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Thread: Thiago, the man who makes gaps appear

  1. #1
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    Thiago, the man who makes gaps appear

    By Simon Hughes, today


    In the summer of 2004, Liverpool were about as far away from the position they are in now as they could be. A new cycle was beginning under Rafa Benitez. Chelsea were trying to sign Steven Gerrard. The captain needed support in midfield but a deal for Xabi Alonso did not look like it was going to happen. Real Madrid wanted him but they wondered whether he was too slow and ended up messing him around for too long. This created an opportunity for Liverpool.

    The reports about Alonso started on Merseyside almost as soon as Benitez was appointed. Two and a half months later, he was finally a Liverpool player and Gerrard was still there. He and Jamie Carragher had seen a bit of him on Sky because of Real Sociedad’s rise up the league during the 2002-03 season when the Basques finished second.

    Keen, established footballers are observers of new signings as much as fans are — but of course, they know better about which smaller details to look out for. To Carragher at least, there was something about the way Alonso tied his bootlaces that reinforced the impression that he might be half decent. Alonso pulled them really tight, like he meant business – in comparison to Igor Biscan who was sitting next to him, it has to be said. Then he adjusted his shin pads, ensuring the top of his training socks were almost at knee level. Out on the grass, Alonso started to make passes.

    He was unafraid to make difficult choices but always thundered them towards team-mates, testing their touch. As much as he was being watched, he was watching them; trying to gain an understanding of the new technical abilities around him. “Stevie and I knew straight away that Xabi would be a success,” Carragher remembered.

    thiago-alonso-liverpool
    Thiago and Alonso both filled the same roles with the same national team as well as Bayern Munich with such distinction (Photo: Team 2 Sportphoto/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
    What would you pay to watch footage of that session at Melwood? What, indeed, would you pay to watch football of the first session that involves Thiago Alcantara all these years later? There are comparisons to be made between Thiago and Alonso because both have filled the same roles with the same national team as well as Bayern Munich with such distinction. Both have been raised by fathers who were successful professional footballers in La Liga. Though Periko Alonso played a decade earlier than Mazinho, the pair were regarded not only as the brains of enterprising sides from San Sebastian and Vigo but the lungs as well.

    From a position on the side of a pitch at Bayern’s training facility, Alonso once told me that he appreciated what a footballer looked like because of his experiences helping warming up the reserve goalkeepers of clubs like Tolosa, Beasain and Eibar where his father had managed. He understood what it took to become a footballer and he understood what it took to maintain standards. Weirdly, it was at that point Thiago – then a team-mate in the Bayern midfield – walked past. Alonso embraced him firmly and said as he trotted away, “A player, a player…” Great footballers know other great footballers…

    Jurgen Klopp has a way with words and it seems now that he really meant it when he said recently that Liverpool would not defend their Premier League crown, they’d instead, “attack it.” The task he faces is a new one in his career because he hasn’t had to sell any of his best players like he did at Borussia Dortmund after each of his Bundesliga titles. Throughout the summer there has been no sense of absence or loss at Anfield.

    For Klopp, the questions instead are a very different ones: how do you keep improving a world-class team where the individuals are approaching their peak even though they have already won the game’s most coveted prizes? Motivation at a base level should not be a problem but how to you push them to their farthest extreme? Can you get even more out of personalities you already know so well?

    It will not just be Liverpool’s competing midfielders watching Thiago closely when he puts his boots on at Melwood the first time. Despite his achievements, he’ll be desperate to impress them and in turn they’ll be desperate to impress him. Training standards will increase. Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino will be salivating at the thought of the service they’ll be getting. Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker will be confident they’ll be receiving better protection because Thiago does that side of the game well too.

    Though some gaps remain in the squad, the team itself had seemed almost impossible to improve. Only a select few of the world’s best players were capable of making Liverpool’s starting XI better than it already was but Thiago — arguably the best player on the pitch during the Champions League final — will do that. His passing range probably isn’t as extensive as Alonso’s but his shorter game is more incisive and he leaves you with the impression that his movement and thought is quicker in tight spaces. He is always trying to find a way forward.

    At Bayern, the much taller and rangy Leon Goretzka moved from box to box and Thiago’s responsibility was a deeper one but you could not describe him as a sitting midfielder. So often over the last few seasons especially, his pass has been the one before the assist and this reflects a willingness to join the attack. “He does not wait for the gaps to appear,” reflected Michael Ballack, the former Bayern and Chelsea midfielder. “He makes them appear.”

    During Liverpool’s briefest of pre-seasons, Klopp has experimented with new team shapes and one of those used was his old 4-2-3-1 formation from his Dortmund days. Perhaps this reveals what he might do with Thiago, who was nevertheless reared at Barcelona, where 4-3-3 is sacred. In the most important games over the last two or three seasons his midfield has been a three of Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum and it would appear that the latter’s position will face the most scrutiny following Thiago’s arrival, possibly even leading to a departure. Sources at Liverpool have this morning told the The Athletic that the club’s fourth captain is expected to remain at Anfield until the end of the season, however.

    Thiago’s signing is untypical of Liverpool because he is a 29-year-old with a status of superstar proportions and this is a club with a history of moulding rather than buying them. Not so long ago, Klopp insisted he did not want to coach Kylian Mbappe but the next Kylian Mbappe. The recruitment of Thiago is hardly a surprise given the length and depth of the conversation about him since he was first linked but his arrival is a departure from Klopp’s original thinking.

    Despite some impressions of Klopp, he does not subscribe to dogma – nor is he stubborn. This might be perceived as a weakness when really it should be considered a strength. The challenge is always changing in football and nobody predicted COVID-19 or its impact. In those empty stadiums where opponents have been better placed to soak up pressure because of the lack of frustration or urgency from supporters, he must surely have been able to see that Liverpool needed something different in midfield.

    Thiago changes the schemes of rival managers who might have started believing they understand Klopp better, as well as his already brilliant title-winning team.

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by 3underpar View Post
    Training standards will increase. Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino will be salivating at the thought of the service they’ll be getting. Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker will be confident they’ll be receiving better protection because Thiago does that side of the game well too.

    Thiago changes the schemes of rival managers who might have started believing they understand Klopp better, as well as his already brilliant title-winning team.
    Assuming all goes well and we don't see another Fekir situation (Heaven forbid....) these are the bits to be most excited about.
    Your hobbies are rollerblading and you're also a bit of a rat-hound? Steel Wool
    Sid knows he's crazy and he likes it. Balinkay

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    Thanks 3underpar

  4. #4
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    Is it true we're paying Bayern £5 million a year for 5 years,for him ?

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    Quote Originally Posted by ianlfc View Post
    Is it true we're paying Bayern £5 million a year for 5 years,for him ?
    4 years.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by ianlfc View Post
    Is it true we're paying Bayern £5 million a year for 5 years,for him ?
    4 years, possible add-ons if we win the Premier League / Champion's League.

    Michael Edwards might be the first guy in his position to get a song at this rate

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  8. #8
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    He speaks perfect English as well.

  9. #9
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    Class that Worlpanel

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