It’s hard to imagine anyone criticizing Thiago Alcantara after his glorious performance against Manchester United on Tuesday night.
The 31-year-old produced a masterclass in midfield at Anfield, dictating the game from the start to help Liverpool register a 4-0 Premier League victory against their bitter rivals. It was exactly the type of display you would expect from a two-time Champions League winner.
Yet when Thiago first arrived in England, he was pinned down as the wrong cog in Jurgen Klopp’s machine. Ahead of the Merseyside derby on Sunday, Football Mirror takes a look at the highs and lows of his Premier League career – starting with his nightmare at Goodison Park.
Welcome to Liverpool
The Reds stunned European football when they signed Thiago from Bayern Munich in September 2020. The Spaniard had already enjoyed plenty of success, breaking into Pep Guardiola’s midfield at Barcelona before joining the Bayern manager in July 2013.
On the contrary, fans expected him to follow Guardiola to Manchester City rather than join Klopp at Liverpool. Thiago is a passing master, a perfect fit into Guardiola’s aesthetic system. Few thought he could fit in with Klopp’s heavy metal ethos.
“I’m not too sure…the game in England is much quicker than in Germany,” said former Liverpool midfielder Dietmar Hamann when asked about Thiago’s move to Liverpool in September 2020. “S ‘he thinks he can’t be rushed, so good luck to him.”
Hamann added: “I’m intrigued by where he’s going to play… he adds something extra, but I think the jury is still out on whether he’s the player they think or they’re telling him. be.”
And Thiago’s stay in England did not start well. On his first start for his new club – against Everton at Goodison Park – he was hacked by Richarlison. The Brazilian striker was sent off for his brutal challenge, which was described as “nasty” by Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum. This left Thiago with a serious knee injury.
Klopp’s new midfielder did not play in the league for two and a half months. “The red card for Richarlison is not only a red card for Everton, it’s also a foul on Thiago,” fumed the worried coach. “We don’t know what he had, but it doesn’t look too good.”
And it doesn’t look like Thiago has forgiven Richarlison for his dangerous tackle. “I took to Instagram to apologize and such,” Richarlison revealed in March 2021. “He just saw it. I said, ‘I’m going to delete that post as well, because he doesn’t want to reply .
“Then I went there and deleted it. He didn’t answer, no. Then there was the derby now, at their house, he didn’t look me in the face, I didn’t haven’t looked either. The game continues on.” Everton won the second leg 2-0, with Richarlison scoring the opener.
Thiago in the face of criticism
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Thiago has returned to full fitness ahead of 2021 – but it’s been a tough comeback. Liverpool lost six consecutive league games at home to slip to eighth in the table in March. The runaway champions from the previous season were struggling and critics were blaming the midfielder.
“He doesn’t seem like a Jurgen Klopp type player, does he?” said Manchester United legend Paul Scholes in March 2021. “You think about the midfield players he has and the forwards. Everything is 100 miles per hour.
“I thought he would have been more suited to a Manchester United team…Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool, I don’t see them controlling games. I see them fighting each other’s throats in teams. He doesn’t have that energy to really dominate the midfield.”
Hamann, meanwhile, said: “He slows things down and doesn’t really play the way Liverpool play. Liverpool in the past have had hard-working midfielders… I just think with Thiago everyone was delighted with his move to Liverpool – he barely played.”
As more and more people shared their damning opinion of Thiago, Klopp hit back. “He arrived late, which is just the nature of some transfers, then he caught the Covid, got injured and had to adjust to a new team again,” the German said in February 2021.
Klopp added: “It’s just a public perception. ‘Oh, Thiago is here and we’re not playing well anymore.’ This stuff is just b********, let me put it like that! They just aren’t right.
“Everyone needs time to adapt. Bayern played a different style, in a different league, and were much more dominant in the Bundesliga than any team can be in the Premier League… Thiago can play better football, yes of course, but all of us can play better football.”
Thiago then proved his critics wrong, starting Liverpool’s last 10 Premier League games to help them climb the table and finish third. It was a brilliant recovery, which justified his place in Klopp’s team. He was now set to earn silverware in England.
Quadruple head load
Thiago hasn’t always been available for Liverpool this season – suffering from calf and hip injuries, as well as a bout of Covid – but he’s been excellent when called up.
The Spaniard has adapted brilliantly to the pace of the Premier League and Klopp’s midfield. He covers every blade of grass out of possession – never fearing a tackle – and can effortlessly return to his fabulous, natural style in attack.
His goal against Porto in the Champions League will be remembered for a long time, sending a bouncing ball crackling off the Anfield turf and into the back of the net. It was the definition of a daisy cutter, producing a technique that we mere mortals can only watch and admire.
Thiago’s outstanding form justified Klopp’s faith in him. “People were wondering if he was suitable for our football,” the Liverpool boss said on Friday afternoon. “Thank goodness these people don’t make decisions.”
“It’s more important that Thiago wanted to join us and he knew how we played. He’s a real footballer and thinks a lot about football. He knew how we played, and he knew he would fit in and we knew that too. “
And now, 18 months after Richarlison’s horror tackle, Thiago can deliver a hammer blow to Everton’s survival hopes by inspiring Liverpool to victory on Sunday. If that happens – and Burnley beat Wolves at Turf Moor – the Toffees will slip into the bottom three.
More importantly, Thiago has the chance to keep Liverpool’s fourfold dream alive. Man City took a four-point lead over the Reds with a 5-1 win over Watford on Saturday afternoon and only a win over Everton will be enough for Klopp’s side.
Liverpool have already won the EFL Cup this season and reached the FA Cup final. They also qualified for the last four of the Champions League. No English team in history has won all four trophies in the same season.
Thiago’s CV demanded respect when he arrived in England, but he didn’t get it. From now on, only a fool would doubt his intelligence. He has taken Liverpool to another level and, if they win the treble, he will certainly receive his fair share of praise.