The implosion of the European Super League (ESL) over the past 48 hours was more about the breakaway group losing out to the establishment and had little to do with the fans.

Thiago Alcantara could be just the option Liverpool need to kick-start their title defence as Jurgen Klopp ponders whether to hand the midfielder a first Anfield start against Manchester United.

The reigning Premier League champions are yet to see the best of the high-profile signing from Bayern Munich, Thiago having seen his early months on Merseyside hampered by illness and injury.

However, having recovered from a knee issue suffered on October 17 against Everton, the Spain international has featured in Liverpool's past three games, including playing the full 90 minutes of the 1-0 defeat away at Southampton on January 4.

Next up for the Reds is a clash with table-topping United, leaving Klopp to decide if he hands the 29-year-old a long-awaited home debut on Sunday.

"We will see," Klopp said on the possibility of Thiago being in the starting XI to face United. "The most important thing is he's fit, trained, all good.

"He had now 90 and 45 minutes in the last two games. So, we will see if he can play, which position he will play because there are obviously different options and all that stuff.

"But it's really good to have him around now because he's a really good guy and obviously an exceptional football player. It's like a new signing obviously.

"Now he's here and let's hope that it will stay like this for a long, long, long time."

Thiago played in a deep-lying role in Liverpool's midfield at Southampton, completing 89 per cent of his passes and creating one chance as the visitors dominated possession after falling behind early to a Danny Ings goal. The visitors finished with an xG of 1.5, yet managed just one attempt on target for all their dominance.

John Barnes believes Thiago's ability to pick a pass in tight spaces could be crucial in certain circumstances during the remainder of the campaign, particularly as Klopp's much-vaunted forward line has struggled of late when faced with opponents willing to cede territory and get players behind the ball.

Since putting seven past Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on December 19, Liverpool have mustered one league goal in three games. 

"He is very important because it gives us an option," Liverpool legend Barnes told Stats Perform News.

"You need a player like him. I always felt that as much as we've done really well, we've won the league and not lost many games, there are times when teams defend in numbers, get 10 men back behind the ball, and our three midfield players aren't as creative.

"And they don't have that. It's not even flair, it's the insight for the passes in really, really, tight areas, and being able to receive the ball in tight areas and be more creative.

"But that doesn't happen for 90 per cent of the time, as 90 per cent of the time our three midfield players are [Jordan] Henderson, [Georginio] Wijnaldum and Fabinho, those types of players. They stand us in good stead. Not that we've had to change anyway, because we've won the league and lost two games, it's not as if we needed that.

"However, there are the odd games when that's what we need, and therefore that's what he gives us.

"Now, that's not to say that he's going to play every week, or if we were going to play against Manchester City, who may dominate possession more than we do, would we rather play like Thiago Alcantara? Or would you rather have a player like Wijnaldum or Henderson or [James] Milner, who's going to get around and tackle because that's what we need?

"What he's done, though, is he's given us options. And Jurgen has used him wisely, because the games we have used him in is when he knows we're going to dominate possession, whereby he wouldn't be needed that much defensively."

Liverpool, who go into the United game three points behind their opponents, could have Joel Matip available following an adductor injury, Klopp admitting the centre-back is "close" to a return.

Manchester United have been so reliant on "fantastic" Bruno Fernandes that it can lead to inconsistent results and performances, according to John Barnes.

Fernandes has made an incredible impact for United since signing from Sporting CP a year ago and was on Friday named Premier League Player of the Month for a fourth time.

That was the first occasion any player has won the award four times in a single calendar year.

Fernandes will again be central to United's chances as they travel to Anfield to face champions Liverpool on Sunday holding a surprise three-point lead at the top of the table.

Liverpool great Barnes believes similarities can be drawn to the Reds side which ran through Philippe Coutinho and believes having one star dominating the ball does not always lead to the best results.

Barnes also feels there are signs United are adapting in their ongoing 11-game unbeaten run in the Premier League but believes the presence of Fernandes can still detract from other stars like Paul Pogba.

His views came after being asked whether Fernandes' signing was similar to that of Liverpool landing defender Virgil van Dijk.

"They have done it in a different way," Barnes said to Stats Perform News.

"Fernandes has come and he has dominated the game – Virgil doesn't dominate the game, doesn't dominate the midfield players or the front three, he doesn't want the ball all the time.

