Winning a quadruple of major trophies this season has been described by many – including Liverpool’s own players – as almost impossible. But if they do achieve it, a significant reason for that will be the form of one man in recent weeks: Thiago Alcantara.
The Spain midfielder has stepped up at just the right time for the Reds, producing man-of-the-match performances on an almost weekly basis as Jurgen Klopp’s side chase success in the Premier League and Champions League to add to their FA Cup and League Cup wins.
Thiago was sensational in both legs against Villarreal as Liverpool reached another European final, helped the Reds to the FA Cup on Saturday and has been consistently excellent in the Premier League as his side have kept up the pressure on Manchester City at the top of the table.
After a slow start to his career at Anfield, Thiago has now found his very best form, which is helping to propel an already exceptional Liverpool side to the next level.
‘A beautiful player to watch’ – Thiago shines in Liverpool evolution
When Liverpool signed Thiago from Bayern Munich in September 2020 – for the relatively small sum of £20m – it was rightly lauded as an incredible bit of business by the club.
This was a player who had won the Champions League and multiple league titles and other trophies at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and was considered one of the very best playmakers in the world.
But Thiago endured a difficult start at Liverpool as his impact was hampered by contracting Covid-19 soon after his arrival, as well as injuries.
When he was fit enough to play, some questioned whether he suited Liverpool’s style of play, with former Liverpool midfielder Dietmar Hamann saying in 2021 he “made their midfield worse” because he slowed things down too much.
At the time it seemed a valid comment but the Reds midfield has evolved over time to be more in tune with the way Thiago plays.
“When you have been asked to go through the middle, who is the one who is comfortable doing that with the short passes and the short moves? That is Thiago,” Spanish football journalist Guillem Balague told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“Liverpool have become better by having this new layer and Thiago is helping Liverpool be better because he is completely comfortable doing that kind of football.”
Belgian football journalist Kristof Terreur added: “He is ideal in those games when you have a team that drops deep, he is the man of control.
“When he moved to Liverpool I was thinking what is he going to do there? In my eyes he is the ideal Pep player and Pep thinks that too. But Klopp put a bit of Pep in his team so that’s evolution too.
“He organises everything and is such a beautiful player to watch.”
Game intelligence and incredible statistics
Thiago’s current statistics speak for themselves.
Since a 1-0 home defeat by Chelsea in March 2021, Thiago has started 36 games for Liverpool and the Reds have lost just once – a 1-0 home defeat by Inter Milan in the Champions League last 16 second leg last month, when they progressed anyway.
Of the 10 Premier League games Liverpool have failed to win this season, Thiago was missing for six of them.
In the 2-0 win against Everton in the Merseyside derby recently, Thiago completed more passes than the entire Toffees team, while in his sublime display against Villarreal in the first leg of the Champions League he had a passing accuracy of 96%.
Those passes were not just over five yards, either, with many coming in the final third and nine long-ball efforts going straight to their target.
“I think sometimes those stats can be misleading – the 96%, 98% from players who give it five, 10 yards,” former Liverpool striker Peter Crouch said during BT Sport’s coverage of the Villarreal game.
“He wins the ball and he’s hitting it 30, 40 yards or he’s playing it through the lines. He’s not someone who passes sideways and backwards.”
Former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand says Thiago’s football intelligence in particular has shone through in recent games.
“On the pitch it’s there for everyone to see,” he said.
“It’s like he’s practising and testing things out on this stage and it always comes off.”
Liverpool have three games left this season – two in the Premier League and the Champions League final.
Winning a quadruple in English football is unprecedented and Manchester City are still favourites for the title despite drawing at West Ham United.
In the Champions League final, Liverpool will likely come up against two of the finest midfielders of their generation in Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.
That pair dominated the tie between the sides last year but with Thiago in imperious form – he was a substitute in both games in 2021 – Liverpool have reason to believe they can dictate the tempo of the game and claim what could be a fourth trophy of the season.