It is rare that long-running transfer sagas get a happy ending, but Liverpool have started to make a habit of it, first with the six-month delay of the hugely successful Virgil van Dijk move back in 2018, and now, apparently, following months of speculation, the arrival of Thiago Alcântara from Bayern Munich.
Here then, we take a closer look at how the Spaniard can contribute to the reigning Premier League champions and in what ways he will potentially make them better.
Thiago Alcântara do Nascimento
DOB: 11/4/91 (29 years old) | Height: 5’8 1/2” (174cm)
2019/20 season: 40 appearances
3 goals | 2 assists
Strengths: This might take a while.
As expected from a La Masia graduate who held his own in midfield alongside the likes of Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Sergio Busquets and Cesc Fabregas, Thiago is an exceptional technician. This comes through both in his ability to move the ball quickly and accurately under pressure or through tight spaces, and his penchant for going past his man. His outstanding close control allows him to maintain awareness of his surroundings at all times, remaining alert to both the movements of team-mates and potential threats from pressing opponents. His 3 successful dribbles per 90 minutes last season was higher than any Liverpool player, and although he won’t go on many mazy runs, he will regularly turn and break into space past the first defender before doing the thing he does very best.
Thiago’s most commonly praised attribute, then, is his passing, and for good reason. It is, in a word, elite. In more than word, it is arguably the best around. Boasting a plethora of passing variations, the Spaniard displays effortless, extraordinary accuracy, putting up 90.5% passing accuracy in general, and an 86.3% success rate on his long passes, which he he generates every three minutes or so. All this leads to a total of 10 progressive passes and 9.4 passes into final third in every game, the former second to only to Trent Alexander-Arnold, the latter to none on Liverpool’s squad, nor, in point of fact, the Premier League as a whole.
Good for a lateral switch every 20 minutes — again bettered only by Trent Alexander-Arnold — Thiago has the ability to completely alter the course of play with a single swing of his boot. It is a skill that has the potential to transform both Liverpool’s transition game, as well as their ability to pull a settled defense around as they probe for openings, and is reportedly Jürgen Klopp’s main cause for going after the newly-minted Champions League winner.
This is not to say that the Italian-born midfielder is some sort of luxury spielführer who won’t put in a shift defensively. In fact, his 3.9 tackles + interceptions per 90 minutes last season would put him third on Liverpool’s squad, behind Fabinho and Naby Keïta. The 29-year old combines his exceptional reading of the play with surprising athleticism and physical strength, breaking up passes and harassing ball carriers with outstanding regularity, giving Klopp the option of playing his new signing either in a double pivot, as a control eight, or as a lone defensive midfielder.
For those who are more interested in intangibles than all this number crunching, Thiago is, above all else, a winner. Since making his debut for Barcelona in 2008, the son of Mazinho has won 11 domestic league titles — with 2011/12 the only year he didn’t win one — four domestic cups, two Club World Cups, and two Champions Leagues. The man is a serial trophy collector, and leaves Bayern Munich, currently Europe’s best team, by his own volition, presumably because he feels he can continue that trend on Merseyside. We should trust his instincts.
Weaknesses: For Liverpoool, who in recent seasons have struggled to stay healthy in midfield — Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita, Jordan Henderson and Fabinho all missed time last year due to injury, with the former two having particularly spotty records — it is natural to sweat a little at Thiago’s injury list. While the midfielder has made 40 and 42 appearances in the last two campaigns, he also suffers at least one muscle injury every year, and has had major knee surgery in the past, missing half of 2013/14 and almost the entirety of 2014/15 with separate serious ligament tears. Liverpool’s strength in depth means that the Spaniard probably won’t have to play twice a week, but there is potential for disaster if injuries begin piling up.
At 29, Thiago also falls outside the age profile typically preferred by the Reds’ laptop gurus. There will be little, if any, resale value over the course of the contract, and while there have been no genuine signs of a drop-off yet, the former Bayern man is nearing the end of his prime and is likely to see a decline during his time in Red.
Finally, if you like midfielders who break into the box and score goals, Thiago isn’t that. He does just about everything else exceptionally well, but the Spaniard is not going to put up more than a couple of goals and assists every year.
Summary: There is very, very little to dislike about this deal. Liverpool have gone ahead and picked up one of the world’s very finest central midfielders over the past half decade for little more than a kind word — as of writing this, reports are of a £20m base fee and £5m in potential escalators — and one of very few players who can genuinely improve their starting XI.
Assuming he can stay healthy, Thiago will offer creativity from central areas, taking some of the burden off the Reds’ fullbacks, without compromising defensive stability in any way. Furthermore, the Merseysiders have added a serial winner who will undoubtedly contribute to the already exceptional standards outside of matchday performance.
Up the title defending Reds!