Jamie Carragher says “some of the most repeated negative appraisals” surrounding Thiago Alcantara “do not add up”, but accepts he has two big negative traits in his game.
Thiago arrived at Anfield in September from Bayern Munich to much fanfare. The champions paid £20m up front, plus £5m in add-ons, with the 29-year-old signing a four-year contract.
So far though his move has not gone according to plan and Carragher, writing in his Daily Telegraph column says the midfielder “has seemed like the luxury Liverpool cannot afford”.
The former Liverpool defender though insists Thiago is the right player, but “has found himself at Anfield at the wrong time”.
The results have pointed to Liverpool being a shadow of the side that marched to the Premier League title. Jurgen Klopp’s men were a well-oiled, fighting machine and lost just three games on their way to domestic glory.
Fast-forward to this season and the Reds have already been beaten six times, and five of those defeats came with Thiago starting.
He has, as Carragher points out, become the “scapegoat”, but there have been many other contributing factors to Liverpool’s drop off this time around.
Injuries have hit Klopp big time this season. Defensively they have been hammered with Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip all out long-term. That has led to Klopp unsettling his midfield by dropping Fabinho and Jordan Henderson into defensive roles.
It has left last season’s hard-working triumvirate of Henderson, Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum a distant memory.
And while Carragher has plenty of sympathy for Thiago, he accepts he does have two major weaknesses.
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Carragher wrote: “Thiago is certainly a different profile of midfielder to the settled three. He is technically better, but lacks pace and his tackling is noticeably erratic, earning uncomplimentary comparisons with Paul Scholes’ tendency to dive in to challenges.
“When games become stretched – like the frantic finale at Leicester last weekend – Thiago struggles. The Leicester defeat was a prime example of how the characteristics which brought Liverpool their Champions League and Premier League success have gone this season.
“At times, such as the poor final 12 minutes at the King Power Stadium, Thiago has been a defensive liability. He lost the ball and then sloppily conceded the free-kick in the build-up Leicester’s equaliser.
“He made another clumsy tackle within 60 seconds against RB Leipzig in midweek. Another occasion when he looked certain to be booked.
Thiago narrative wrong
“He settled after that, and all the reports from the win in Budapest argued Thiago was much better.
“I agree Thiago played well. Where I disagree is that he was more impressive than usual because there have been many games where he has been excellent and Liverpool still lost.”
A common narrative has emerged that Thiago has generally slowed down Liverpool’s approach play. And that the champions are more of a possession-based side with him in the XI.
Carragher though points to the stats and says the reverse is true.
“A scoreline can camouflage the reality of an individual’s contribution. We too often believe a defeat equates to underperformance, and victory the opposite. That’s happened a lot this season for Thiago because of the general expectation he would do more,” wrote the 43-year-old.
“Yet when breaking down the statistics of his season, some of the most repeated negative appraisals do not add up.
“It is suggested, for example, Liverpool are a more possession-based side when Thiago plays, and he is responsible for slowing the tempo.
“The opposite is true. Liverpool have more possession and complete more passes as a team without him. And far from ‘passing for passing’s sake’ when Thiago starts, the ratio of forward balls, and those finding a team-mate in the final third, is significantly higher with the Spanish international.
‘Liverpool has changed’
“Liverpool create an average of two more chances per match when Thiago plays. Of Thiago’s passes, 67 per cent are in the opposition half, and 33 per cent in the final third – more than any of Liverpool’s regular midfielders. He looks forward, not sideways.”
The Sky Sports pundit is sure that Thiago will come good, even if that is next season. He is a firm believer, that alongside two of Klopp’s trusted midfield lieutenants, he will prove his worth.
“Thiago has not changed Liverpool as much as many believe. The world around him and Liverpool has changed. When the midfield reassembles, even if Thiago does exactly what he has been doing for the last three months, perceptions will shift,” added Carragher.
“At 30, his game won’t change at Liverpool. He won’t get quicker. His passing will always be outstanding. He excels on the ball more than he does without it. That was his game at Bayern. That’s how it has been at Liverpool.
“There is enough evidence for those seeking it that once Liverpool’s midfield is back to full strength, the right time for the right player might be 12 months later than intended.”