Liverpool will be without Trent Alexander-Arnold and Thiago Alcantara for Sunday's Premier League clash with Manchester City.

Full-back Alexander-Arnold sat out the 5-1 Champions League win at Porto on Tuesday due to a muscle problem, while Thiago has missed the Reds' previous three games with a calf injury.

Manager Jurgen Klopp does not expect either to be available until after the international break.

Speaking to the club's website on Thursday, he said: "No 'news' means they are doing well but they won't have enough time for being back against City, but I expect them both to be back after the international break. 

"But we have a good team so we still have solutions and we have to use them and yeah, after the international break the boys will be back I think."

City won 4-1 at Anfield last season to end a 17-game run without an away league win over Klopp's men.

Liverpool, who are on a 16-game unbeaten run in league football, will be hoping to avoid suffering back-to-back defeats to City for the first time since 1937.

The Reds go into the latest round of matches at the top of the table, one point ahead of a five-team chasing pack that includes City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Everton and Brighton and Hove Albion.

Thiago Alcantara will miss Liverpool's next three matches, including the clash with Premier League champions Manchester City, due to a calf injury.

The midfielder sustained the problem during last week's 3-0 victory over Crystal Palace at Anfield and was replaced by Naby Keita after 62 minutes.

Keita was also injured in the EFL Cup win at Norwich City, suffering a foot concern during the first half at Carrow Road.

While Keita is due to sit out the league game at Brentford on Saturday and possibly the Champions League trip to Porto, Thiago is not expected to return until after the international break next month, meaning he will miss the meeting with Pep Guardiola's City on October 3.

Reds manager Jurgen Klopp said on Friday: "It's not 100 per cent clear when Thiago will be back. It's a muscle, in the calf. After the international break, probably. I don't think anything earlier is possible. We will have to see.

"[Keita is] Nothing really serious but it keeps him out for the next game for sure, maybe longer. It's of course not cool when the players have a good pre-season, can play a lot of games and are now out. It happens throughout the season. Hopefully, when they come back, that's it now and they can play the rest of the season."

Liverpool have started the season in strong fashion, with four wins and a draw from their first five top-flight games in which they have scored 12 goals and conceded just once.

However, Klopp is expecting a tough test against a Brentford side who shocked Arsenal on the opening day of their first campaign in the Premier League.

"I watched the press conference of [Brentford boss] Thomas Frank, and it was like one of the most entertaining things I've watched in the last few years. Half an hour talking about the different players – it was really good," said Klopp.

"The football they play is incredible, the organisation is incredible, so Thomas has obviously done a brilliant job, Brentford are doing a brilliant job. They show with lesser money how possible it is to create something really special.

"It reminds me of my time at Mainz: we had no money, we had to be really creative in the transfer market. There's a massive difference between the money Brentford has and Mainz had, but it shows it's still possible."

Takumi Minanimo will be hoping for his first league outing of the season after scoring twice in the 3-0 win at Norwich, and Klopp believes the Japan forward has become a "different player" since his loan spell with Southampton last season.

"Taki is really an outstanding talent," he said. "You come from Asia, go to Salzburg, come to Liverpool, Liverpool are not in the best phase of their lives, he came in when everything was difficult – no supporters in the stadium, all that stuff – and you need to get used to the Premier League. That's how it is.

"It helped massively that he went to Southampton. He came back a completely different player. You can see that now: his finishes are in an incredible moment, how he connects the game, how he drops at the right moment. He's a different package now. Players need time. He used that time."

Jurgen Klopp's assistant Pep Ljinders called for Liverpool to be patient with new signing Ibrahima Konate ahead of their EFL Cup tie with Norwich City.

The centre-back joined for a fee reported to be in the region of £36million (€42.5m) from RB Leipzig in the off-season and made his top-flight debut against Crystal Palace on Saturday, though he remains behind Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip in the pecking order.

However, Ljinders suggested Van Dijk was an exception to the rule as he used Andy Robertson as an example of how long it can take to settle into life at Anfield.

"Robbo said to him [Konate] 'we all needed time to adjust to the style'," Ljinders told Monday's news conference.

"Virgil is probably one of the only ones to come and settle in straight away.

