Written by Declan Carr (@Declancarr96)
Thiago Alcantara’s time at Anfield so far has been subject to intense scrutiny. During an injury-hit first campaign, a narrative the Spaniard slowed his team down emerged and quickly gained traction, with John Barnes and Gary Neville questioning his impact.
Quite frankly, the argument was lazy. It is extremely simplistic to blame a team’s struggles on one man, especially somebody who was thrust back into a depleted squad with midfielders in defence and misfiring forwards.
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In March, he admitted he was struggling to settle in England with the ramifications of COVID-19, telling The Guardian: “It will be beautiful to see a full Anfield but I also want to learn what day-to-day life is like in this new country.”
Once he was up to speed and had a settled team around him, he was absolutely integral to Liverpool’s late surge into the Champions League places. The 30 year-old had carried that momentum into his four games this season until he was forced off with a calf injury against Crystal Palace on September 18th.
His absence has had a noticeable effect on Liverpool’s defending. Both games where the Reds have conceded more than one goal this season, he has not been on the pitch.
This is no coincidence, considering on a per-90-minute basis, amongst the Liverpool squad, he ranks first for ball recoveries (14.5), second for the most tackles won (2) and is surprisingly dominant in the air, winning 100% of his aerial duels.
The forty-six cap Spanish international is missed just as badly in attack, per-90 he has the most progressive carries (9.50), the most passes into the final third p90 (10) and the second most shot-creating actions (5.59).
His influence in both halves of the pitch has been absolutely crucial to the Reds being unbeaten in fifteen league games before the trip to West London. His controlling influence in the middle of the field was sorely missed in the loss draw against Brentford and he is unlikely to be available for Porto or Manchester City.
Jurgen Klopp will be desperate to have the maestro back after the international break for a very tough October, where his side face trips to Watford, Atletico Madrid and Man United.
Thiago’s true influence has been evident this season after a difficult start to his Premier League career. Liverpool will hope to have him back sooner rather than later, and his return date will likely define their season somewhat.