. We will never know how different it might have been so far had Fabinho and Henderson been at his side.

Thiago has not changed Liverpool as much as many believe. The world around him and Liverpool has changed. When the midfield reassembles, even if Thiago does exactly what he has been doing, perceptions will shift.

Liverpool’s results have been poorer than Thiago’s performances. So while we may not think we are seeing the best of him now, it is wise to hold fire before suggesting this is a high-profile deal which has not worked.

There is enough evidence for those seeking it that once Liverpool’s midfield is back to full strength, the right time for the right player might be 12 months later than intended.

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices

Telegraph.co.uk


Top Videos





Privacy