"Ibrahima is a beast physicaly. He can catch so many players. He's settling in well. He's still so young. It was great for him to get his debut and move on."

Alexander-Arnold missed Saturday's ninth consecutive top-flight win over Palace due to illness, while Thiago Alcantara started but was withdrawn as a second-half substitute due to a calf injury.

As the Reds travel to Norwich, who are winless in their last 15 against Klopp's side, Ljinders confirmed the pair would be absent and also commented on Harvey Elliott, who suffered a serious ankle injury in the win over Leeds United on September 12.

"He [Trent Alexander-Arnold] wanted to play but we took the decision to leave him out," Ljinders continued.

"He's still not feeling 100 per cent. He will not be in the squad for tomorrow but hopefully will be ready for the weekend.

"We try to support him [Elliot] as much as we can. Our group is a proper family. Naby [Keita] had tears in his eyes by the side of the pitch when it happened. In a good moment [of form] we lost one of our best midfielders."

Per Opta, of the 742 defenders to play at least 20 games in Europe's top-five leagues since the beginning of the 2019-20 season, only Bruno Alves at Parma (81 per cent) posted a better aerial duel success rate than Konate (78 per cent).

His tackle success rate of 66.67 per cent sits right in line with those Klopp called upon at centre-back in a see-saw season, level with Gomez – such a key component of the title-winning team from 2019-20 – and well ahead of Ozan Kabak, who spent the second half of last season on loan at Liverpool but is now at Norwich.

Jurgen Klopp was hopeful Thiago Alcantara's calf injury would prove not too serious after Liverpool beat Crystal Palace in "one of the most hard-fought three-nils ever".

The Reds went top of the Premier League, three points ahead of Manchester City and Manchester United, who play West Ham on Sunday, by seeing off a spirited Palace side who twice had chances in the opening three minutes at Anfield.

Liverpool shrugged off an unconvincing start to claim an ultimately comfortable win thanks to goals from Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Naby Keita.

Mane's goal saw him net his 100th for Liverpool, but the victory was somewhat marred by Thiago limping off just after the hour mark.

Klopp said of the former Bayern Munich man: "He felt the calf. So far I don't know exactly but we hope it is not too serious."

Liverpool are now 15 games unbeaten and looking in ominous form as they try to regain the Premier League title, having seen City scoop the trophy last term.

But Klopp accepted they were not at their best in defeating Patrick Vieira's side.

"It is one of the most hard-fought three-nils I ever saw. We had to give everything. Really hard but fair challenges. Physicality in the game was immense and we had to be ready in each situation," Klopp said on Sky Sports.

"The chips in behind our full-backs gave us a struggle. The longer the game went, they used that more and more.

"We had to run. We've said it plenty of times, the Wednesday/Saturday rhythm is really hard. We came through, we scored wonderful goals and used our set-pieces. It is really massive in games like this. If it would have been 1-0 I would have said these are the games you have to win, when you are not brilliant. That's what we did today.

"We were not flying today. We had to grind out a proper performance. I really liked it. When you look back at the end of the season you have these games when it was really fun. And some when it was really important. This is one of those important games."

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said Thiago Alcantara is "like a world-class golfer", while insisting there is much more to come from the Spaniard at Anfield.

Thiago joined Liverpool from Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich amid plenty of fanfare ahead of the 2020-21 campaign but the Spain international experienced a mixed start to life on Merseyside, where injuries hampered his maiden season.

The 30-year-old midfielder has featured in three of Liverpool's opening four Premier League matches, starting once, while he came off the bench in Wednesday's Champions League victory over Milan.

A year on from his arrival, Klopp hailed Thiago ahead of Saturday's clash with Crystal Palace.

"The start was not perfect," Klopp told reporters during his pre-game news conference. "He got Covid, got injured early which of course makes things much more difficult. But he showed what kind of player he will be for us. There is much more to come of course.

"It has been a year, but if you want it is only half a year because of all the things which happened. Coming to a new club, in the most difficult period in all our lives, he settled really well. His family is here, he loves it here, he was in the middle of the team very quickly. He's a really good character, really good personality and obviously a world-class player. It is all fine!"

