EPL

Is Thiago Alcantara ill-suited to Liverpool's style of play?

By Sports Desk January 24, 2021

Thiago Alcantara is a rather unique breed of footballer, the type of player who will be almost universally enjoyed such are his breath-taking technical attributes.

It's like he rolls the passing talents of Juan Roman Riquelme and first touch of Ronaldinho into a single player and saunters around the pitch ensuring the game is played at a pace dictated by him.

His Liverpool career feels a lot shorter than it actually has been because of his absence through injury, and he'll be hoping his recent return is the catalyst to kick-starting what is resembling a fairly meek title defence.

But while Thiago has shown flashes of his immense ability in his fledgling Liverpool career, it appears not all are entirely convinced.

Former Reds midfielder Dietmar Hamann expressed his reservations in an interview with talkSPORT on Tuesday, suggesting Thiago is detrimental to a key part of Liverpool's play; utilising a quick tempo with hard-working midfielders who look to get the ball forward to the front three as soon as possible.

Hamann urged Liverpool to be cautious about how much influence they let Thiago have, questioning his effectiveness when not in possession and suitability to the Reds' system, concerns that won't have been eased by Thursday's shock defeat to Burnley.

But does this give a fair reflection of Thiago?

An unnecessary luxury?

First of all, there are only so many conclusions you can make regarding Thiago and his time at Liverpool because he has not featured particularly often, as previously highlighted.

But the fact is, Liverpool's record in Premier League games he has featured in is quite poor, with only one of those six ending in a victory.

That win came in his Premier League debut, a 2-0 victory at Chelsea back in September – that's right, it was the game where he completed 75 passes despite only coming on at half-time, a record since Opta began recording such data in 2003-04 among players to play a maximum of 45 minutes.

The hype after that match was stratospheric – the champions had seemingly added the final string to their bow and they were seemingly set to overwhelm everyone, but it's worth bearing in mind that was a Chelsea side reduced to 10 men before Thiago had even come on.

Liverpool average just one point per game with Thiago, that more than doubles to 2.2 when he hasn't played – additionally, their win percentage rockets from 16.7 to 61.5 in games the Spaniard hasn't featured in.

Of course, it's a relatively small sample size, so perhaps take the facts with a pinch of salt – but there are metrics that can shine more light on Thiago's influence.

One of Hamann's major reservations related to Thiago's desire to dictate play and how he might, in the long run, negatively impact Liverpool's effectiveness off the ball.

"Liverpool were always good when they weren't in possession, won it and played quickly forward. He's not that type of player, so it will be very interesting when he does play more often now how it's going to change the dynamics of the team," Hamann said.

It's true, Liverpool do have more of the ball (65.7 per cent compared to 64.7) with Thiago in the side, but the difference is negligible and certainly cannot be pointed to as a cause for worry.

The supply line

Then there's the concerns relating to Thiago's style of play potentially impacting supply to the frontline. Well, the Reds average 18.7 shots per game when he plays (up from 14.9 without him).

There is also no damning evidence to suggest Thiago isn't looking to feed the forwards either, after all, he passed to Mohamed Salah 11 times (a joint high) against Manchester United last weekend.

He has picked out Salah 36 times in their 365 minutes on the pitch together – so, once every 10.1 minutes. Although that's less frequent than he passes to Trent Alexander-Arnold (once per every 8.2 minutes) and Andy Robertson (8.8 minutes), it shows he is supplying the Reds' most-threatening forward regularly.

And while the two full-backs had off days against Burnley, can you really blame Thiago for passing to them often? Since the start of last season, they are Liverpool's leading providers of shooting opportunities.

Additionally, his 14.9 passes into final third of the pitch per 90 minutes is second only to Jordan Henderson (16.2) among Liverpool players this term – Thiago beats him, and every other Red, in terms of successful passes in the attacking third every game, however (25.8, compared to Henderson's 20.5).

"He's not that type of player"

It's fair to say Thiago probably isn't best known for what he brings to teams off the ball, but despite some seemingly questioning him in this department, he appears to be at least pulling his weight.

In fact, he's averaging marginally more tackles per 90 minutes than Henderson (1.5 over 1.4), while no one in the Liverpool team is intercepting opposition passes as frequently as the Barcelona product (2.8 per 90 mins).

On top of that, he's ranked third in the squad for duel involvements (14.7 per 90 mins) – while not necessarily an indicator of excellence on its own, that should at the very least dispel any questions regarding his work rate.

On an individual level when you look at the data, Thiago doesn't appear to be out of place stylistically. While he may occasionally spend more time on the ball than some of his midfield contemporaries, he possesses the kind of technical wizardry that arguably no other Liverpool player has and that is surely a positive rather than a negative.

He's also clearly a hard-working player who offers plenty off the ball. So, while the Reds are going through a tricky patch at the moment, Thiago's abilities should be embraced rather than looked upon with suspicion.

Related items

  • Digne wants to take Everton to Champions League after signing new contract Digne wants to take Everton to Champions League after signing new contract

    Everton have announced star defender Lucas Digne has signed a new four-year contract.

