Premier League: Thiago is a symptom not the illness at the heart of Liverpool's midfield

Premier League: Thiago is a symptom not the illness at the heart of Liverpool's midfield

Manchester City's Ilkay Gundogan (right) reacts to a challenge from Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara during their recent Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool. Picture: Tim Keeton/PA Wire

VICTORY in Budapest, vitally, put a stop to the Liverpool losing streak.

After a very tough couple of weeks for Jurgen Klopp at a personal and professional level, the German was happy to prove the doubters wrong, saying, "A lot of people were waiting for us to slip again and tonight we didn’t." After what he's been through you'd let him off with a moment or two of exaggeration. And while their performance was a lot more accomplished than their recent Premier League form, there were enough scares from the RB Leipzig side to safely say that this tie is not done and dusted yet. And as Man United can testify, you take Leipzig for granted at your peril.

The change of scene, away from the Premier League, seemed to lift Liverpool spirits. The chance to get away from all the recent negativity back in Blighty obviously stood to them. The new centre back Ozan Kabak put in a man-of-the-match performance on his full debut which helped immensely but still, too often, RB Leipzig were able to get in behind the Liverpool defence and but for bad luck, poor finishing, and a couple of good Alisson saves the result of this game could have been so much different.

Beyond the obvious woes of having your entire centre-back lineup wiped out by injury, many disgruntled Liverpool fans have noted that the side's recent woes coincided with new midfield signing Thiago Alcantara starting to get his games after Christmas. The Champions League winner with Bayern Munich last season was rightly heralded for his skills and talent but many have noted that Liverpool's trademark drive has been lacking since the Italian-born, Spanish International took over the role as Liverpool's midfield playmaker. And it's not just the fans that have noticed this, it was also speculated upon by former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, who noted, “Liverpool were very hungry and aggressive in midfield. As a manager, you think, ‘now I want to make the team better and I’ll get a technical player’.

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson shows his frustration during the Premier League match against  Leicester. Liverpool may be struggling more from Henderson being out of position rather than Virgil van Dijk's absence through injury.  Picture: Carl Recine/PA Wire
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson shows his frustration during the Premier League match against  Leicester. Liverpool may be struggling more from Henderson being out of position rather than Virgil van Dijk's absence through injury.  Picture: Carl Recine/PA Wire

“When you get a technical player you lose the aggression in midfield. You destroy a little bit of the strength of Liverpool. So sometimes when you want to improve the team, you take something away from the team.”

 I agree with Wenger's observation but don't think it is totally down to Thiago, and that Liverpool's problems in midfield actually stem from what's been going wrong at centre-back.

There is no getting around that Virgil van Dijk's injury against Liverpool's opponents this Saturday, Everton, in the first of the season's derbies dealt Liverpool's hopes of retaining their title a hefty stomach punch which became a knockout as the litany of subsequent injuries came along.

Down in the hole

The hole left by the injuries of van Dijk, Gomez, Matip and departure of Dejan Lovren was competently filled by the side's midfield generals of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson. And while they did as good a job as they could, out of position, it was their absence in midfield that upset Liverpool's balance more than anything else.

It forced Thiago into responsibilities he never could have envisaged when he signed from the German champions. Without Fabinho and Henderson, he not only had his own playmaker duties but also took on the defensive roles of Henderson and holding duties of Fabinho.

A notable aspect of Thiago's time so far at Liverpool is the number of fouls he has given away and yellow cards he's picked up in such a short period of time. That makes sense when a player is doing unfamiliar duties in a side he has only just joined.

Anyone who has seen Thiago play cannot deny his style, the silken way he moves the ball at his feet. But imposed by either team or necessity, into other requirements is bound to affect his and the team's performance. Liverpool will want to run the ball through such an obvious talent but it is having the side-effect of slowing down their famous speedy counterattack, removing the element of surprise and early delivery of the passes from the wings of Trent Alexander Arnold and Andy Roberston, thus denying the early balls into Salah, Mané, and Firmino.

Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold and RB Leipzig's Angelino (right) battle for the ball during the UEFA Champions League round of sixteen, first leg match at The Puskas Arena, Budapest. The arrival of Thiago Alcantara has seen Trent and Andy Roberston's impact passes slip-off. Picture: Trenka Attila/PA Wire
Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold and RB Leipzig's Angelino (right) battle for the ball during the UEFA Champions League round of sixteen, first leg match at The Puskas Arena, Budapest. The arrival of Thiago Alcantara has seen Trent and Andy Roberston's impact passes slip-off. Picture: Trenka Attila/PA Wire

This is not the responsibility or fault of Thiago if he is trying to fulfil the duties of other players while still doing what he was signed to do, it will always hamper the player and side’s performances.

If this is the situation at Liverpool, then it is not so much Liverpool missing van Dijk at centre-back but rather them missing Henderson and Fabinho in midfield as a result.

It's just unfortunate for Thiago that he is at the eye of the Liverpool injury storm when he is still trying to find his place in a new club.

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