Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp likened Thiago Alcantara’s touch to that of a world-class golfer after promising the midfielder still has plenty to contribute.
It is 12 months since the Spain international’s arrival from Bayern Munich was hailed as the ‘game-changer’ the then Premier League champions needed to kick on.
Unfortunately things did not transpire that way for the 30-year-old as, two games in, he sustained a knee injury in the same October Merseyside derby which also ended Virgil Van Dijk’s season.
Thiago played just once in three months as his recovery took longer than expected and he did not properly start to show his best form until the latter stages of the campaign.
His adaptation to English football was not helped by only being able to play in a first-choice midfield alongside Jordan Henderson and Fabinho once – the game at Everton.
Last weekend’s win at Leeds offered a glimpse of his best form and Klopp hopes he will get into his stride quicker this season in a more stable side.
“The start was not perfect because he came here and got Covid and got injured early,” said the manager.
“He showed what kind of a player he can and will be for us, so there is much more to come, of course.
“It is now a year, but if you want it is actually only half a year because of all the things that happened.
“But he is such a natural footballer it is not like we have to give him 15 or 16 different things to do in the game, we want him to play his natural football.
“In a closed area with his passing he is really good, and he can chip balls into each area like a golfer. A good golfer. A world-class golfer.
“He does that without even thinking. I love the way he plays.”
With all his – and the team’s – struggles last season Thiago was criticised for slowing down Liverpool’s play.
Klopp sees it differently, however, in the knowledge the midfielder brings something others in his position cannot and that gives his side an extra dimension.
“We try to develop every year,” he added.
“There are some natural skills which the boys have. In Thiago’s case, that is for sure. If you were writing under a headline, all the technical stuff is easy for him.
“Yes, he has to adapt to the way we defend. We play rather more often using a slightly more offensive player as one of the ‘double-six’ than Bayern Munich, you have to be more offensive and defensive as one of our ‘double-six’.
“I don’t ask him for constant runs beyond the last line. He is a playmaker, obviously, who can sometimes be a little deeper, but you have to play between the lines.”