Thiago Could Be Key To Unlocking Liverpool Midfield Goals
The Thiago Alcantara to Liverpool links to burn brightly.
Simon Hughes of The Athletic, who is well connected to the club, added another dose of kerosene to the rumours when he reported the Reds are “officially” interested in the Spain international midfielder.
If the English champions are indeed to prize the former Barcelona linchpin from FC Bayern, they will be adding a goal threat to their midfield even if Thiago himself — who has never scored more than six league goals in a season — won’t be the player applying the finishing touches to move.
In the 2016/2017 season, which was Jurgen Klopp’s first full campaign at Anfield, the Reds midfielders had their most bountiful return in front of goal in the German’s stint in charge.
Adam Lallana, transformed from an attacking midfielder to a deeper-lying engine room schemer, notched eight Premier League goals and seven assists, with his lung-busting, third man runs proving difficult for oppositions defences to deal with.
Likewise, Georginio Wijnaldum — who had arrived that summer from Newcastle United for £25,000,000 — proved a profitable source of goals with six league strikes and nine assists.
Typically, the composition of Liverpool’s midfield that season would be Jordan Henderson at the deepest player with Wijnaldum, Lallana and Emre Can — who added to the goal tally with five of his own — all vying for the two advanced slots in Klopp’s 433 formation.
All of these midfield goals were facilitated in part by the Brazilian duo Roberto Firmino and — from his perch on the left-hand side of the attack — Philippe Coutinho.
With 13 goals and seven assists, Coutinho — the team’s nominal playmaker — provided the teams attacking creativity and incision, creating the spaces for Can, Wijnaldum, and Lallana to thrive.
Fixated with the idea of stopping the Brazil international and stymying Liverpool’s attacking flow, the opposition would honeypot all over Coutinho, dedicating two or three men to marking him. Logically, investing so much energy into stopping one player will make space somewhere else on the pitch for other players.
Although in not quite the same position, Klopp could use Thiago — should any deal ever happen — in a similar fashion and free up Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, Henderson, Curtis Jones and, provided he stays at the club, Wijnaldum to attack the box more often.
A born playmaker, the Spanish international of Brazilian heritage — his father, Mazinho, won a World Cup with the Selecao in 1994 — made 22 key passes, a pass that leads to a shot, in the Bundesliga last season.
Leon Goretzka, a regular partner for Thiago in the double pivot midfield set up in Bavaria, helped himself to six league goals, thanks — in part — to the Barcelona academy graduate taking the playmaking responsibilities upon himself and letting Goretzka focus on getting ahead of the ball and into the box.
Klopp has tailored his midfield to act, primarily, as a safety blanket to let Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander Arnold — the Reds’ bombastic full-back duo, who have registered almost 50 Premier League assists between them in the last two season’s — to bomb up the flanks without leaving the team defensively exposed.
But Thiago, who wins 70% of his attempted tackles and successfully completes 34.6% of his pressing actions — actions that lead to the team winning the ball back within five seconds — is tactically and defensively diligent, whilst also offering world-class ball progression attributes. The Spaniard also recovered 305 loose balls last season.
The 29-year-old, according to stats sourced from FBRef, mostly passes between 5 and 25 yards and passed into the penalty area 18 times last season and always offered himself as an option, successfully receiving passes 96.1% of the time, often on the half-turn and — with an 84% success rate — dribbling out of pressure.
Oxlade Chamberlain, whose stats were somewhat inflated by playing in the front three, was the Reds fourth-highest league scorer last season with four goals.
Ideally, Klopp would like a higher proportion of goals from outside his midfield, and with Thiago taking the playmaking duties in midfield, Keita, Henderson, Wijnaldum, and Jones — all of whom have the athletic and technical credentials to add goals from the engine room — could all ease the burden on the front three and score more often next season.