Thiago Alcantara has been on the verge of signing for Liverpool for a while now.
That’s according to reports in Germany, and those in England reporting on those from Germany. Of course there’s also rumours he’s going to join Manchester United as well as other sides too because he’s out of contract in a year and so now is the moment he either renegotiates with Bayern Munich or is moved on to pastures new.
So there’s lots of speculation, and the links to Liverpool could mean nothing, but the way in which Thiago would fit into Jurgen Klopp’s team should be enough to consider the move as a genuine possibility.
For his part, Klopp himself has been typically reluctant to get involved, saying at a recent press virtual conference: “[Thiago Alcantara] is a really good player. Like a lot of others out there, I like him a lot. But that’s all I have to say about that.”
And you can see why Klopp likes him a lot. Thiago is a true midfield maestro. Educated in Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy, he broke through into the first-team squad under Pep Guardiola, but a lack of minutes during the club’s turbulent 2012/13 season saw him activate a low release clause and join Bayern Munich (then managed by, hey, Pep Guardiola) for just €25m.
He has been phenomenal for Bayern, winning seven consecutive Bundesliga titles (in fact just once in his entire top-flight career has his side failed to win the league they’re competing in) and putting in countless superb displays at the heart of midfield, creating chances galore and setting the table for Bayern’s brilliant attackers to finish things off.
Since 2016/17 no player in the Bundesliga has completed as many passes inside their opponent’s half as Thiago (4,298) and in terms of overall passes, only Joshua Kimmich has more and it’s worth noting that the German has played over 2,000 minutes more than Thiago.
And that is why he fits in perfectly for Liverpool. The Reds’ midfield is currently a working unit. That is to say, they work hard. Whereas most great sides have had brilliant midfielders who could destroy, work and create equally (or lean more towards creation), the Liverpool midfield is all work. If you were to construct an ideal Premier League XI, even from this season where the Reds have been so dominant, you’d struggle to get a single midfielder in the side unless you wanted to reward Jordan Henderson for his leadership abilities.
This is not to say Liverpool’s midfield is somehow broken, or that their players are bad. The Reds are a war machine designed for one purpose: winning games as efficiently as possible. To that end, the Reds have devised a system where the majority of creativity comes from wide areas, where the risk posed by turning the ball over is much, much lower than it is in the middle.
So Liverpool’s full-backs are posting double figure assist numbers every year while their midfielders toil away in virtual anonymity, protecting the side defensively and augmenting it in attack. It’s a system that works and the Reds have won the Premier League in perhaps the most dominant fashion anyone ever has or ever will win it.
But you have to keep evolving.
Staying at the top of world football requires change. The more you stay the same, the more your opponents figure you out. A side can have two or perhaps three years at the top before they need a paradigm shift to avoid entropy. Liverpool made the Champions League final in 2018 but in a classic Klopp style of play.
This current side has been going for two incredibly impressive seasons, but having won the Champions League and the Premier League, now they will need to evolve if they are to go again. After all look at Manchester City: they won two titles in a row but to slow to replace key defenders ahead of 2019/20 and what happened? Collapse.
So Liverpool need to change, and Thiago is the perfect man to help them do that. Right now the Reds can win in almost every kind of way imaginable; the only thing they lack is the ability to dominate a game through a fluid-passing attack.
Again, they have consciously avoided that style, but with change now a necessity, should embrace it fully. You put Thiago into that Liverpool midfield, especially alongside Fabinho and Naby Keita, or Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and suddenly it just flows differently. The Spaniard will demand the ball and make it flow through the centre of the pitch, and as a result Liverpool will be an entirely different prospect for opposing defences to try and deal with.
When they’ve set up to handle Liverpool’s wide threat, suddenly here’s a player who can pass, dribble and shoot coming up the middle of the pitch. A genius who can slice a defence open either directly himself or by releasing attacking team-mates into great positions. Could you imagine the havoc Thiago could cause stood in front of a defence 30 yards out with both Liverpool full-backs bombing forwards on the overlap? Who would you mark??
What’s more, Thiago isn’t some defensive dilettante who would unbalance the Reds midfield. An elusive playmaker who only lives to play with the ball like Juan Román Riquleme did for years. Thiago ranks second for passes completed, first for passes completed in an opponent’s half and third, yes third, for interceptions.
Among all Bundesliga players since 2016/17, only two have more interceptions than Thiago’s 241, and they have both played at least 2,000 minutes more than him. And in terms of tackles Thiago’s 253 sees him rank fifth. So he is a truly elite playmaker who is also an elite defensive presence. In other words, Thiago is the total package. You could even play him at the base of midfield in a possession-based diamond midfield, for instance. He could be Liverpool’s new Xabi Alons0.
If there’s even the sliver of a chance that Liverpool can get Thiago, then they absolutely must do go for it. Here’s a world-class midfielder who could play any of the three midfield positions Liverpool have available in their team to a very high level. And he’ll not cost much because his contract is expiring. He would be an upgrade on any of their midfield three (well maybe only partially on Fabinho due to size) and would instantly be able to rival Kevin De Bruyne for the title of best midfielder in the league.
Sure, he’s 29 and has a rough history with injuries, but his talent is so colossal that you have to take that risk and bring him in. Forget Fortress Anfield, with Thiago Alcantara in midfield Liverpool would become a moving castle, an unstoppable juggernaut who could beat teams home or away in any conceivable style of football. There would be no way to truly defend them because they would be so multifaceted. One of the most complete killing machines ever to grace a football field.