Klopp added: "He played more often at Munich in a double-six role, but for us it's a complex position; you have to be offensive, you have to be defensive, you have to be between the lines, you can drop into the last line to receive the ball, but not always. 

"But he is such a natural footballer it is not like we have to give him 15 or 16 different things to do in the game. I don't ask him for constant runs beyond the last line. He is a playmaker, obviously, who can sometimes be a little deeper, but he must be there in the two ‘interesting’ lines of the opponent as well.

"He has great vision and can change things with his passing. In a closed area with his passing he is really good, and he can chip balls into each area like a golfer, actually. A good golfer. A world class golfer! He does that without even thinking. 

"I love the way he plays. It's a complex position to be the number eight for us. We have different skill sets and we use different skill sets from time to time when we think a particular skill set makes more sense against a particular opponent."

Liverpool are on the longest current league unbeaten run in the top four tiers of English football, going 14 league games without defeat since a 1-0 home loss against Fulham in March (W11 D3).

Klopp's Liverpool have had more shots than any other Premier League side this season (100). Their 30 attempts against Leeds United last time out brought up their 100, making them just the second side since 2003-04 to have 100-plus shots in their first four games of a season, after Chelsea in 2009-10 (109).

Liverpool midfielder Thiago Alcantara has been left out of Spain's squad for their triple-header of September fixtures.

Thiago made four substitute appearances for Spain in their run to the semi-finals of the European Championship finals, but the 30-year-old – who has just nine minutes of Premier League action under his belt this term – has been overlooked for selection.

Pedri is another notable absentee from Luis Enrique's 24-man squad, though that was expected as the Barcelona midfielder has been given a rest following his participation at Euro 2020 and the Tokyo Olympics.

Dani Olmo, Mikel Oyarzabal and Pau Torres, three other members of Spain's Olympic contingent, will also be given a breather over the first international break of the season.

Fabian Ruiz and Diego Llorente, of Napoli and Leeds United respectively, are the others to have dropped out of Spain's squad for their World Cup qualifiers against Sweden, Georgia and Kosovo over the next fortnight.

Like at Euro 2020, Luis Enrique has decided against calling up any Real Madrid players, meaning no place in the squad for Dani Carvajal, Marco Asensio and Nacho Fernandez.

Abel Ruiz, Brais Mendez, Pablo Fornals, Mikel Merino and Carlos Soler have all been called up, while Inigo Martinez and Raul Albiol are also included.

La Roja have won two and drawn one of their first three qualifiers and lead the way at the top of Group B ahead of their upcoming trio of matches.

 

Spain squad in full:

David de Gea, Robert Sanchez; Unai Simon; Aymeric Laporte, Cesar Azpilicueta, Eric Garcia, Inigo Martinez, Jordi Alba, Jose Gaya, Raul Albiol; Brais Mendez, Carlos Soler, Koke, Marcos Llorente, Mikel Merino, Pablo Sarabia, Rodri, Sergio Busquets; Abel Ruiz, Adama Traore, Alvaro Morata, Ferran Torres, Gerard Moreno, Pablo Fornals

Curtis Jones has been ruled out of Liverpool's opening Premier League game of the season at Norwich City through concussion.

The 20-year-old has featured in three of Liverpool's four pre-season friendlies and was pushing for inclusion for Saturday's trip to Carrow Road.

However, Jones was replaced during the first half of Monday's 3-1 win over Osasuna following a collision and will not be available this weekend as per concussion protocols.

"He had a slight concussion so we just have to follow the protocol," Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp told the club's official website.

"He is fine, he feels fine again, but that’s the protocol. He is available for training from Sunday on I think."

Liverpool will also be without influential left-back Andy Robertson for their meeting with Norwich, one which Jones would have been in contention to start.

The academy product made 24 appearances in the Premier League for the Reds last term, averaging 68.07 successful passes per 90 minutes, sitting him behind only Thiago Alcantara (74.64) and Jordan Henderson (83.51) among Liverpool midfielders.

Thiago and Henderson both made substitute appearances against Osasuna after returning to Liverpool following Euro 2020 duty - and both are in contention to play a part against Norwich.

Asked if there are any other fitness doubts besides Robertson and Jones, Klopp said: "No, not from an injury point of view.

