How Thiago fits into Liverpool’s midfield

Liverpool have finally completed a deal to sign Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich.

Jurgen Klopp has added a world-class operator to his already-plentiful midfield options, meaning that he will have more headaches than ever when trying to choose his starting XI.

The 29-year-old is arguably the best all-round midfielder on the planet. He could fill numerous roles in the centre of the park due to his incredibly broad skillset.

Thiago joins Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, Naby Keita, Gini Wijnaldum, James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Curtis Jones in the ranks. Add to this Roberto Firmino and Taki Minamino, who could both play in the no.10 role. Marko Grujic is expected to leave the club.

This means that Klopp will have to figure out a way of deciding which three of these eight plays every week.

The Spaniard is world-class. Henderson has just come off the back of a world-class season. Fabinho had a world-class 2019, while Keita and Jones look set to become world-class in the not-too-distant-future.

Yes, it is a headache, but the best possible headache.

Rotation in the middle will probably continue, but one must assume that Thiago will start almost every big game he is available for once he gets settled into the side.

Here, we look at exactly how he could fit into Liverpool’s system.

Box-to-box

Thiago’s partners could be mixed and matched in this position. When playing against a low block, Keita, Oxlade-Chamberlain or Jones could replace Henderson. They could also replace Fabinho if Klopp moved his captain back to the holding role. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY BUILDLINEUP.

This is probably the role that most fans expect Thiago to play in.

For the last few seasons, he has played as part of a two in midfield, with a no.10 in front of him.

This means that he has been a sort of mix between a no.6 and a no.8, so is capable of playing both roles.

The ex-Barca man has all the attributes to play in a midfield trio in basically every system imaginable. He has the technical ability to do it in a Pep Guardiola-style trident, as well as the energy and bite to do it in a Jurgen Klopp team.

In this role, fans can expect Thiago to look like a hybrid between Wijnaldum and Naby Keita. He has the work rate and intelligence of Wijnaldum, plus the dribbling and tackling ability of Keita.

In this position, Thiago will be able to dribble freely in the knowledge that Fabinho or Henderson can mop up behind him in the unlikely case that he loses the ball.

Dribbling is Thiago’s best attribute – only Naby Keita (1.7) came close to his three dribbles per game in 2019/20.

His technical ability in and around the penalty box could be key next season, as it will give teams a third creative force to worry about along with fullback duo Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson.

He is not famed for his assists, so fans should be not be expecting De Bruyne or peak Ozil levels of output. He didn’t get a single one in the Bundesliga last campaign, while the most he has ever got in a single league season is six in 2018/19.

But there is every reason to believe that Thiago would get more assists if he played further forward. He would be in a position to give the final ball rather than the pre-assist.

His already mind-blowing 9.66 passes into the final third per 90 would probably go up further in this position.

Last season, a lot of his passes went through Thomas Muller, who racked up a German record 21 set-ups. Without that middle man, Thiago would no doubt get many more assists himself.

He will also work hard enough to prevent counter-attacks, a key tactic of Klopp’s.

The holding role

Again, the pair of eights could be changed depending on the opponent. Gini Wijnaldum and Thiago would be great together if the Reds are leading a game, as it would be near impossible to get the ball off them. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY BUILDLINEUP.

The 6 is not a position that Thiago has played all that often, but he was often the deepest of Bayern’s midfield duo during his time at the Allianz Arena.

Think of Andrea Pirlo during the latter stages of his career, or closer to home, Steven Gerrard in 2013/14. Sitting deep, creating play from the base of midfield, mainly through long passes.

Yet crucially, Thiago would bring a lot more than just long passes. He can get around the pitch a lot more than Pirlo or Gerrard could, so can offer more defensively plus when running with the ball.

If there is no pass on, he can just run with it instead, something the majority of defensive midfielders in world football cannot do.

He does a lot of defensive work too, with 3.8 tackles and interceptions per game in the league last season. This was even higher in 2018/19 (4.4), while he managed an astonishing 7.4 in 2016/17.

If Liverpool have a problem with breaking the midfield line, then Thiago is the man to play in the no.6 role.

A midfield double-pivot

This formation would also be one way of including fellow new recruit Diogo Jota alongside the regular front three. Any one of Liverpool’s other midfielders would be a fantastic partner for Thiago in the double pivot. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY BUILDLINEUP.

Finally, maybe the best way to use Thiago is by sticking to what he’s used to?

In Germany, he became one of the best midfielders on the planet playing in a 4-2-3-1. Perhaps Klopp could return to the system that brought him so much joy in 2018/19.

Last season, Thiago played in the double pivot alongside either Joshua Kimmich or Leon Goretzka. Fabinho is quite similar to Kimmich, while Henderson is close in style to Goretzka.

Thiago has produced frankly ridiculous numbers in this position. His per 90 stats among midfielders in the top five European leagues for the last two seasons are simply sublime.

He ranks in the 99th percentile for tackles, interceptions and passes into the final third. He is in the 98th percentile for progressive distance, the 95th for both pass completion percentage and successful dribbles and the 94th for dribble success percentage.

Essentially, he is better than most of the central or defensive midfielders in Europe’s top leagues at numerous things. This includes aspects of dribbling, passing and defending.

All this has been done in a midfield duo. So, it is clear that he can play that role better than anyone.

Especially against deep-lying teams who don’t threaten to attack, this could be a fantastic tool for Liverpool this season.

It allows the Reds to sacrifice one deeper midfielder in order to gain an extra forward. Yet they will lose almost nothing defensively.

Conclusion

Thiago could well be the best out-and-out central midfielder in the world. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY THE EVENING STANDARD.

Honestly, Jurgen Klopp and co. could do absolutely anything with the midfield and Thiago would make it work.

There is nothing but pros for each of the three systems highlighted above, which is an indication of just how special the player is.

If there is one thing that Liverpool maybe struggle at going forward, it’s breaking down a low block. Thiago is the perfect player to get around this obstacle.

Between him, Henderson, Fabinho and Keita, Liverpool’s so-called weakest position might just have become their strongest. There is a real case to be made that any combination of these three is the best in the world.

Kopites can only wait with bated breath to see exactly how good Thiago Alcantara really is.

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