Thiago myths busted as Liverpool midfielder proves why Jurgen Klopp signed him

Thiago Alcantara enjoyed a less-than-ideal start to life at Liverpool.

After appearing for 45 minutes on his debut against Chelsea and breaking a Premier League record, he caught Covid-19 before suffering from a serious knee problem at the end of his first start at Goodison Park.

Over two months passed with him on the sidelines and when the Spaniard finally rejoined proceedings, he found that his team were deploying two midfielders in the centre of defence as a consequence of the injury crisis which had materialised at Anfield.

Since his return to action on December 30th, the English champions have picked up one point fewer than Sheffield United.

When you put it like that, it doesn't sound great.

But most of the criticism of Thiago appears to be a product of misinformed expectations of what he was set to produce for the Reds, alongside unfortunate circumstances beyond his control.

Based on his seven years in the Bundesliga, the 29-year-old averaged a goal every 626 minutes, which equates to around seven full 90-minute performances.

On the creative side, his level of contribution wasn't much different, averaging an assist every 532 minutes, but there are different ways to interpret creativity.

Rather than being the man to directly impact scoring, Thiago has performed throughout his career as the player who can speed up the game by bringing his team to the final third, often via an unpredictable means.

Klopp has previously explained the need for different qualities on the field, stating: "A football team is like an orchestra. You need different people to play different instruments.

"Some of them are louder, some not so loud, but they're all important for our rhythm."

One of Thiago's biggest strengths is his ability to mix ball progression with ball retention to form quite a unique cocktail.

Klopp has largely been without a player of that type since taking charge on Merseyside in 2015.

Last season – for example – Gini Wijnaldum completed 90.7 percent of his passes which placed him sixth in the Premier League and third for midfielders – but he ranked only 71st for total progressive passes.

For perspective, Paul Pogba ranked 10 places higher despite playing only 41.1% of Wijnaldum's total number of minutes.

Trent Alexander-Arnold offered Liverpool the opposite; he placed top of the league for progressive passes ahead of second-placed Kevin De Bruyne, but as low as 234th for pass completion due to the risks that he was encouraged to take in possession.

Thiago, by contrast, ranked 16th for retention in Germany last season and fourth for progression; he was almost a hybrid of Wijnaldum and Alexander-Arnold and this season in England, that hasn't changed.

Once compared with those who have played at least the same number of minutes as him, Thiago ranks 19th for pass completion and top for progressive passes per 90.

A progressive pass is defined as a completed pass that moves the ball towards the opponent's goal at least 10 yards from its furthest point in the last six passes, or a completed pass into the penalty box, with no player averaging more than the Spanish international.

He's certainly encountered some defensive problems in the fouling department – with only Ashley Barnes averaging more than him on a per 90 basis – but it is reasonable to suggest that of all the midfielders contracted to Liverpool, he would benefit the most from being surrounded by power and robustness.

Instead, he's formed part of a makeshift structure that is a lot less imposing.

Arsene Wenger touched on this theme recently, stating: “When you're a manager, you want to make the team better so you sign a technical player.

"But then you lose the aggression in midfield and you destroy a bit of the strength Liverpool had before.

"Sometimes when you want to improve the team, you take something away from the team.”

While the former Arsenal boss has a point, Thiago's introduction to Liverpool's midfield has unluckily coincided with the removal of an elite safety net from behind.

Without dominant figures such as Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Fabinho and Joel Matip in defensive areas, there is arguably a greater need for Liverpool to have relentless ball-winning qualities in midfield, but Thiago is cut from a slightly different type of cloth.

He's offering something different as intended, but at a time when it could be argued that Klopp's outfit need the physicality, aggression and mobility of before more than ever.

The two-time Champions League winner is not a problem, the current scenario is.

As the Reds gradually restore their commanding foundations over time, the downsides attached to Thiago's skill set will fade into the background as his valuable qualities assume the spotlight, just as they did at Goodison Park before a perfect storm descended on Anfield.

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