"But yeah, a few players had a shorter pre-season than others. All the others are healthy."

Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 14 Premier League matches against Norwich ahead of this latest meeting, scoring 44 goals across that period at an average of 3.1 per game.

Thiago Alcantara will miss Liverpool's friendly games with Bologna on Thursday although manager Jurgen Klopp insists the midfielder's injury is not serious.

The Spain international joined up with the Reds' pre-season training camp in Evian last week after helping his country to the semi-finals of Euro 2020.

Klopp explained the former Bayern Munich and Barcelona playmaker arrived with a pre-existing complaint and he is not willing to take undue risks with the start of the Premier League season just nine days away.

 "Thiago came here with a slight issue. He has three weeks off and the slight issue is still [there], which he was feeling," Klopp told his club's official website.

"We don't take any risks. He's part of parts of training and in these little things he looks great, but it's more the longer distances where he struggles slightly.

"We have to make sure that will be sorted and we are on it. I think he will be in next week, [at the] latest, in full training."

Liverpool will play back-to-back 60-minute friendlies against their Serie A opponents as they step up preparations for an opening weekend trip to newly promoted Norwich City in the English top flight.

Brazil trio Alisson, Fabinho and Roberto Firmino are back with the squad and are likely to feature for 30 minutes apiece.

"They will have game time. We have to use the games now. We will see. We play twice 60 minutes, between the two games is an hour break, so we can give them 30 minutes to play," Klopp explained.

"Ali maybe slightly longer but 30 is probably enough for the first few minutes standing in the goal again in a competitive game. 

"So it's really good that we can do that and everybody gets minutes. Most of the players will now play 60 minutes obviously but the ones who came back later probably max 30. But it's cool."

Thiago Alcantara says a Spain squad mixing youth and experience are desperate for Euro 2020 to begin after disrupted preparations for the tournament.

Luis Enrique's side get their campaign underway on Monday when they take on Sweden at La Cartuja in Seville.

Their planning for finals was thrown into disarray when Sergio Busquets tested positive for coronavirus last week, which forced the senior squad into isolation amid fears of an outbreak.

Diego Llorente returned test results later confirmed to be a false positive, while the Under-21 squad were used for the friendly match with Lithuania on Tuesday.

The senior players are due to be given COVID-19 vaccination jabs on Friday and no further positive cases have been identified, meaning Luis Enrique should have a strong group available for selection against Sweden.

Liverpool midfielder Thiago accepts the build-up has been far from ideal but is now eager to get the tournament underway.

He told Marca: "Football has changed. Beyond talent, it will be the teams who are best prepared who will compete. We're talking about the best players in Europe at the best tournament.

"We've gotten used to playing under pressure. We're a very young team but used to that level of competition. The youngsters give us veterans a hunger to compete.

"There's another very important thing: we're very invested in what the coach asks of us. That comes from a long time ago, not from now. We're a hard-working team and we're hungry.

"I know [Luis Enrique] from the Barca youth system. He has very clear ideas. He loves the pressure after losing, possession... and winning, which is what we all want.

"The good thing about Luis is that he is always the same. He's no different depending on who he talks to."

Thiago insisted the Spain players coped well with the news of Busquets and that they are far more used to such situations than in the early stages of the pandemic.

"We're used to this situation. It's been a year and a half of living with COVID. We've been accustomed to training individually or collectively, but always with the objective of competing," he said.

"Fear was experienced in the first stage of the pandemic. It was an uncertainty on a global level. We didn't know what was going to happen.

"I was in Germany with my family and yes, there was that feeling of fear. Not here. We have great professionals around us and we comply with all the protocols they ask us to follow."

Manchester City will have to wait to get their hands on a third Premier League title in four years after they fell to a 2-1 home defeat against Chelsea on Saturday.

Sergio Aguero in particular will want to forget the game in a hurry after a failed Panenka attempt, which he later apologised for on social media.

Liverpool kept their first home clean sheet in nine top-flight games as they overcame Southampton 2-0, while Leeds United cruised past Tottenham 3-1 at Elland Road.

Elsewhere in Yorkshire, Crystal Palace inflicted yet more misery on Sheffield United, running out 2-0 winners at Bramall Lane.

