Liverpool have followed a very clear recruitment strategy since the arrival of Jurgen Klopp in 2015, scoring great success with almost every new player coming through the doors at Melwood.
But they have broken their policy of developing players to sign Thiago Alcantara, a 29-year-old right in the middle of his prime, for just £20 million.
Thiago is the second oldest outfield player to join Liverpool under Klopp’s reign, with Ragnar Klavan arriving just a few months before his 31st birthday in 2016. Klopp has heaped praise on Thiago multiple times throughout his career, knowing him well as foes on the pitch during his time at Borussia Dortmund.
“In my time in Germany, I admired Thiago Alcantara,” he said in 2017.
And once again he had plenty to say about Bayern’s No. 6 in 2019 after the sides drew 0-0 at Anfield in the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16.
Thiago is a world-class footballer. He played that deep-lying playmaker role very well.Jurgen Klopp, 2019
The Spaniard played 24 times in the Bundesliga in 19/20, scoring three goals but failing to register a single assist for the first time since his first season in Germany – that campaign was interrupted by a serious knee injury, and he only played 278 minutes.
Thiago was still as effective as ever for Die Roten, though. Playing primarily as the deep-lying playmaker in front of the back four, Thiago was the main avenue for Bayern’s play when he was in the team. He had 109 touches P90 in the Bundesliga, as well as 92.5 passes P90 at 90% accuracy and a very impressive 3.5 dribbles per 90.
He was just as impressive defensively as well, with 8.1 successful duels P90 from 13.7 attempted – a success rate of around 60% - as well as 2.3 interceptions and 9.8 recoveries P90.
Each of those stats would be a team high amongst Liverpool midfielders. In fact, his stats for dribbles, touches and passes P90 exceed those of Kevin De Bruyne, albeit with the Belgian’s sample size needing to incorporate some 663 extra minutes.
Therefore statistically, Thiago remains a superstar in world football and would probably become Liverpool’s best midfielder from the outset. He is a player you just don't turn down - even if your team doesn't really need midfielders.
Looking again at De Bruyne as a sort of benchmark – he is Manchester City’s prime creator, after all – he attempts 9.5 crosses P90. Trent Alexander-Arnold attempts 10.7 as Liverpool’s main outlet, and Andrew Robertson crosses 5.2 times P90.
Comparing those numbers to City’s full-backs, Kyle Walker attempts a meagre two crosses per 90, whereas Benjamin Mendy just eclipses Robertson’s number with 5.4.
The point of that is, Liverpool don’t really use their midfielders for creativity. But what Klopp might want more from a midfielder is the ability to constantly find the ball in space and build up an attack.
Thiago vs Liverpool squad
|Pass completion %||90||85||91||89||87|
|Duels won P90||8.1||4.4||4.2||7||5.8|
|*League minutes only|
There is no doubt Thiago would improve Liverpool if he joined, as he would do almost every team in world football. He is one of the top midfielders in the world, and even at 29 he would be the median age in the Reds’ midfield ranks.
But the issue is there are more pressing needs for Klopp’s team. . Joel Matip needs help at centre-back due to his injury-proneness and the departure of Dejan Lovren, and a relinquishing of the burden on the front three is essential.
At any other time, in any other circumstances, £20m for a world-class talent is a no-brainer. But in the middle of a pandemic with financial constraints, when Liverpool have already passed on Timo Werner, this may represent more than just a single move, but a reaction to the market, and Chelsea, spending even more than normal.
This window will ultimately be about Liverpool getting better to maintain their dominance at the top, as obvious as that sounds.
Will Thiago make Liverpool better? Absolutely. Is midfield the area in most essential need for improvement? Probably not.
If alongside Thiago there are arrivals in other key areas and this represents a shift in transfer emphasis, then this makes perfect sense. But if this signing means the team can’t bolster positions it really needs to, will the Reds have had a decent window?