Perhaps the stupidest football opinion of the past few years is that Thiago, one of the slickest and most technically capable midfielders in Europe, slowed Liverpool down. It was silly at the time but now the Spaniard is truly comfortable in red, it appears downright ridiculous.
Thiago ran the show against Manchester City on Saturday. He battled bravely against physical opponents like Rodri. He demanded possession in spaces where others would hide and consistently sprayed long, diagonal passes over Manchester City’s fullbacks – especially into the path of Mo Salah.
And people genuinely said Thiago wouldn’t suit Liverpool…pic.twitter.com/Rj9xnCjyoD
— Jamie Holme (@JamieHolme) July 31, 2022
Football wise Thiago is perfect. When he’s on the pitch Liverpool are a significantly better side. The stats when Thiago starts alongside Fabinho are crazy. We won the title and the Champions League without him, but it feels like he’s one of the most important players to our chances of more silverware going forward.
“Thiago‘s an amazing footballer. There’s very few players who are so gifted. I would have him as probably the most gifted player I’ve seen in the Premier League – as in technique – he is extraordinary,” said former Premier League striker Tony Cascarino after his weekend performance.
Declan Rice, an England starter who will eventually cost someone £100m-odd, recognizes the 31-year-old’s superiority, too.
“When I played against Thiago last season v Liverpool, it was a big lesson. He ran the game. The ball was like on a string. It was like he dictated the tempo of the game and he has been there and done it,” he said.
Of course, there are a few issues. Firstly, Thiago won’t play 38 Premier League games this term. He has played 16 seasons of professional football and has only played 30 league games on one occasion. He played 24 and then 25 in his first two campaigns, so Jurgen Klopp should realistically plan for a third of games in which he cannot select his best midfielder. This is problematic in that it’s very, very difficult to replicate what Thiago offers and the other midfielders at our disposal don’t really share his skillset, although Naby Keita is probably the closest, albeit inferior.
The second problem is Thiago’s age. At 31, he’s not going to be marshalling our side for the next decade. Of course, there’s a chance he’ll age like a fine wine, given the fact he’s never relied on pace – like Andrea Pirlo or Luka Modric – who were (and are) still world-class in the mid-thirties… But the reality is it likely he’ll slow down and has two to three seasons left at the highest level.
We’re finished in the transfer market this summer, but either in January or most likely at the end of this season, we’ll simply have to enforce the midfield, given Jordan Henderson and James Milner are also in their thirties. There’s been lots of talk of Jude Bellingham, who shines as a box-to-box player with leadership skills and a great combination of physicality and technical skills.
But for me, it’s a young Thiago we need. A player who isn’t necessarily desperate to get into the box but can dictate tempo. A player who wants the ball at all times and can play the minutes Thiago is unavailable for.
There aren’t many of them in Europe, of course. PSG’s Marco Verratti is the closest, but he’s also nearing 30 and would cost stupid money.
Matheus Nunes of Sporting CP has been touted and makes sense given Liverpool’s penchant for signing players from Portugal. At 23, he’s also the perfect age. It will be interesting to see how he develops this term given the links to bigger clubs.
Inter Milan’s Nico Barella is 25 and already in the world-class bracket. He ticks a lot of boxes and is a player Jurgen Klopp has publicly admired in the past. When Klopp speaks highly of an opponent, they often end up at Liverpool. Remember how he waxed lyrical about Darwin Nunez after we beat Benfica last term.
Liverpool should also keep a keen eye on what’s going on at Barcelona and their genuinely weird financial situation. Frenkie de Jong, Pedri and Gavi are all very skilful and with potential to get even better, although the former might move to one of our rivals this summer.
Of course, there’ll be no complaints if we acquire Bellingham next year, although given the aging midfield options and the fact Keita has yet to pen new terms on a contract which expires in 12 months, we might well need two new ones.
Julian Ward and his transfer team will no doubt be lining up plenty of options as the squad continues to evolve. Klopp will be part of this plan, although the boss might choose to develop one of his star youngsters into this role, with Harvey Elliott or Stefan Bajcetic both capable of potentially imitating Thiago’s style as they mature. Elliott is less metronomical but could perhaps play a deeper role in the future given he doesn’t possess much pace and has exceptional close control.
We’ll see what happens. But what is clear is Thiago’s brilliance also provides us a problem to solve when he isn’t available short or long-term.