Stats Perform News uses Opta data to take a look at the best facts from the four games.


Manchester City 1-2 Chelsea: Aguer-woe for leaders as Blues hit back

City suffered more penalty woe as they missed the chance to be crowned Premier League champions.

It had started well for the hosts, however, with Raheem Sterling giving them the lead with his 10th Premier League goal of the campaign. The England international has now reached that total in four successive seasons, with only Aguero (nine) hitting double figures more regularly in the competition for City.

Aguero should have doubled their advantage before the interval, but his woeful Panenka attempt from the spot was comfortably gathered by Edouard Mendy. City have now failed to score more penalties (four) than any other side in the Premier League this season, while they are the first to miss at least four spot-kicks in consecutive top-flight seasons since Tottenham in 1993-94 and 1994-95.

Hakim Ziyech made the most of that reprieve, levelling with his first Premier League goal in 18 appearances since scoring against Burnley in October.

There was worse to come for Pep Guardiola, who has now lost four home league games this season – twice as many as he had lost in any other campaign in his managerial career.

At 91 minutes and 54 seconds, Marcos Alonso's scuffed finish was the latest winning goal scored by the visitors in a Premier League game at City since Paul Scholes for Manchester United in April 2010 (92:41).

Liverpool 2-0 Southampton: Mane helps sink former employers

Liverpool kept their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League alive with victory at Anfield in the late kick-off.

Sadio Mane opened the scoring in the first half with his second goal in three Premier League games, having found the net just once in his previous 14 outings in the competition before that.

He was teed up by Mohamed Salah, marking the first time the pair have combined for a top-flight goal this season.

Thiago Alcantara added a second in the 90th minute to become the 140th player to score a Premier League goal for Liverpool, though the first to get off the mark for the Reds from outside the box since Divock Origi in December 2015.

Southampton, meanwhile, have now earned just 11 points from their 18 Premier League games in 2021, fewer than any other side this calendar year.

Leeds United 3-1 Tottenham: VAR bars Kane as Spurs suffer

Leeds' superb record against the Premier League's 'big six' continued.

Marcelo Bielsa's side became the first to remain unbeaten at home in the top flight against each of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Spurs in a season since West Ham in 2015-16, and only the third newly promoted team to do so, after Ipswich Town in 2000-01 and Birmingham City in 2009-10.

Stuart Dallas broke the deadlock to become the first Northern Ireland player to score as many as eight Premier League goals in a season since Chris Brunt in 2008-09.

Son Heung-min equalised for the visitors, but Patrick Bamford restored Leeds' advantage to move onto 22 Premier League goal involvements this term (15 goals, seven assists). Harry Kane is the only Englishman to have been involved in more (34).

Rodrigo then added a third late on as Spurs suffered a fifth defeat in 10 top-flight away games in 2021 – more than they experienced in the entirety of 2020.

Sheffield United 0-2 Crystal Palace: Benteke helps Eagles deal with blunt Blades

After a run of three consecutive defeats, Palace could not have wished for more accommodating opponents than the already relegated Blades.

Christian Benteke opened the scoring after just 66 seconds, registering the club’s earliest Premier League goal since James McArthur's strike against Everton in November 2017 (51 seconds).

Benteke has now scored more goals this season (seven in 27 appearances) than he managed in his previous three Premier League campaigns combined (six in 71).

Eberechi Eze continued his impressive season with a second late on. Only Wilfried Zaha (12) has been directly involved in more Premier League goals for Palace this season than Eze (four goals, five assists), while no Eagles player has laid on more goals than the former Queens Park Rangers man.

The result meant United have failed to score in 20 matches within a single league season for the first time in their history, while in terms of the Premier League, only Derby County in 2007-08 (22), Leeds United in 1996-97 (21) and Huddersfield Town in 2017-18 (21) have failed to score in more games in a single campaign.

Liverpool kept themselves in the hunt for a top-four Premier League finish as they earned a 2-0 win over Southampton at Anfield.

Sadio Mane's 31st-minute header and a late Thiago Alcantara strike - his first for the club - proved the difference as the hosts ensured their slim hopes of clinching Champions League qualification remain alive.

