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Liverpool’s Thiago conundrum: The good and the bad

His quality has never been in question, but having sustained another injury in Liverpool’s first league game of 2022/23, Thiago‘s season is already threatening to follow a familiar pattern.

Thiago Alcantara do Nascimento.

One of the most graceful footballers to wear the red shirt in recent years, without any shadow of a doubt.

His arrival from Bayern Munich in the summer of 2020 perhaps generated more excitement among fans than any other signing in the Jurgen Klopp era, and understandably so.

Liverpool’s decision to swoop for a player of Thiago‘s ilk was a step away from the type of signing we’ve become accustomed to seeing from Michael Edwards and the rest of the transfer committee.

This wasn’t a young player with bags of unfulfilled potential and plenty to prove, but it was a truly world-class operator at the peak of his powers who, at the time, was being spoken about as the best midfield player on the planet.

So, after two years at Anfield, how can we assess the Spaniard’s time at Anfield to date?

 

Importance can’t be understated

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, November 24, 2021: Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara celebrates after scoring the first goal during the UEFA Champions League Group B Matchday 5 game between Liverpool FC and FC Porto at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

When fit, Thiago is one of the first names on Klopp’s teamsheet.

He offers a completely different dimension to the midfield than any of the other options in his position.

Incisive passes, a remarkable passing range, and pretty much everything else you’d want from a modern day midfielder.

After a first season disrupted by Covid complications and a frankly unbelievable turn of events that left the team without any centre-backs for the much of the season, the following campaign was much more fruitful for the midfielder.

Despite several injury setbacks, he made 39 appearances in all competitions in 2021/22, with the Reds winning 22 of the 27 matches he started.

There were standout performances against the likes of Southampton in the league and Man City in the FA Cup semi-finals. And that Porto strike really did encapsulate everything he is about. Pure class.

The 31-year-old is usually deployed in the number eight position on the left-hand side of Liverpool’s midfield trio, often accompanied by Fabinho and Jordan Henderson in the centre of the park.

It’s a slightly more advanced role than what he was used to at Bayern, having often been used in a double-pivot, but it’s one he’s adjusted to well.

A classy player who offers so much to this team, but it’s not always been so easy-going.

 

The persistent injury issues

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 6, 2022: Liverpool's Thiago Alcântara goes off injured during the FA Premier League match between Fulham FC and Liverpool FC at Craven Cottage. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Having almost missed the Champions League final with a muscular injury that would keep him out of international duty at the end of the season, the sight of Thiago limping off with another problem against Fulham was certainly an unwelcome one.

The Spaniard missed 14 Premier League matches in his first season and just one less in 2021/22.

He was in tears after picking up an injury in the warmup ahead of last season’s Carabao Cup final against Chelsea, and it was nearly the same story in Paris at the end of the season.

Thiago’s Liverpool injury and illness history

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 18, 2021: Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara limps off with an injury during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Crystal Palace FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

September-October 2020 – Covid (4 games missed)
October-December 2020 – Knee injury (17 games missed)
September-October 2021 – Calf injury (10 games missed)
December 2021 – Covid (3 games missed)
December 2021-February 2022 – Hip injury (7 games missed)
February-March 2022 – Thigh injury (3 games missed)
June 2022 – Achilles injury (Missed international duty)
August 2022 – Hamstring injury (expected to miss 9 games)

You have to wonder whether the intense nature of Klopp’s football is taking its toll. Thiago is being asked to run more, to make more forward sprints and is more involved in the attacking play than he was at Bayern.

As previously mentioned, the Spaniard was more of a deep-lying playmaker at the Allianz Arena and was tasked with dictating the play.

His latest setback has certainly not slowed down calls from some sections of Liverpool supporters to see a new, top class midfielder added to the ranks this summer.

 

A signing that’s gone to plan?

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, July 30, 2022: Liverpool's Thiago Alcântara (L) and Mohamed Salah after the FA Community Shield friendly match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at the King Power Stadium. Liverpool won 3-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Given the success Liverpool have enjoyed on the pitch and the role Thiago has played in it, you have to say yes.

The injuries, though, are becoming a real problem.

Thiago was effectively Liverpool’s Gini Wijnaldum replacement, with the Dutchman’s contract expiring 12 months after the Spaniard’s arrival.

In terms of availability, though, the two players are polar opposites. In the five years he spent at Liverpool, Wijnaldum was a machine, missing just 11 matches due to injury during that time.

You could argue that Wijnaldum, who has recently joined Jose Mourinho’s Roma on loan after a dismal year with PSG, was also more suited to the advanced midfield role in Klopp’s system.

However, Liverpool knew what they were getting in Thiago and, for an initial £20 million, the La Masia academy graduate has been worth every penny.

That said, this really is a big season for Liverpool’s No. 6.

With less than two years remaining on his contract, the next year will surely play a huge part in the Reds’ thinking when they’re weighing up whether to offer him a new deal, and on what terms.

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