CHRIS SUTTON: Don't pin all the blame on Thiago

CHRIS SUTTON: Don’t pin all the blame on Thiago, to say he is the reason Liverpool’s rhythm is off isn’t fair… when normal service is resumed we will see a much brighter version of the midfielder

  • Liverpool fans are yet to see the best from midfielder Thiago Alcantara 
  • He showed his quality for Bayern Munich in the Champions League final
  • The Reds’ midfield has been disrupted which has not helped the Spaniard
  • The 29-year-old will be able to show a brighter version of himself soon 

Champions League final, August 2020. Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich are locked at 0-0 after 58 minutes and Thiago Alcantara has the ball in his own half. Ten seconds later, Bayern will be scoring the only goal of the game.

It is Thiago who kickstarts it, breaking two Parisian lines with a fast-paced pass into Joshua Kimmich — as shown in screenshot 1 below. 

That was a prime example of what this 29-year-old Spain international can do. We haven’t seen the Bayern version of Thiago in Liverpool’s midfield yet. That’s no secret. But to say he is the reason Liverpool’s rhythm is off isn’t fair. He does not deserve to be a scapegoat for their poor results. People were raving about Thiago after his debut in September, remember.

It’s not fair to say Thiago is the reason Liverpool’s rhythm has been off for the last few months

This screen shots shows how the midfielder started the move for the only goal in the Champions League final last summer

He came on at half-time against Chelsea and completed more passes in 45 minutes than any opposition player managed in 90. Everything went through him and Liverpool won 2-0 at Stamford Bridge thanks to two second-half goals. That day his desire to get the ball forward was evident.

There were more rave reports about him after his first start at Everton, too. He brought class to the chaos in that 2-2 draw at Goodison.

Jordan Henderson thought he had made it 3-2 in stoppage time until VAR decided Sadio Mane’s sleeve was offside. It wasn’t to be for Liverpool, but it was Thiago’s no-look through ball which started that move, as shown in screenshot 2. He shaped to go sideways but drilled it into Mane instead.

Another screenshot shows Thiago’s no-look ball set up Jordan Henderson’s goal which was ruled out in the last Merseyside derby

There have been snapshots of his talent when he has had the freedom to express himself and what helped that day at Everton was how Thiago played in a midfield which included Fabinho and Henderson.

That combination hasn’t been seen since. Fabinho and Henderson are in defence instead and Thiago isn’t as good at doing the dirty work in their absence. That was clear at Leicester last weekend. Thiago was dropped by Jurgen Klopp but after coming on he fouled Harvey Barnes for the free-kick which led to James Maddison’s equaliser.

Later he didn’t have the defensive know-how to realise he should have been covering Barnes before Leicester’s third goal.

So tackling and tracking are two areas Thiago could improve if he is to stop being a defensive liability, though I don’t agree with the accusation that he is slowing down Liverpool. He ranks in the Premier League’s top five players for forward passes per 90.

Liverpool fans will see a brighter version of the Spaniard when normal service is resumed

In fact, Liverpool could do with speeding up their play. Their ability to go from a defensive situation to an attacking one became legendary under Klopp.

But now, we’ve seen them develop a habit of holding the ball up, which allows opponents to regain their defensive shape.

Maybe that’s fatigue of the forwards, maybe it’s the loss of Virgil van Dijk and his dynamic outballs.

Maybe it’s partly Thiago’s fault, too, but it’s not all on him. When normal service is resumed in the set-up around him, I expect we’ll see a much brighter Thiago — the type we saw against Chelsea and Everton earlier in the season.

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