Henderson hails 'phenomenal' Thiago despite Liverpool woes

By Sports Desk February 15, 2021

Jordan Henderson believes Thiago Alcantara has been a "brilliant" addition for Liverpool despite significant struggles for Jurgen Klopp's side of late.

Klopp conceded Liverpool's Premier League title defence was effectively over after a 3-1 weekend defeat at Leicester City left them 13 points shy of leaders Manchester City having played a game more.

The Reds are back in Champions League action against RB Leipzig in the first leg of their last-16 tie on Tuesday, bruised by a run of five defeats in seven domestically and three in succession.

Spain playmaker Thiago arrived as a coup of a close-season signing from European champions Bayern Munich, billed as the man to take Klopp's phenomenal winning machine to the next level.

He sparkled on his debut from the bench in a 2-0 win at Chelsea but a bout of coronavirus them preceded a maiden start in the Merseyside derby against Everton, one cut short by Richarlison's red-card lunge.

That meant a lengthy spell on the sidelines until the December 30 0-0 draw at Newcastle.

Thiago returned to the starting line-up at Southampton next time out and the 1-0 defeat was the first of six reverses in his subsequent 10 outings in all competitions - culminating in the nightmare unravelling at the King Power Stadium.

Nevertheless, club captain Henderson holds his team-mate in the highest regard.

"Thiago's been brilliant since he's come to the club. I think everyone knows how good a player he is. He's a world class player," he said.

"Even off the field he's a really good person, leads by example and you learn a lot from him.

"He's been a fantastic addition to the squad."

Pass master interrupted by injuries

Injury means Thiago is yet to play a minute in the Champions League this season, making comparisons with his purring form in Bayern's treble run last time around tricky.

But judging per 90 minutes played, the former Barcelona man's main stock in trade appears to be in good order.

Thiago averages 78.1 successful passes each match for Klopp's men, second only to Henderson (81.1) this term, set against 84.3 last season for a Bayern team a little more noted for their ball retention.

He creates 1.2 chances per game for Liverpool, up on 1.1 for the Bavarian giants in 2019-20, while his overall passing accuracy has only dropped fractionally from 90.6 per cent to 89.2.

Complaints that Thiago has neutered Liverpool as an attacking force can be countered by the fact that no Reds player averages more than his 30 passes ending in the final third per game, suggesting a progressive element of his game is very much present. He passed into these danger areas 24 times per 90 at Bayern last season.

Perhaps concerns should be more centred upon what happens when Thiago doesn't have the ball.

A liability in the tackle?

Having started the Leicester match on the bench, only to be pressed into action by James Milner's first-half injury, his foul on Harvey Barnes inside the final 15 minutes led to the hosts' equaliser and started the meltdown.

Thiago's tracking of Barnes for Leicester's third also left plenty to be desired but he can be a danger to himself and his team when he engages opponents.

Despite his limited game time, the 29-year-old's 28 fouls this season are second to Sadio Mane (49) in Klopp's first-team squad. Among first-team regulars, his 2.6 challenges per 90 are only behind Milner (2.9).

He might want to dial back this more unhelpful part of his work rate, although the other side of this is 7.5 recoveries (behind Henderson's 8.3 among outfield regulars) and 2.2 interceptions (joint second with Naby Keita to back-up defender Neco Williams on 2.4) every game.

Of course, the most important statistic of all arrives at full-time, and so long as Liverpool are winning 59.1 per cent of their games without Thiago and 30.8 per cent with him, the doubters will remain.

Not that Henderson is among them, as opponents and a competition that have seen his colleague thrive await.

"He probably knows Leipzig better than anyone, so he'll be telling us a few things over the next 24 hours," he added.

"He's settled in very well, like I knew he would. He's a phenomenal player and hopefully he can keep improving every time he plays for us and getting used to the way we play as a team."

Related items

  • Solskjaer wants to see 'the best possible Man Utd' in derby Solskjaer wants to see 'the best possible Man Utd' in derby

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is confident Manchester United can halt Manchester City's astonishing 21-game winning run if they are at their very best at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

    City look certain to regain the title and remain in the hunt for an unprecedented quadruple following a run of 28 matches without defeat.

