Thiago Alcantara is a world class midfielder; there’s simply no denying that. However, since moving from Bayern Munich to join Liverpool in the Premier League this summer, he’s struggled to hit his top form and was dealt a massive blow in the beginning of the season when he suffered a knee injury against Everton that kept him sidelined for nearly two months.
Since making his return from injury at the end of December, he’s featured nine times in the league, a period in which Liverpool has lost to Southampton, Burnley, Brighton & Hove Albion, Manchester City, and most recently, Leicester City. During that period they also drew Manchester United and Newcastle United. It’s been a horrid run for the defending champions.
In a new report from Sport Bild, the amount of criticism Thiago has been receiving from fans and pundits was highlighted. Liverpool wins and loses as a team just like everybody else, but he’s been singled out a handful of times for mistakes he’s made that have lead to conceded goals and thus, dropped points. His performance in the 3-1 loss to Leicester this past weekend was front and center. It was his foul on Harvey Barnes on the edge of the box that led to James Maddison’s free kick goal in the 78th minute that tied the match at 1-1. During the brief VAR break to see if Thiago’s infringement warranted a penalty, Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson was seen having a bit of a go at Thiago for the challenge. At the time, Liverpool was leading 1-0 through a beautifully worked Mohamed Salah goal and they were bossing proceedings. The free kick allowed Leicester back into the match.
Of course, Thiago’s challenge on Barnes is peanuts compared to the mistake Alisson Becker made shortly thereafter, coming miles off of his line unnecessarily, colliding with Ozan Kabak and allowing Jamie Vardy, of all players, to have a walk-in to make it 2-1 Leicester. This was just a week after he made two uncharacteristic mistakes to concede two goals to Manchester City in the 4-1 loss at Anfield. Up until those two mistakes, Liverpool was still in the mix, having leveled the match at 1-1 through a Salah penalty.
Despite Alisson’s mishaps having a bit more significance as far as goals conceded in the past two weeks, Thiago is still taking the brunt of a lot of the criticism. After the Leicester match, Jamie Carragher said “Thiago was responsible defensively” and former Leicester center back Robert Huth had said before the match kicked off that Thiago “didn’t have the energy for the style of the team.”
Is all of this criticism justifiable, though? Is he not being given enough slack? We’ve all seen the magic he’s capable of during his years at Bayern, and on his day, he’s impossible to dispossess. Of course, the Premier League is a different beast than the Bundesliga, but especially after his knee injury, Thiago has been inserted into a difficult situation. Liverpool is now without Virgil can Dijk, Joe Gomez, and Joel Matip and before getting Kabak and Ben Davies on deadline day in the winter transfer window, Jurgen Klopp had been forced to deputize both Fabinho and Henderson at center back, which completely changes the shape of Liverpool’s midfield.
Having two of your best midfielders play at center back is less than ideal and not having Fabinho available against Leicester handed Kabak his Liverpool debut, but it was never going to be easy for him to step into the makeshift setup in the back. While his abilities on the ball and with distribution are undeniable, Thiago is a completely different midfielder than Henderson, Fabinho, and Georginio Wijnaldum, which was the midfield three that worked wonders for Klopp last season en route to lifting the first league title for 30 years. Liverpool has always been at their best in recent seasons when that’s the triple-pivot in midfield behind Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino and ahead of van Dijk, Gomez, Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Because of this, it’s been a difficult adjustment for Thiago and the odds have been stacked against him at Liverpool. When Liverpool start to have players return from injury and rebuild some more stability in the back line, Thiago can be poised to turn Liverpool’s fortunes around, especially if one of Henderson or Fabinho is able to move back up to midfield. He can perhaps play a bit more freely with either of those two stepping up to assume the number 6, holding role and have less defensive responsibility, which, for a player like him, would be highly beneficial. Don’t be surprised to see Thiago’s form start to surge once Liverpool’s backline improves and Henderson or Fabinho can step back into midfield.