"He's not the focal point of the way we play, he calms them down psychologically but he isn't, 'Give me the ball, I'm going to do everything'.

"That's not what Virgil does, he gives enough sense of security, whereas that is what Fernandes does. 

"I suppose that probably adds to the inconsistency [for United]. It's a bit like when Coutinho was at Liverpool, when you have a player who's going to be a number 10, or a ball player who dominates.

"All the attacking impetus of the team - the ball has to go through him all the time. It takes away from the other players - maybe other players feel 'Every time we get the ball, we have to look for Fernandes'.

"Then what's going to happen to Pogba, [Anthony] Martial, [Marcus] Rashford and all these other players who also want to be the main player.

"So he does it in a different way and in many respects, I think that has probably added to the inconsistency of Man United because when he doesn't do it, or when he's not playing, United do miss him. 

"They miss him physically in terms of what he actually gives them. Whereas Liverpool miss Van Dijk psychologically. 

"The way Manchester United physically play is really dictated to by Fernandes. 

"Sometimes it really detracts from Pogba because Pogba wants to do that, and then you have got Martial and all the players who also want to get involved in that."

Barnes believes if Barcelona's Coutinho was to return to Liverpool it would not necessarily improve the team, despite his quality.

He added: "I'd liken it to Coutinho coming back which people talk about.

"Coutinho would be fantastic - the team wouldn't, because it will all be about him being the main player, getting man of the match and people saying he's the reason why we're winning because of the way he plays. 

"Fernandes is a fantastic player. And I think of late, if you look at him, I think he's become much more of a team player than he was early on. 

"That's probably helped him at Manchester United because you can see Pogba, you can see Rashford and Martial.

"In his first 13, 14 games, it was all about him [Fernandes], which meant that he was playing well, but Man United were inconsistent. So maybe they have addressed that."

John Barnes has cast doubt on whether Manchester United can sustain the form that has taken them to the Premier League summit ahead of Sunday's huge clash with Liverpool.

The Anfield battle between the long-time rivals gives United an opportunity to pull six points clear of Jurgen Klopp's men, which is a scenario few envisaged even a matter of weeks ago.

Nine wins and two draws in 11 games means United have soared from a lowly standing to the top of the table, yet Liverpool legend Barnes believes one setback could trigger a slide.

He compared Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team to Mikel Arteta's inconsistent Arsenal, and expressed confidence it will be Manchester City and Liverpool who finish the season as the top two in England.

"I think it's too early to say for Manchester United," Barnes told Stats Perform News.

"Because of course, remember when Ole first came after 13 games, they felt that everything was okay. Then they went through a period. And of course, they're very similar now, whereby they're being inconsistent, as much as inconsistency can be being top of the league, with going out of the Champions League.

"But I think that they're showing a resilience that even if they don't play well, they can get results, which is the sign of championship contenders.

"But very much like if you look at Arsenal, and winning one or two games and all of a sudden everything's rosy for Mikel Arteta, lose one or two games and everything will be all doom and gloom.

"I think Manchester United are similar. I still see Man City as our biggest challengers for the title, I still think us and Man City will be first and second.

"Man United are in a good moment now. But will that harmony continue, knowing that one or two bad performances or defeats, well then the old questions about Ole again, the old questions about [Paul] Pogba?

"You need to get rid of all of those of uncertainties if you really want to push for the league, but at the moment, they're doing really well."

Barnes added: "We know what we're going to get from Liverpool. But the intangible is we don't know what we're going to get from Man United."

Sunday's game will be Klopp's 200th Premier League match as Liverpool manager, and Barnes says he has "improved them beyond measure", even if the recent dip in form has cast some doubt over their prospects of back-to-back titles.

Two points from a possible nine since Christmas has been a worrying twist in Liverpool's campaign.

Barnes said: "We're going through a phase now but we'll come out of it. We were top of the league until Man United went above us. So if this is what's being called having a blip, whereby we can go back top of the league if we beat Manchester United, long may this continue.

"I think we've just become so spoiled and expecting Liverpool to be scoring every weekend, beating everybody 5-0, that when they don't, everyone sees that as a bit of an issue."

The goals have dried up in the league since a 7-0 drubbing of Crystal Palace on December 19, with the front three of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino looking to sharpen up their form.

"I have no fears that those three players will start to score goals," Barnes said. "And we'll be where we should be in the coming weeks and months."

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