The Saints, meanwhile, failed to make themselves mathematically safe from relegation as they suffered defeat, though with 10 points separating them from 18th-placed Fulham, it is highly unlikely they will be dragged into the mix.

Liverpool's last two outings - 1-1 draws against Leeds United and Newcastle United - were largely defined by a failure to take their opportunities, rather than any issues creating them.

And Jurgen Klopp could have been forgiven for worrying that a familiar pattern was once again emerging as his team missed chance after chance in the opening 25 minutes.

Mohamed Salah was guilty of twice finding Fraser Forster's gloves when he might have done better, while Diogo Jota and Mane each shot over from good positions.

And when Alisson did brilliantly to close the angle on a Che Adams one-on-one created by Nathan Tella just after Georginio Wijnaldum hit the bar, it looked like the Reds were in for another forgettable outing.

However, from the resulting attack, Liverpool went ahead, Salah sending in an inswinging cross that Mane simply could not fail to head home from close range.

The fragility of that lead was underlined before the break when Tella headed straight at Alisson with the goal at his mercy, and the Brazilian needed to show sharp reactions again to deny substitute Michael Obafemi just past the hour mark as the Saints pushed.

Clearly enjoying his starring role, the goalkeeper even gave himself another huge stop to make as he passed the ball to the feet of Adams before getting down to block the subsequent shot.

A nervous finish could have been avoided had Mane stayed onside before lashing home a recycled ball beyond Forster late in the second half, but the hosts wrapped things up in the 90th minute through Thiago's low finish from the edge of the box.

What does it mean? Reds still in top-four running

Chelsea may well be out of reach for Liverpool as they look to sneak into the Champions League places late in the season, but Klopp's squad have every reason to believe they can catch Leicester City.

The fading Foxes are now just six points ahead of the Reds having played a game more and must take on Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham in their final three games.

Alisson the hero

It always felt like Liverpool's goalkeeper could be in for a busy game with such an inexperienced centre-back pairing ahead of him, Nathaniel Phillips partnering Rhys Williams in defence.

But the Brazilian was more than up to the task, with almost all of his six saves across the 90 minutes coming in situations where the opposing player looked the clear favourite to win the duel.

Wijnaldum toils

A Liverpool team that has prided itself on midfield solidity in recent years lacked that for large periods of this game, and the typically reliable Wijnaldum cannot escape his share of the blame for that.

The Dutchman made just 41 passes, zero tackles and zero interceptions in an anonymous showing that perhaps shows why Klopp might be willing to let him go this summer.

What's next?

Southampton are back in action as early as Tuesday when they host Crystal Palace, while Liverpool head to Old Trafford on Thursday in order to fulfil their postponed meeting with bitter rivals Manchester United.

Jurgen Klopp selected Diogo Jota in attack and dropped Roberto Firmino to the bench for Liverpool's Champions League quarter-final first leg at Real Madrid.

Jota came on with the game goalless and netted a brace in Saturday's 3-0 Premier League win at Arsenal.

Although Firmino was initially on the field along with Jota, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane at Emirates Stadium, the Brazil forward had to be content with a place on the bench in the Spanish capital.

Jota's brace took him up to 12 goals for the campaign in his debut season at Anfield, level with Mane and double Firmino's six, despite injury restricting him to 1,269 minutes on the field.

Firmino has played 2,661 minutes, meaning he averages a goal every 443.5 minutes, with Jota's one per 105.75 minutes the best ratio among all of Liverpool's forwards. Salah's 26 goals in 2020-21 have arrived at one every 128.7 minutes.

Naby Keita has endured another injury-impacted season with the Reds, but Klopp gave him the nod in midfield alongside Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum, with ex-Barcelona man Thiago Alcantara among the substitutes.

Liverpool were set to confront a patched-up Real Madrid back four in a rematch of the 2018 final, with Raphael Varane's positive COVID-19 diagnosis putting him on the sidelines with skipper Sergio Ramos and right-back Dani Carvajal.

Lucas Vazquez, Nacho and Eder Militao were chosen as the men to step in alongside first-choice left-back Ferland Mendy.

It was hardly the sort of entrance that said "I'm here to save the day". Luka Modric was still putting his headband on as he rather leisurely entered the Old Trafford pitch just a few moments after Nani's controversial sending off in the Champions League last-16 second leg between Manchester United and Real Madrid.