    Third-placed United trail their neighbours by 14 points ahead of the derby and really need a repeat of their victories at the home of their rivals in the two previous visits if they are to have any chance of being crowned champions.

    United boss Solskjaer has full faith that this side can stop City's record-breaking streak.

    He told the club's official website: "We have to be the best possible Man United, no matter who plays on the other side.

    "When we're the best possible Man United, I back my team in any game against any team. That's the key. Of course, they'll cause us problems, but we have to find the solution and try to give them other problems to worry about."

    Solskjaer says the Red Devils can have no complaints about such a demanding schedule this season.

    The former Norway striker added: "It's a challenge for the team. The most successful Man United teams over the years always used to have this.

    "Maybe once in a while we'd get a midweek off, but we haven't and we haven't had any easy cup draws either to rest players. The only way to improve, get better and get used to this is to go through it.

    "The players are getting more and more robust, physically and mentally, and I've been impressed by them and they recover [from games] really well.

    "Of course, once in a while you don't really hit your best form, that's natural and we understand that.

    "Everyone goes onto the pitch to do their best and now it's a derby and of course everyone is going to be fired up and any mental or physical fatigue is not going to come into play, that's for sure."

  • A-League: Wellington Phoenix continue their rise, Western Sydney stop the rot A-League: Wellington Phoenix continue their rise, Western Sydney stop the rot

    Wellington Phoenix continued their rise up the A-League table with an impressive 3-0 win over Perth Glory on Sunday, before Western Sydney Wanderers ended a difficult run by beating Western United 1-0 in Geelong.

    Phoenix were bottom of the pile with just five points last month but have now put together back-to-back wins that suddenly have them looking up towards the play-off spots.

    Despite the scoreline, Phoenix spent much of the game under pressure but prevailed thanks to a fine performance from goalkeeper Oli Sail - whose eight saves earned him the man-of-the-match award - and clinical finishing, with Reno Piscopo opening the scoring with a fierce drive from outside the box in the 30th minute.

    David Ball made it 2-0 soon after as he turned in James McGarry's cross and Perth's hopes of a dramatic turnaround were effectively ended just prior to the hour mark, Ben Waine prodding in from close range.

    Wellington's next opponents, Western Sydney, secured their own morale-boosting victory a little later as they climbed up to third.

    Jordon Mutch's first A-League goal in the 57th minute was the difference, as the English midfielder pounced on a defensive mistake and capitalised emphatically.

    United were adamant they should have been awarded a late penalty when Simon Cox appeared to drag Besart Berisha to the floor by his shirt.

    But much to the Kosovan's dismay, the decision did not go to a review and Western Sydney held on to end a run of two defeats and a draw in their previous three games.

  • Rumour Has It: PSG plot ambitious De Gea move Rumour Has It: PSG plot ambitious De Gea move

    French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain are plotting an ambitious move for Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea.

    PSG, headed up by ex-Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino, are keen to replace 34-year-old Keylor Navas.

    De Gea has been with United since 2011 and has two years remaining on his contract.

     

    TOP STORY – PSG TO TEMPT UNITED

    Mega-rich PSG would be able to offer United a significant fee for the 30-year-old De Gea and match his £375,000-a-week wages, according to The Sun.

    United have been linked with a move for Milan's Gianluigi Donnarumma, who is coming off contract, while Dean Henderson has pushed De Gea this season to be number one.

    PSG have also been linked with Tottenham custodian Hugo Lloris given his connection with Pochettino from their time together at Spurs.

    ROUND-UP

    - AS reports that Liverpool could enter the race for Kylian Mbappe, due to the alleged rift between forward Mohamed Salah and manager Jurgen Klopp.

    - West Ham have turned to Stuttgart's Sasa Kalajdzic in their search for a striker, according to the Daily Mail. In the queue already are RB Leipzig and Roma.

    - Limited funds means Barcelona are out of the race for Wolves' Adama Traore, according to Mundo Deportivo. The Spain international has been linked with Liverpool and Manchester City.

    - UOL Esporte reports that Manchester United have registered an interest in Leeds United winger Raphinha.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.