Liverpool star Thiago Alcantara struggling to fit into jigsaw despite undeniable class

Liverpool: Klopp rues missed chances after European exit

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For the most important game of the club’s season on Wednesday night – the type of game he was signed from Bayern Munich for last summer – he spent the first hour in a mask on the bench watching a 35-year-old run around in his place.

It said a lot about how Jurgen Klopp has come to view the Spain international that, a week after Naby Keita was preferred for the first leg against Real Madrid, James Milner got the midfield gig ahead of him for the return.

Thirty-five-year-olds can have their uses as midfield players – Luca Modric was a wonderfully calming influence for Real and, actually, Milner gave a strong lead for Liverpool before Thiago eventually replaced him but Klopp’s lack of faith in his £20m signing as his side exited the Champions League was glaring.

In 23 appearances since his switch to Anfield the player trumpeted as Liverpool’s missing link, the man who could give the stormtroopers the subtlety to unlock massed defences, has not contributed a single goal or assist. None.

A midfield metronome setting the tempo and recycling possession does not always lend itself to stratospheric stats but at Bayern Munich, in the five seasons before his transfer, Thiago averaged five goals and six assists a season.

The absence of any telling creative contribution since his move is jarring.

It isn’t as if he makes up for it with his defensive contribution. Five bookings this season mark him out as something of a liability.

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Perhaps if Thiago had walked into the club he expected to – the all-powerful one which mopped up the Champions League then the Premier League in successive seasons with their blitzkrieg football – it would have been easier.

Instead, with Liverpool a scatty imitation of their title-winning selves this season, he has found himself trying to assimilate with shifting sands all around him.

Virgil van Dijk has of course been a key miss, Jordan Henderson as well and far too many fit players have been inconsistent and well below their best across the season.

But included front and centre in that group has been Thiago.

His bedding-in period was not helped by contracting Covid-19 when he arrived and then being sidelined for two-and-a-half months by a knee injury.

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But the clear run which has followed has failed to reveal the true Thiago.

Maybe the Premier League has proven too fast and physical for the 30-year-old. Maybe Liverpool’s need for speed does not suit him.

If that is the case it is disappointing because when you watch him on the ball it hits you in the face that he is a classy operator.

Head up, Meerkat-style, always looking for the next pass.

It is just at Liverpool the wavelengths seem to have been scrambled.

There was a telling example on Wednesday night when he tried to pick out Andy Robertson as Liverpool desperately chased a goal only for the ball to run harmlessly out of play.

He berated the Scotland captain for not taking the pass on his chest.

Thiago thinking one way, his teammates thinking the other. The story of his stay on Merseyside so far.

He remains a valuable piece in some jigsaw. Just not this one.

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