Thiago Alcántara, Klopp’s rabbit / Premier League / J35 / Newcastle-Liverpool /

Strolled between positions during his first season at Liverpool and struggling with yet another physical problem, the Spanish international ended up winning at the crossroads of the circuits of the Reds and by becoming the part allowing Jürgen Klopp to tie up version 2.0 of his English machine.

We call it a “Thiago moment”. Today there are lots of them, which are stored at the bottom of souvenir trunks or exchanged between collectors. The latest, the man at the head of this movement built it with his right ankle, last Wednesday, in the middle of the second period of a semi-final first leg of the Champions League where Liverpool passed Villarreal in the washing machine of his game without a total ball (fierce counter-pressing, aerial domination of the Van Dijk-Konaté pair, great reading of Fabinho’s situations, reduction in the number of fouls committed in the second half to increase the tempo of the match ). We were playing the 65and minutes, the Reds were already leading 2-0, but Thiago Alcántara still had a few ideas to share with Anfield. We then saw him being found in the heart of the opposing camp, alerted by Trent Alexander-Arnold, then turning on a step to solicit Luis Díaz a notch higher, closely chased by two wasps (Juan Foyth and Étienne Capoue) . Stuck, the Colombian then relied on his mixologist pal, who had fun drawing a transverse with a delirious trajectory from the end of the outside towards Andrew Robertson, launched in a depopulated hallway until Giovani Lo Celso did not show the tip of his nose to save Villarreal from yet another burning cross. Behind, Thiago Alcántara, shorts raised on the top of the thighs, replaced himself as if nothing had happened.

At this moment, we thought back to the last summer confessions of the Spanish international, delivered to five European media, including The Team. The former Barça player had just played his first Euro match against Sweden (0-0) and had mentioned, among other things, his hatred of modern football. Details: “We see fewer magical actions. There is no longer a need to do as many dribbles as before, because the players are faster, more physical. They are more developed in every way, but today you miss these different players, who can bring you moments of breathing in the game. (…) Football is a team sport. If the collective works, you don’t need this magic. When the team is very well prepared, you know the movements you have to make, the passes you have to give, how you have to defend… but when you haven’t received the ball the way you wanted or you have a bad angle of pass, you have to know how to improvise. That’s the magic I’m talking about. » The one that pushes him to often think back to advice one day given by his father – Mazinho, world champion with Brazil in 1994 -: “You have to take pleasure with responsibility. » All of Thiago Alcántara is in these words.

« He’s an exceptional player… »

Liverpool’s number 6 is a survivor of his era. A rare player, loving the game and all kinds of breakups, whom two of the best coaches of their time snatched away for a reason, first formulated by Pep Guardiola when he managed to bring him to Bayern in 2013 the one he had seen trained before at La Masia: “The first signing I wanted is Thiago because he can play 6, 8, 10, 11, 7. He can play three or four positions and will be useful in all of them. He’s a great player. » Jürgen Klopp, who asked his leaders to recruit him in the summer of 2020, a few weeks after seeing him walk on PSG in the Champions League final, is also going in this direction: “He is an exceptional player. I knew that before he got here. He was unlucky with injuries at first, but when he’s fit he helps bring the game to life. He’s got an eye for it, the composure he needs, a view of sensational ensemble… His first touch is also incredible. »

The beginning of Thiago Alcántara’s English adventure, marked by the umpteenth glitches in the life of the pocket midfielder (he has been absent 193 days since his arrival in England), numerous job changes (often linked to other cascading glitches from the workforce which notably pushed Klopp to install Fabinho in central defense and Thiago in 6) and certain severe criticism from former Liverpool players (Barnes and Hamann in the lead), however, was not a calm river. Then, after having missed almost all of the peaks during the first months among the Reds, the native of San Pietro Vernotico reversed the curve. This season, one number says a lot: Thiago Alcántara started 15 Premier League games with Liverpool for a record of 14 wins and 1 draw – against Manchester City (2-2) -, but also 43 goals scored for the Reds and only… 4 goals conceded. As a starter, the Spaniard has only experienced defeat this season against Inter (0-1), but he has above all found his expression in the animation, he who, aligned left torchbearer in Klopp’s 4-3-3, picks up almost systematically to take control of the machine and lets Robertson climb freely in his lane, where Jordan Henderson will more generally walk a notch higher between the lines.

Highlighting Thiago’s favorite expression zone, which slips in, in the construction phase, to the left of Virgil van Dijk, while Robertson climbs in his corridor…

It is in particular from this area that we saw him launch against Arsenal, Diogo Jota in a space opened by Sadio Mané.

It is also in this area that we saw him shine against Manchester United.

king of centimeters

The end of Thiago Alcántara’s integration process was the gift awaited for several months by a Jürgen Klopp who never hid the need to stay « unpredictable » to be able to stay on top. Here we must salute the excellence of the German technician, who was able to convince his entire group that it was now possible to win differently, with another approach, another control, another guide. Yesterday, the heart of Liverpool was often called Roberto Firmino and the sides were the lungs of the attacking animation. The heart today is called Thiago Alcántara, master of picking up the pace, of bringing down an opposing kidney on his first touch, of changing the direction of the game, breaking lines, putting the ball where he wants for good of the collective, but also to break the opposing transitions (against Villarreal, he, for example, recovered as many balls as Fabinho and Henderson combined). The lungs have multiplied. The matches against Inter, Arsenal, Watford, Benfica, Manchester City, Manchester United, Everton and Villarreal were in this sense exhibitions and confirmation that by agreeing to recruit for once a finished product where its leaders took accustomed to betting on potential to mature, Liverpool has taken on an even greater dimension.

Map of Thiago Alcântara’s area of ​​action against Villarreal (direction of play from left to right).

At peace with his body, Thiago Alcántara, whose head is “always on a pivot, which allows him to know exactly what is happening around him to the nearest centimeter” according to Nathaniel Phillips, has also familiarized himself with his environment, has seen the set he has to turn regain his defensive strength, and has tightened a few bolts (the Spanish international has notably reduced his number of fouls – from 2 .52/game last season in the Premier League to 1.46 – and picked up just three yellow cards in all competitions in 2021-22). His role as a binder, expert in micro-spaces and invisible passes for other members of his species goes especially well with Fabinho’s rigor. One is ice, the other is fire, but the two men are at the root of the cyclones caused by the 2.0 version of Klopp’s Liverpool: a Liverpool that knows how to play all the scenarios and still does not let anyone breathe. A Liverpool which has been able to reinvent itself to stay on the heights thanks to a rabbit that has come out of magician Klopp’s hat and which no longer drops a single crumb. During this time, the collection of « Thiago moments » only grows richer.

By Maxime Brigand

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