Can Thiago Alcantara transform Liverpool’s midfield?

On 18 September 2020, Liverpool completed the signing of Bayern Munich star Thiago Alcantara on a four-year deal. Ben Northcott analyses what Thiago will bring to Klopp's side.

Crucial to Bayern Munich’s recent Champions League success, Liverpool look to have hatched a bargain with Bayern needing to sell a player entering the final year of his contract.

Thiago was previously deployed in a double pivot for Bayern Munich, circulating the ball alongside Joshua Kimmich or Leon Goretzka. Although he could be used as a single pivot, it seems more likely that he’d operate further forward in a number eight position for Liverpool – ahead of Fabinho, and alongside Henderson, Keita or Wijnaldum. This would allow him to operate in the left pocket and dictate the play from a more advanced position.

With the second highest number of passes into the final third across the last three Bundesliga seasons (12.81 per 90) and 8 pre-assists last season, Liverpool’s potent forward line must be licking their lips.

Perhaps a better stylistic fit as a David Silva replacement for possession-hungry Manchester City, Thiago’s proficiency in pausa makes ball circulation his greatest strength. Pausa, when the player in possession pauses with the ball to lure defenders out of position before speeding up play to exploit gaps created in the opposition defence, will allow Thiago to control the tempo of his team’s play, much like Xavi or David Silva have.

His ability to do this is reflected in the statistics, with a high pass completion rate and far more passes per 90 than any other option at Klopp’s disposal, highlighting his greater desire to get on the ball and dictate the tempo with it. This should increase Liverpool’s possession and overall control, as shown by his phenomenal 75 completed passes in 45 minutes against Chelsea on Sunday.

Other than perhaps Naby Keita at his best (which Liverpool fans haven’t seen enough), Liverpool still have little direct creative threat from midfield in terms of goals, assists and chances created. Therefore, full backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson will still be heavily relied on from this perspective.

Image 1: Wikimedia Commons / Rolandhino1

Image 2: Wikimedia Commons / Rolandhino1

Despite being a significant individual upgrade, it will be interesting to see how his arrival affects Liverpool as a team. Stylistically, Liverpool have been known for “heavy metal football” with intense pressing, high energy transitions and devastating counter attacks. Their strength in fast counter attacking situations shows statistically, with a large proportion of their shots and goals from counter attacks.

In comparison, title rivals Man City have had the highest average possession and pass completion percentage in the Premier League for the last three seasons, but significantly lower shots and goals from counter attacks – emphasising Man City’s strength when in possession of the ball rather than on the counter attack.

However, Liverpool still like to dominate possession and their average possession and pass completion rates are generally increasing year on year. Thiago’s inclusion will accelerate these numbers, and this should allow them to further control the game and better sustain attacks.

This extra control in midfield can give Liverpool a different option if need be instead of constant full throttle football with the previously preferred midfield partnership utilising the high energy of Henderson and Wijnaldum. Therefore, a partnership of Thiago and Keita could become an interesting alternative with Thiago knitting the play together and Keita taking more risks to provide more chances, goals, and assists.

Image 1: Wikimedia Commons / Kevin Walsh

Image 2: Wikimedia Commons / Erick the Fish

Thiago’s move to Liverpool is undoubtedly one of the most intriguing signings of the window. His superior quality and class on the ball could transform Liverpool’s midfield, giving them greater control of the game and improving their ball circulation. Though, whether he transforms Liverpool’s midfield or upsets the balance and style of the team will undoubtedly be crucial to Liverpool’s title defence.

Image 1: Wikimedia Commons / Pete

ICYMI: The Boar Sport caught-up with Robbie Lyle to discuss AFTV, racism in English football and the future of sports media.