EPL

Thiago becoming increasingly influential as Liverpool hunt record EFL Cup triumph

By Sports Desk February 26, 2022

With the EFL Cup final upon us, focus turns to who can be the biggest difference makers when Chelsea take on Liverpool at Wembley on Sunday.

One player emerging as one of the chief influences for the Merseyside giants is Thiago Alcantara, who made his 50th appearance for the club in Wednesday's 6-0 thrashing of Leeds United.

He was a certified medal collector at Bayern Munich, and Sunday sees the former Barcelona midfielder's first opportunity to win a trophy with Liverpool. It has not all been a bed of roses for him, though.

A statement of intent

Liverpool were champions of England for the first time in three decades after romping to the Premier League title and had won the Champions League a year earlier.

Then in September 2020, the club announced the signing of Thiago.

The cultured midfielder was fresh off winning a treble of the Bundesliga, DFB Pokal and Champions League with Bayern.

However, doing so seemed like the perfect place to end things after seven years in Bavaria. After all, how could you ever top that?

So, he opted for a new challenge in England.

On his arrival, Thiago made clear his intention to continue adding to his trophy haul at Anfield.

"When the years are passing, you are trying to win as much as you can – and when you win, you want to win more," he told Liverpool's website after his move for a reported fee of £20million (€23.8m).

His debut immediately showed what a difference he could make, as he came on at half-time against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge with the score 0-0, but the hosts reduced to ten men after Andreas Christensen's red card. 

In his 45 minutes on the pitch, Thiago completed more passes (75) than any Chelsea player did across the entire game. Two Sadio Mane goals gave Liverpool a win that seemed to suggest they could potentially march to another title in 2020-21, though that would ultimately be far from the case. 

After missing nearly a month with COVID-19, his second appearance came in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park in October where he shone once again, but it was a game that saw Virgil van Dijk suffer a season-ending knee injury.

On top of that, Thiago was on the end of a rash Richarlison challenge. The former Barca man would not play again until December.

He returned when Liverpool were down to the bare bones in defence. Joe Gomez was also out for the season and Joel Matip would not be far behind.

Midfielders Jordan Henderson and Fabinho were regularly having to play at centre-back, meaning Thiago came into an unsettled team that could not stop dropping points.

Liverpool lost nine of the first 21 games in which Thiago featured, including six games in a row at Anfield, while they were dumped out of the FA Cup and Champions League.

Klopp was eventually able to stop the rot by utilising Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams, who performed admirably in defence as Liverpool rescued a third-place finish, but fielding relative rookies at the back completely changed how the Reds played.

Some pundits surmised the player was unsuited to Klopp's high press, high tempo approach, but quite simply, Liverpool were not playing Klopp's football during the second half of last season. As seen since the return of Van Dijk and Matip, as well as the addition of Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig, he needs a certain grade of centre-back to be able to do that.

Thiago came into his second season looking forward to playing in a team with its regular spine for the first time since that fateful game at Goodison Park, and on the occasions where he has been able to, he has shown just why he is rated so highly.

He scored a stunning goal against Porto in the Champions League group stage, hitting the ball from range with such delicate precision that it seemed to glide an inch off the ground all the way from his foot until it nestled in the corner of the Kop-end net.

Thiago is not a goalscorer though, or even much of a goal creator, directly anyway. In his 235 appearances for Bayern he scored just 31 goals and provided 35 assists, while so far in England he has three goals and one assist in his 50 outings.

However, he is clearly making a difference to the 2021-22 iteration of Liverpool.

Thiago has missed 20 games this season either through injury or COVID-19, and Liverpool have played 28 fixtures in all competitions without him in their starting XI.

Of those, they have won 18 (64.3 per cent), drawn eight and lost two, with an average of 2.5 goals for per game, and one goal against.

Yet Liverpool have won all 12 matches in which Thiago has started, with an average of 2.9 goals for per game, and just 0.2 goals against.

A prime example of his increasing influence came against Norwich City. Thiago was introduced in the 62nd minute with his team 1-0 down. Five minutes later, Liverpool were 2-1 up.

Only six of Liverpool's starters attempted more than his 48 passes despite his short time on the pitch, and Thiago completed 45 (93.8 per cent). Of those passes, 34 were in Norwich's half.

Thiago carried that form on in the rout of Leeds, completing 52 of his 56 passes (92.9 per cent, the highest in the game, but he also showed another side to of his ability, making four tackles, twice as many as the next most from a team-mate (Fabinho), before being substituted in the 68th minute.

Keeping him fit is the big challenge, but should he be able to do so, Klopp potentially now has the depth to challenge on all fronts.

With a quadruple still in the offing, having Thiago available could be the difference between success and failure in multiple competitions for 

Who knows? If Liverpool overcome Chelsea on Sunday and win the EFL Cup for a record ninth time, perhaps he can even eclipse that sensational final season at Bayern after all.

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