EPL

Klopp keen to protect 'incredible' Thiago as Liverpool set sights on Saints

By Sports Desk November 26, 2021

Jurgen Klopp promised Liverpool will do everything possible to ensure Thiago Alcantara stays fit enough to star throughout their Premier League title push.

Former Barcelona and Bayern Munich playmaker Thiago joined Liverpool in the wake of their 2019-20 league triumph and has endured a stop-start Anfield career.

Injuries have disrupted his progress and the 30-year-old Spain international has struggled to show his best form on a consistent basis.

A stunning Champions League goal against Porto on Wednesday was the highlight of a polished performance that followed an impressive display against Arsenal last week, though it remains to be seen whether Thiago starts on Saturday against Southampton.

Klopp wants to pace Thiago through the season rather than risk him suffering further physical woes, knowing his creative contributions could be hugely important.

"He's an incredible player for us of course, but we've found solutions when he was not available," said Klopp. "We have an incredible choice of players there [in midfield].

"Thiago has a very specific skill-set and is very helpful on the pitch when he has rhythm. The challenge we face is to make sure he can gain rhythm but not overdo it. We have that will all the players, pretty much.

"That's the challenge we face all the time, especially with all the games coming up."

Thiago arrived from Bayern with a big reputation but did not manage a single assist in 30 games last season across all competitions, although he created an average of 1.43 chances per 90 minutes played. That was down on most of his past seasons with Barcelona and Bayern, albeit it bettered his average for his final campaign at both clubs.

This season is still in its early stages, but Thiago is showing improvement in many areas of his game, with an assist already in the bag, his chances created in all competitions up to 1.82 per 90 minutes, and gains achieved in passes in the opposition half (49.67 per 90, up from 46.35), touches (102.3 per 90, up from 98.28) and ball recoveries (8.2, up from 7.47).

Klopp is enjoying having midfield options after a rash of injuries cleared up, describing it as "cool" to be in a position where his hand is not forced by limited availability.

He predicted a "proper fight" against Ralph Hasenhuttl's Southampton, although Liverpool have won seven of their last eight Premier League games against Saturday's visitors. The exception came recently: a 1-0 away loss in January last season.

Since a 1-0 win in September 2013, Southampton have gone winless in their last seven away league games against Liverpool (D2 L5), losing their last four at Anfield by an aggregate score of 12-0.

Klopp called Southampton "a proper team", "a very well drilled team", and said Liverpool, who sit third in the table going into the weekend, would need to be creatively sharp to find a way through their defence.

It is a 3pm kick-off at Anfield, and Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 25 Premier League games kicking off at that time on a Saturday (W22 D3) since a 2-0 loss at Hull in February 2017.

The Reds' last such loss at home was against West Ham in August 2015 under Brendan Rodgers (W18 D5 since at Anfield).

Southampton, for all Klopp's praise, have been pushovers on the road by most standards, though they managed a shock goalless draw at Manchester City in September. They have lost 13 of their 17 Premier League away games in 2021 (W2 D2), conceding 43 goals in this run (2.5 per game).

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