It’s hard to imagine anyone criticizing Thiago Alcantara after his glorious performance against Manchester United on Tuesday evening.
The 31-year-old produced a midfield masterclass at Anfield, dictating the play from the outset to help Liverpool record a 4-0 Premier League victory against their bitter rivals. It was just the kind of display you’d expect from a two-time Champions League winner.
Yet when Thiago first arrived in England, he was pinned as the wrong cog for Jurgen Klopp’s machine. Ahead of Sunday’s Merseyside derby, Mirror Football 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 enjoyed a lot of success previously, breaking into Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona midfield before joining the coach at Bayern in July 2013.
If anything, fans expected him to follow Guardiola to Manchester City rather than link-up with Klopp at Liverpool. Thiago is a passing master, a perfect fit in Guardiola’s aesthetically pleasing system. Few believed he could adapt to Klopp’s heavy metal philosophy.
“I’m not too sure… the game in England is a lot quicker than Germany,” said former Liverpool midfielder Dietmar Hamann when asked about Thiago’s move to Liverpool in September 2020. “If he thinks he can’t be pressed, then good luck to him. “
Hamann added: “I’m intrigued about where he’s going to play … he adds something extra, but I think the jury is still out whether he’s that player they think or are told he is.”
And Thiago’s time in England didn’t start well. In his first start for his new club – against Everton at Goodison Park – he was hacked down by Richarlison. The Brazilian forward was sent off for his brutal challenge, described as “nasty” by then Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum. It left Thiago with a serious knee injury.
Klopp’s new midfielder didn’t play again 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,” raged the worried manager. “We don’t know what he had, but it doesn’t look too good.”
And it doesn’t appear Thiago has forgiven Richarlison for his dangerous tackle. “I went on Instagram to apologize and such,” revealed Richarlison in March 2021. “He only saw it. I said, ‘I’m going to delete this message too, since 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 home, he didn’t look at my face, I didn’t look at him, either. The game goes on. ” Everton won the return game 2-0, with Richarlison scoring the opening goal.
Thiago faces criticism
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Thiago returned to fitness ahead of 2021 – but it was a difficult comeback. Liverpool lost six consecutive home league games to slip to eighth in the table by March. The previous season’s runaway champions were struggling and critics were blaming the midfielder.
“He doesn’t look like a Jurgen Klopp type player, does he?” said Manchester United legend Paul Scholes in March 2021. “You think of the midfield players he has got and the forward players. 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 going for the throat in teams. He hasn’t got that energy to really overpower midfield players. “
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 feel with Thiago, everyone was raving about him coming to Liverpool – he’s hardly played. “
As more and more people shared their damning opinion of Thiago, Klopp hit back. “He came in late, which is just the nature of some transfers, then he got Covid, got injured, and still had to adapt to a new team,” said the German in February 2021.
Klopp added: “It’s just a public perception. ‘Oh, Thiago is in and we don’t perform well anymore.’ These kind of things are just b *******, let me say it like that! They are just not right.
“Everybody 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 we all can play better football. “
Thiago went on to prove his critics wrong, starting Liverpool’s last 10 Premier League games to help them rise up the table and finish third. It was a brilliant recovery, one that justified his place in Klopp’s team. He was now ready to win silverware in England.
Leading quadruple charge
Thiago hasn’t always been available for Liverpool this season – suffering calf and hip injuries, as well as a bout of Covid – but he’s been excellent when called on.
The Spaniard has adapted brilliantly to the time of the Premier League and Klopp’s midfield. He covers every blade of grass out of possession – never shying away from a tackle – and can effortlessly revert back to his fabulous, natural style in attack.
His goal against Porto in the Champions League will live long in memory, fizzing a bouncing ball across the Anfield turf and into the back of the net. It was the definition of a daisy-cutter, producing a technique us mere mortals can only watch and admire.
Thiago’s outstanding form has vindicated Klopp’s faith in him. “People were questioning whether he suits our football,” said the Liverpool boss on Friday afternoon. “Thank God these people don’t make decisions.”
“It is more important Thiago wanted to join us and he knew how we played. He is a real football person and thinks a lot about football. He knew how we played, and he knew he would fit in and we knew it as well. “
And now, 18 months on from Richarlison’s horror tackle, Thiago can inflict a hammer blow on 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, though, Thiago has the chance to keep Liverpool’s quadruple dream alive. Man City moved four points clear of the Reds with a 5-1 win against Watford on Saturday afternoon and only a win against Everton will do for Klopp’s side.
Liverpool have already won the EFL Cup this season and have reached the FA Cup final. They’ve 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, yet he didn’t get it. Now only a fool would doubt his brilliance. He’s pushed Liverpool to another level and, if they do win the quadruple, he will certainly receive his fair share of the acclaim.