Why Thiago Alcantara was the Liverpool player who didn’t want the season to end

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Signed to equal parts disbelief and fanfare, Champions League winner Thiago Alcantara was an out-of-the-norm signing for the Reds who probably didn’t want the season to finish when it did.

Reds fans took some time to accept and believe the fact Liverpool wanted to sign a prime-age, top of the line Rolls Royce of a midfielder instead of an all-action up-and-comer, but Thiago eventually did sign and eventually lived up to the billing.

Like many players who joined the Premier League last summer, there was an element of adjustment to take care of.

The stadiums being empty, the ludicrous schedule, the lack of pre-season and everything else – plus Jurgen Klopp‘s tactical system being one of the most demanding to learn in the game – all made it seem as though Thiago was almost there, but could still give an awful lot more for certain parts of the campaign.

But throw in a long-term injury and the lack of cohesion around and behind him, and it’s no real wonder that he struggled to find his place early on.

Regardless of early struggles, quality always tells – and Thiago‘s had certainly started to by the time the season came to a close.

Thiago Alcantara, 2020/21

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - Sunday, May 16, 2021: Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara during the pre-match warm-up before the FA Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion FC and Liverpool FC at The Hawthorns. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Started: 23 (All competitions)
On as a substitute: 7
Unused sub: 1
Goals: 1
Assists: 0

Overall Season Rating: 7.5 (6th)

 

Rotations and Richarlisons

NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 30, 2020: Liverpool’s Thiago Alcantara during the FA Premier League match between Newcastle United FC and Liverpool FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It wouldn’t have been what he had expected, you’d imagine: leaving Bayern Munich as champion of pretty much everything, then finding himself out of the team or subbed off early for particularly crucial occasions.

Perhaps, as much as Thiago needed time to get used to Klopp’s tactical demands out of possession, the manager also needed to get used to simply trusting a player with as much natural talent and instinct as the Spain midfielder has.

There cannot be too much argument now – after the fact, easy to say, but still – that it was a mistake to not feature Thiago against Real Madrid, and likewise to take him off in certain games where the last few minutes needed not just fresh legs, but control of the ball and a cool head. Thiago being subbed off robbed the team of both, and it was costly more than once.

But problems also came of his own making at times: late or silly tackles earned him a spate of yellow cards, perhaps the odd one ‘necessary’ for the team but mostly just poor challenges, often cumulatively.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 17, 2020: Liverpool’s Thiago Alcantara is treated for an injury by physio Chris Morgan during the FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Liverpool FC, the 237th Merseyside Derby, at Goodison Park. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. The game ended in a 2-2 draw. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

And yet, for those struggles, Thiago‘s biggest set-back was something he had no control over and that was well outside the boundaries of allowable aggression: Richarlison’s abject attempt at a tackle which left the No. 6 sidelined for months.

The timing was bad for the team, but also for the player himself after he had just begun to show some of the level of intelligence and dominance he could bring to the side.

All told, the first half-season really wasn’t as spectacular for Thiago as the thought of his arrival promised supporters it could be.

As the saying goes: form is temporary; class is permanent. It wouldn’t be too long before he proved it right again.

 

Utterly dominant

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, May 8, 2021: Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara celebrates after scoring the second goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Southampton FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

A goal always helps, doesn’t it? He netted his first Reds goal at the start of May, firing in to wrap up the points against Southampton and finally put an end to those lunatic columns gleefully bashing out ‘no goals, no assists’ every week.

But in truth, Thiago had already found his form before that match.

For perhaps the final eight weeks or so of the season, he was the driving force in the Liverpool team, the metronomic dagger through enemy lines who could switch play, find a gap between the lines and, crucially, also force open opposition defences by being willing to dribble it at them himself.

You can absolutely bet that this latter skill will be more prevalent and more effective next season.

Thiago commits defenders, forces them to make a decision. Stand off and he’ll drive into space before killing them with a pass. Step out to close him down and he has the agility to spin away and thread the ball through into the gap they’ve just vacated.

The more runners off the ball Liverpool have ahead of him, the more effective Thiago becomes – his teammates will be learning that with every passing week.

By season’s end, no defence or midfield could touch our No. 6.

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - Sunday, May 16, 2021: Liverpool's goalkeeper Alisson Becker (R) celebrates with team-mates Thiago Alcantara (L) and Roberto Firmino (C) after he scored the winning second goal with a head in injury time during the FA Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion FC and Liverpool FC at The Hawthorns. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

He was utterly running the game, half after half, more and more impressive as the stakes rose higher and the margin for error got smaller.

Players like Thiago – winners like Thiago – come to the fore most often when everything hinges on being as close to perfect as possible. He finds a way, or helps someone else to.

The Spanish playmaker wouldn’t have wanted the season to end when it did – but he could end up being one of the stars of Euro 2020 as a result of his form and fitness being at its peak.

There’s so much more to come next season and beyond in Red.


Best moment: End-of-season run of form as he simply ran the show, game after game.

Worst moment: The injury. Or else probably any time mid-season he picked up a newspaper or opened a football website to read how much ‘damage’ he was doing to the team by “slowing Liverpool down” and other such nonsense.

Role next season: Very regular starter in a very dominant team.

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