Los Blancos were down 2-1 on aggregate after a Sergio Ramos own goal had put United in the driving seat a short while earlier, but with the hosts a man light, Jose Mourinho sent Modric on as Madrid looked to suffocate Alex Ferguson's men.

Alongside Xabi Alonso, Modric was swiftly into the thick of it as Madrid tried to pull United this way and that, and he soon took matters into his own hands with Kaka, Mesut Ozil, Gonzalo Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo unable to break through.

Allowed space just outside the United area, Modric's motioning for a shot lured Michael Carrick out of position and the Croatian easily breezed past him before lashing an unstoppable effort in off the right-hand post just seven minutes after coming on.

It was only his second goal for the club, but as it spurred Madrid on to seal a 2-1 win and a spot in the next round thanks, Modric has regarded that match as the turning point in his career at the Santiago Bernabeu.

A perfect storm

It's easy to forget how disappointing Modric's first season at Madrid was deemed to be. After all, before Christmas, he was voted as the worst signing of the campaign in a Marca poll, beating Alex Song of Barcelona to top the charts.

Two years Modric's junior, Song has been playing his football in Djibouti this season; Modric remains, at the ripe old age of 35, arguably the finest midfielder in Spain.

There are certainly comparisons to be made with Thiago Alcantara's first season in England, with Liverpool struggling to even maintain a challenge for the top four, let alone defend their title.

Thiago was seen as the missing piece of the puzzle, the sort of central midfielder that balanced flair with genuine playmaking abilities, unlike anyone already in the squad. It was said his arrival would enable to Liverpool to play with greater flexibility, but the reality has been a little different.

Teams are playing deeper against Liverpool, as evidenced by the fact their shots outside the area per game is up from 4.6 per game to 5.2, while they are being allowed 190.4 passes in the final third each match, up from 180.9. Opponents are more confident they can keep Liverpool out if they defend deep.

Of course, Liverpool's issues this term are plentiful – injuries have been particularly frequent, and Thiago himself has lost a significant chunk of the season in this regard.

But even when he has been fit, it's difficult to say the Spain international has transformed the Reds. In fact, they have a better league win percentage (57.1) when he doesn't play than when he does (37.5), while they tend to score more goals (2.4 per game, compared to 1.1 when he is playing).

One theory for Thiago's struggles has been his apparent lack of comfort with Liverpool's intense pressing style, but the data suggests that to be a red herring.

Granted, Liverpool do engage in 18.9 pressed sequences – instances where the opposition have three or fewer passes in a move, which ends within 40 metres of their own goal – per game, with their total of 567 the most in the Premier League this term.

But Bayern averaged 16.9 per game in 2019-20 and led the way in the Bundesliga in this regard. Meanwhile, they allowed 9.8 opposition passes per defensive action, with Liverpool's PPDA this term 10.7, showing the Bayern side Thiago played in wasn't too dissimilar.

So, why would Liverpool's off-the-ball intensity impact him so much? It seems far more likely the issue is simply that he's in the middle of a perfect storm of settling into new surroundings and a new team during an injury crisis that has impacted him as well.

Changing perception

Fans can forget that players are people first and foremost. Upheaval off the pitch can have a demonstrable effect on it – of course it can, just like life at home can impact the job performance of average Joe.

This was a key element for Modric, who explained how he found it difficult to settle in initially at Real Madrid, not only because as a club they are an entirely different beast to Tottenham but also as he didn't have a pre-season and gaining fitness was always likely to be a struggle when playing catch-up.

As for fan expectations, perhaps there was also a degree of misunderstanding from Madrid supporters. Maybe they were initially expecting something more than Modric.

After all, in his final season at Spurs, Modric was a key creator. His 96 key passes in 2011-12 was bettered by only two midfielders in the Premier League (David Silva – 104, Juan Mata – 103), evidence that much of the creative burden was on his shoulders.

So, perhaps the fact his creative ingenuity wasn't being so frequently displayed at Madrid coloured opinion.

Granted, his 17 key passes in 13 league appearances between the start of the season and January 1 left a lot to be desired, but his end-of-season record of 56 was the third-highest in the Madrid squad.