    The new deal sees the 27-year-old commit to spending the prime of his career at Goodison Park following stints at LaLiga outfit Barcelona, Ligue 1 clubs Paris Saint-Germain and Lille, and a season-long loan at Roma in Serie A.

    During his nearly three seasons on Merseyside, the set-piece specialist has quickly become a key component of the Toffees defensive unit, and their attack, playing 97 games in all competitions.

    Digne has recorded six assists in 16 league games this season, one short of his total in 35 matches from 2019-20, while he claimed four goals and four assists in his debut 2018-19 Premier League campaign.

    The France international has expressed his desire to help lead Carlo Ancelotti's side into the Champions League during his time at the club.

    "In the national team, the competition in my position, and every position, is really strong and I have to play at the best level,” Digne told evertontv, after inking a contract until 2025.

    "I play in the best league and I want to play in the best cup in Europe [Champions League], for sure.

    "And I want to do that with Everton."

    Only Liverpool duo Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold (28) have most assists than Digne (17) of full-backs since he arrived in the Premier League.

    Digne has created the second most chances (166) out of Premier League full-backs in the same period, behind Alexander-Arnold, while he has put in the third most open-play crosses (400).

    He added: "We have a big project with the club and can reach something very good at the end of this season and for the next few years.

    "I have seen the progress every year since joining the club, we are building a strong team.

    "When you sign for Everton, it is like an amazing wedding.

    "You just have to do your best every day to show Evertonians the love you have for them. That is what I do.

    "I want to show them what they give me and it is just amazing.

    "It was clear in my mind that I want to continue with Everton."

  • Zidane knows Madrid 'didn't play well' in win over Atalanta Zidane knows Madrid 'didn't play well' in win over Atalanta

    Zinedine Zidane accepted injury-hit Real Madrid did not do themselves justice against 10-man Atalanta but was content to come away with a 1-0 Champions League advantage.

    Atalanta midfielder Remo Freuler was sent off for a professional foul on Ferland Mendy only 17 minutes into the first leg of the round of 16 tie at Gewiss Stadium on Wednesday.

    Lacklustre Madrid dominated possession but had just three shots on target in a drab encounter until Mendy scored his first European goal to win it four minutes from time.

    A depleted Los Blancos side, who have the likes of Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard on a long list of absentees, lacked ideas and looked set to fire a blank prior to Mendy's sweetly struck late away goal.

    Zidane knows Madrid's fifth consecutive win was not pretty, but he was relieved to take the upper hand heading into the second leg at home on March 16.

    The Madrid head coach said: "We didn't play a great game tonight, but I think the most important thing is the result.

    "In the end, scoring is what is important to us. We still have to play the second leg, but it's a good result."

    The former France midfielder added: "We played against a very physically strong team. Defensively they were good and it's a good result.

    "There are many casualties, but we continue with what we are doing well. The players who are here are committed."

    Zidane praised Isco, who made only his fifth start of the season - and his first in the Champions League - in a more advanced role with Benzema still sidelined.

    "It has been a long time since he played so many minutes and he has done very well in a position that is not his," said Zidane.

    "He has played a great game, we know what he can give us and he has done very well. When he plays he gives everything on the field. It's a victory and he's done a great job for over an hour."

  • Ruben Dias giving Bernardo Silva a head for heights Ruben Dias giving Bernardo Silva a head for heights

    Bernardo Silva revealed a personal competition between himself and Manchester City team-mate Ruben Dias helped to inspire his opening goal in Tuesday's 2-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach.

    Silva headed City into a 29th-minute lead in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie in Budapest before nodding down for Gabriel Jesus to score midway through the second half.

    It was the diminutive playmaker's 35th goal for City in all competitions and, perhaps a little surprisingly, his third with his head.

    Speaking to BT Sport after the game, Silva explained he and Portugal team-mate Ruben Dias – a centre-back certainly more adept in the air but yet to open his account for City – are competing to see who can score the most headers this season.

    "Usually I'm not [good at scoring headers]. I try to practice a lot – especially now with Ruben," he said.

    "We make a little competition to see who scores the most goals with the head.

    "I think I was lucky that Joao [Cancelo] gave me a great ball and, yes, I'm happy to have scored and helped the team."

    Speaking at a news conference after the game, boss Pep Guardiola said Silva's work on his heading on the training ground – irrespective of whether it is mainly for bragging rights – had not gone unnoticed.

    "He is really good at headers, he is really good! I saw in the training sessions," he said.

    "When you make an action for a header you have to use the body, not just the head. He used his neck perfectly. He was strong, the goal was fantastic.

    "Attacking midfielders have to arrive in the box and Bernardo and Gundo [Ilkay Gundogan] have this quality."

    Another of Silva's international team-mates, Joao Cancelo, was named man of the match after he supplied a sumptuous cross for the opener and the centre that led to Jesus' close-range effort.

    "He's an amazing player. I've played with him seven years at Benfica. We're from the same generation," Silva added, with Dias also having also come through the ranks with the Lisbon giants.

    "I know him very well, so the connection is good. He knows my timing, I know how good he is on these kind of balls.

    "It was a very good goal because of his passing qualities. Overall, he's been doing a great season and I'm very happy for him."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.