It took only 45 minutes for Thiago to write his name in the record books having hit the ground running on his Liverpool debut, and it was a positive sign of things to come.
Last Friday was akin to Christmas morning, the anticipation of what was to come elicited a childlike excitement for many, whereas Sunday was Boxing Day, the day where you can finally sit back, take stock and be grateful.
The build-up was long and well-documented, a ‘saga’ clouded in financial uncertainty, but the payoff, albeit only 45 minutes to date, was one which left nothing but a deep sense of satisfaction.
‘Thiago Time’ would be signalled for the start of the second half at Stamford Bridge, as he stepped into the vacant position left following Jordan Henderson’s withdrawal with a tight thigh, and the Reds immediately stood taller.
It said nothing about the captain, but everything about Thiago.
It’s clear one can’t get too ahead of themselves after a single half of football, which was played against 10 men, but the Spaniard’s cameo provided an early glimpse of what he brings to the table.
“We decided for Thiago because of the specific situation. Eleven versus 10, I think it helps, of course, it was the perfect step in,” Klopp said of handing Thiago his debut post-match.
“We scored two goals and he was on the pitch and played a good game, and everybody could see what he’s naturally doing.
“We didn’t speak to him about anything, about what we want, just play it. It’s clear when you’re in the centre, he wants to switch, he wants to chip, he wants to do these things. So we let him do it, and he did well.”
The new No. 6 rallied around his teammates before settling into the clash with expert ease, as Klopp had very well anticipated after making the bold move to give him a run-out after merely 49 hours as a Red.
Circumstances provided the ideal starting platform, with Andreas Christensen’s red card, but Thiago operated as though he was a veteran of this Liverpool side in the Premier League and not a player who had only just located his place in the dressing room.
It is what you would expect from a world-class operator and his natural game was one which saw him patrol the middle of the park, demand possession, bark out orders and laud his teammates for their intensity off the ball – which he received in kind from James Milner.
Not since Virgil van Dijk and Alisson arrived has a player made others stand taller in their presence so early into their career at Anfield.
Sadio Mane, who netted the match-winning double, spoke glowingly of his new teammate and the instantaneous awareness that the club have another “great player” on their hands.
“Not only me, all the world knows what he is capable of doing,” he said. “He is one of the best players in the world, so we are lucky to have Thiago in our team. And I think today he showed that he is a great player.”
You could sense a switch had been flipped after a first-half which saw Liverpool dominate possession but have little in the way of clear cut chances to show for it.
Everything went through the 29-year-old, he was head of quality control – so much so that he set a new record for the most successful passes in a 45 minute or less performance since records began in the Premier League in 2003, with 75.
He was surpassed by no other player on the field from either team across the entire 90 minutes, with Naby Keita (49) the closest for the Reds and Mateo Kovacic (64) for Chelsea.
Thiago’s debut pass map:
Are there any midfielders in the world better at dictating tempo from deep? pic.twitter.com/9xX7OrokUE
— Omar ? (@topimpacat) September 20, 2020
Acting as the anchor of the side, you would expect Thiago to rack up the numbers on the ball, but it was his added dynamism, fluidity and quick thinking which saw passing lanes utilised to an effect which has been lacking from Liverpool in the middle of the park.
He provides a possession-based option and can play balls into teammates and half-spaces which few others are able to identify, you need only to look at his balls over the top towards Liverpool’s front three and his deliveries which bypassed Chelsea‘s press and set the Reds on their way forward.
Conceding a clumsy penalty was his only drawback on an otherwise impeccable start to life at the club considering he had not participated in a full training session with the team prior to the game.
As aforementioned, it was only one half of football but it provided a taste of things to come as he continues to settle into the team and gets “used to our system” as Klopp noted after the final whistle.
“Defensively it was tricky for him because we set it up differently but when he had the ball, that’s him, he wants to pass the ball,” the boss added.
Now, Klopp and the coaching staff have valuable footage to analyse to assist Thiago in adapting to new demands which will see the next steps plotted out as he transitions from a Bayern way of life to Liverpool’s – one which will provide greater tactical flexibility across the board.
That could very well see him make his first start at Lincoln in the League Cup third round, or if the boss errs on the side of caution, considering Henderson’s knock, it could instead come against Arsenal.
For now, it’s more than acceptable to be feeling like a kid at Christmas as you consider the elegance Thiago oozes and the even greater levels he can take the team to – 45 minutes under his belt or not, Liverpool have a special talent on their hands.