Time, patience and trust were seemingly key to Modric establishing himself, but to suggest he's played the same way at Madrid as in his best season at Spurs would be incorrect – the closest he's ever got to that 96 key passes haul since was 61 in 2015-16.

In fact, when you consider a whole range of his key metrics such as passes, pass completion, chance creation, touches of the ball and defensive areas, there hasn't been drastic fluctuation between 2012-13 and now.

Certainly, his 62.6 successful passes per 90 is up from 55 in 2012-13, while his touches have improved from 80 to 86.7, but those differences certainly aren't major. The fact is his figures have been pretty steady throughout his time in LaLiga.

But at 35, he has still played in 28 of Madrid's 29 league matches this term. He's arguably more important to them than ever before.

Coming back from being a target of ridicule to becoming a club great and winning the Ballon d'Or speaks to Modric's attitude and talent, but also serves as inspiration for Thiago.

While the Spaniard has not had to contend with quite the same level of criticism, there are certainly those unconvinced by him.

With a full pre-season under his belt and allowed to gel into a settled team that isn't constantly being chopped and changed due to injuries, Thiago can surely enjoy a sparkling second season at Liverpool. After all, the data proves the Reds' pressing shouldn't be a long-term issue for him given how Bayern played.

A 25-yard strike of his own against Manchester United would go down very well right now, although a similarly decisive impact against Madrid would surely be a nice compromise for the Barcelona product.

Thiago Alcantara admits Liverpool could not imagine in their "worst nightmares" how bad this season would pan out, but the midfielder is hopeful his side are in the process of turning things around after advancing to the Champions League quarter-finals.

Liverpool have sent a number of unwanted records tumbling this season, including a run of six successive top-flight defeats at Anfield for the first time in their history.

The reigning Premier League champions have long been out of title contention and find themselves eighth with 10 games to play, seven points adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea.

However, Jurgen Klopp's side put their domestic woes to one side on Wednesday by seeing off  RB Leipzig 2-0 in Budapest to complete a 4-0 aggregate victory in their last-16 tie.

And Thiago, who joined from Bayern Munich in September for a reported £20million upfront fee, believes the victory can be a catalyst for the Reds to kickstart their Premier League campaign.

"It's a boost to our morale," he told LFCTV. "We deserve to celebrate and be happy with something and from now on have this feeling we have right now. With that we can win all the games we have left.

"It's been a tough period for all of us because we didn't in our worst nightmares expect we are now in this position in the Premier League.

"But we are trying to perform the best that we can and get better in every training session, and I think this performance is a positive for all of us."

Thiago returned to the line-up against Leipzig and impressed during his 72 minutes on the field, with no Liverpool player managing more tackles (six) and only Trent Alexander-Arnold (41) playing more passes in the opposition half than the Spaniard's 30.

The 29-year-old has struggled for consistency during his first six months on Merseyside, not helped by injury and illness lay-offs, and he accepts that performances have not been good enough so far.

"I don't read a word about what people talk about me," he told TNT Sports Brasil. "I know that I receive some criticism about my performances, but I'm not happy with my performance since I came here.

"It's a new club, a strange situation [after contracting coronavirus], a bad injury, so get to into the rhythm it was hard, but it's not an excuse."

Thiago started on the right of a midfield three alongside Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum against Leipzig in what was one of his finest performances in a Liverpool shirt.

The Spain international has been singled out for criticism this term, with club icon John Barnes suggesting he slows the game down too much, but Klopp has hit back at those comments.

"I assume when you all look at Liverpool from Germany, people say [our problems are] to do with Thiago or whatever – that's rubbish," he said.

"Thiago was good, they were all good. For the players who were new, they always needed time to get used to our game plan, but Thiago doesn't have that.

"Still, he improves week on week. It's not a short-term project, it's a long-term project and it was good."

Liverpool's win over Leipzig means they are now unbeaten in their last 12 meetings with German opponents in all European competitions since a 4-2 loss to Bayer Leverkusen in April 2002.

It is the first time they have won both legs of a Champions League knockout tie while also keeping a clean sheet in each leg since their last-16 triumph against Real Madrid in 2008-09.

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."

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