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Jordan Henderson believes that Thiago Alcantara has been a “brilliant” addition to Liverpool despite the significant struggles that Jurgen Klopp’s team has had recently.
Klopp admitted that Liverpool’s Premier League title defense had effectively ended after a 3-1 loss at the weekend in Leicester City left them 13 points behind leader Manchester City after playing one more match.
The Reds are back in Champions League action against RB Leipzig in the first leg of their round of 16 tie on Tuesday, hit by a five-game losing streak in seven nationally and three in a row.
Spain’s playmaker Thiago came as a blow from a close-season signing of European champion Bayern Munich, regarded as the man who will take Klopp’s phenomenal winning machine to the next level.
He shone on his debut off the bench in a 2-0 win at Chelsea, but a bout of coronavirus preceded an inaugural start in the Merseyside derby against Everton, interrupted by Richarlison’s red card lunge.
That meant a long period on the sidelines until a 0-0 draw on December 30 at Newcastle.
Thiago returned to the starting lineup at Southampton the next time around and the 1-0 loss was the first of six setbacks in his next 10 outings across all competitions, culminating in the nightmare that broke out at King Power Stadium.
However, club captain Henderson holds his teammate in the highest regard.
“Thiago has been brilliant since he came to the club. I think everyone knows what a good player he is. He is a world-class player, ”he said.
“Even off the field he is a very good person, he leads by example and you learn a lot from him.
“He has been a fantastic addition to the team.”
Master pass interrupted by injuries
The injury means that Thiago has yet to play a minute in the Champions League this season, so comparisons to his purring form on Bayern 3-pointers last time out are difficult.
But judging by the 90 minutes played, the former Barcelona player’s main actions appear to be in good shape.
Thiago is averaging 78.1 successful passes in every game for Klopp’s men, second only to Henderson (81.1) this season, up from 84.3 last season for a Bayern team slightly better known for their ball retention.
It creates 1.2 chances per game for Liverpool, up from 1.1 for the Bavarian giants in 2019-20, while their overall passing accuracy has only dropped a fraction from 90.6 percent to 89.2.
Complaints that Thiago has neutered Liverpool as an offensive force can be countered by the fact that no Reds player averages more than his 30 passes ending in the final third per game, suggesting that a progressive element of his game is very present. He went into these danger areas 24 times out of 90 at Bayern last season.
Perhaps concerns should focus more on what happens when Thiago doesn’t have the ball.
A responsibility at the tackle?
Having started Leicester’s game on the bench, only to be pushed into action by James Milner’s injury in the first half, his foul on Harvey Barnes within the final 15 minutes led to the hosts’ draw and the collapse began.
Thiago de Barnes’ follow-up to Leicester’s third also left a lot to be desired, but it can be a danger for him and his team when facing opponents.
Despite his limited playing time, the 29-year-old’s 28 fouls this season are the second by Sadio Mane (49) in Klopp’s first-team squad. Among first-team regulars, his 2.6 challenges per 90 are behind only Milner (2.9).
You may want to cut down on this less useful part of your work pace, although the flip side to this is 7.5 recoveries (behind Henderson’s 8.3 among outfield regulars) and 2.2 interceptions (second set with Naby Keita for the backup defender Neco Williams at 2.4) every game.
Of course, the most important statistic of all comes full-time, and as long as Liverpool win 59.1 percent of their games without Thiago and 30.8 percent with him, the skeptics will remain.
Not that Henderson is among them, as they expect opponents and competition that has seen their colleague thrive.
“He probably knows Leipzig better than anyone, so he will tell us a few things over the next 24 hours,” he added.
“He has adapted very well, as I knew he would. He is a phenomenal player and I hope he can keep improving every time he plays for us and getting used to the way we play as a team. “