While Liverpool’s 4-1 victory over Aston Villa was largely little more than a simple performance to get Jurgen Klopp’s side through to the next round of the FA Cup, it also proved to be a perfect opportunity for Thiago Alcantara to show what he can do in a Liverpool shirt.
The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich midfielder was brought on after the first half in place of Jordan Henderson, as Klopp turned to Thiago for a more surgical approach to breaking down a youthful and determined Villa side.
The 29-year-old Spanish international didn’t ultimately bag any of the three assists that came in the second half, but his performance over the course of the 45 minutes undoubtedly showcased just what Thiago can do when fit and slotted into this Liverpool midfield.
A necessary attacking intent
When Thiago came on everything went through him. If that wasn’t obvious enough, it’s worth bearing in mind that the Spaniard finished the game with just three players having touched the ball more times than him - all of whom happened to be Liverpool defenders. A remarkable feat when we consider he only featured for 45 minutes.
Indeed, this dominance over Liverpool’s attacking intent was also evident through Thiago’s passing. When it came to total passes the midfielder sat around fifth, but when it came to passes into the final third he was second only to left-back James Milner.
The 39 passes he made into the final third in 45 minutes was almost twice as many as Curtis Jones managed in 61 minutes and significantly more than the 26 Georginio Wijnaldum managed in 90 minutes.
When we couple that with the fact that Thiago also managed more dribbles on the ball than any other player on the pitch over the course of the game, we begin to get an idea over just how much Liverpool were reliant on their new midfielder in the second half to help break Villa down.
Thiago's impressive performance
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An all-round midfielder
At Bayern, Thiago learned that an important interception or well-timed tackle in the middle of the pitch can be just as important as a defence-splitting pass and as such the 29-year-old is now a tremendously well-rounded midfielder.
And, again, this was all on show against a helpless Villa side that could do little more than sit back and witness Thiago’s performance in the second half. Alongside his attacking attributes, the Spanish international was also just as alert to his defensive responsibilities as well.
For example, despite only coming on after the first half, no player in either side managed more interceptions than Thiago. And just four Liverpool players pulled off more recoveries over the course of the game than the midfielder.
Yet, what was perhaps even more impressive was the fact that while Thiago didn’t attempt as many defensive duels as other players on the pitch, he did win more than any of his team mates over the course of the match.
A youth side from Aston Villa may not be the most formidable side Liverpool expect to face over the course of this season, but it’s still encouraging for fans of the Anfield side to get the opportunity to see where Thiago will fit into Klopp’s team.
Injury and an unfortunate period off with COVID have delayed Thiago’s introduction to this Liverpool team. Friday night’s second half performance against Villa may finally have been the introduction fans were waiting for.