Liverpool look to have finalised the signing of classy Spanish midfielder Thiago Alcantara. In this article, we’ll explore what he’ll offer Liverpool and whether he’ll be a viable FPL asset.
Thiago just oozes footballing pedigree. Son of a Brazilian World Cup winner, Thiago himself was a youth player for Brazilian giants Flamengo. He then went on to further hone his trade, in the world famous La Masia Academy in Barcelona.
His style of play mirrors this and he displays dribbling skills you might see on the streets of Rio, combined with the vision, touch and passing ability of a Spanish midfield maestro.
While he chose to represent Spain, his brother Rafinha has played for Brazil and remains a Barcelona player.
After 5 seasons (3 full ones) at Barcelona Thiago followed his boss Pep Guardiola to Bayern Munich. Pep at the time declared, ‘He is the only player that I want. It will be him or no one’.
Following 7 successful seasons in Bavaria, he signed off with an eye catching performance in the UCL final and heads to Merseyside.
Thiago is at his best in a midfield 3. He is versatile and can play as a 6, 8 or even a 10. His best position for me is that of a deep lying playmaker, receiving the ball from the defence and getting his team on the front foot.
His 7 seasons at Bayern by position.
2019/20 Bayern Munich heat map.
As we will learn later, he does operate in deeper areas, which may not always lead to the attacking returns we all crave.
Type of player
Thiago was blessed to come through the Barcelona ranks, at a time they boasted Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets as their midfiled 3. There is a little bit of all 3 of them in his play.
He has the vision and passing ability (Xavi), the low centre of gravity and dribbling skills (Iniesta) and can also do some of the dirty work (Busquets).
Busquets is one of the best holding midfielders I have seen and I realise this brief description of him, in no way does him, or his role, justice.
Liverpool are getting a world-class midfielder, who can do it all from a break down and build up point of view. I can’t think of anyone comparable in the Premier League right now.
His technique, touch, vision and range of passing, combined with his ball control and agility, make him a hard man to stop.
Combine the game management, midfield generalship and passing of a Xabi Alonso, with the dribbling and elusiveness of a Coutinho and you are some way there. It is a rare mix.
Throw in his work ethic and willingness to put his foot in and he really is an all-rounder. He is also a leader. Not in the Roy Keane mould, but through his actions and will to win.
However, as we will see below he is not a very attacking player. He likes to get on the ball and control games from the base of midfield. He’s always available as an outlet and makes his team tick. While he does have an eye for a killer ball, he more often than not, does the simple things very well.
He also does not shoot very often. In the last 2 seasons he has averaged 0.89 shots per 90 (Sh90). Jordan Henderson 0.77, Fabinho 0.64, Wijnaldum 1.03.
Attacking stats & returns
Before we look at his numbers there is an important caveat. In the FPL community we often talk about stats and the ‘eye test’. If ever a player was made for the ‘eye test’ it is Thiago.
Attacking returns and underlying numbers simply do not illustrate what a wonderful footballer he is. In this way he reminds me of everyone’s favourite assister of the assist Luka Modric.
Last season he scored just 3 league goals with no assists. He also notched just 2 assists in Bayern’s run to European glory.
If we look at the last 6 Bundesliga campaigns he has scored 15 goals and 16 assists. In the same 6 seasons Jordan Henderson has 15 goals and 25 assists.
Thiago’s best season from a returns point of view was 2016/17 when he racked up 6 goals and 5 assists. So beware, we are not getting David Silva 2.0 (38 goals, 54 assists last 6 seasons). They are both small and Spanish but Thiago does operate in a far deeper role.
Injury and disciplinary record
His injury record doesn’t make for great reading either. 2017/18 can be put down to one particularly bad muscle injury but he has missed a solid handful of games in the last 3 seasons.
He does like a tackle also and can get into trouble for persistent fouling. While he is no Jefferson Lerma, he has racked up 15 yellow cards in the last 3 seasons.
Estimated Price £6.0m-£6.5m
I could be way off here and for me this is a hard price to predict. Most of Liverpool’s CMs are £5.5m. Oxlaide Chamberlain is £6.5m but he can also play in a wide forward role, which is factored into his price.
While I have sung his praises, his many talents do not lead to many attacking returns and that is what we pay for. His ex Bayern team mate James Rodriguez is £7.5m and his underlying attacking stats blow Thiago out of the water.
FPL will see a world-class midfielder coming from the European champions and may price him a tad high. For me, £7.0m would be way too high for what he could offer as a Fantasy asset.
Liverpool’s winning formula has been built on a midfield 3 based on industry rather than creativity. In Thiago they are getting some one who will bring both. Thiago could technically play instead of any of the midfield 3.
Klopp has assembled an interchangeable group of versatile midfielders, who could all play with each other and at different times. I could see any 3 of Thiago, Henderson, Fabinho, Wijnaldum (if he stays), Keita, Ox playing depending on the opponent.
As good as he is, I don’t think he’ll play every game. Klopp is a loyal sort and it will also take some time to get up to the desired speed.
If priced low enough he could be a tempting enough enabler, but for me he will improve Liverpool’s other assets even more. He will bring a sense of calm and control, which will help out the defence and improve clean sheet potential. Liverpool will have even more of the ball now and be even less wasteful with it.
He will also pick up the ball deep and look to get the likes of Trent and Robbo in behind. These 2 are already assist machines, but with Thiago spinning and looking to find them, they will find themselves in even more dangerous areas.
I’ve no doubt he will also create chances for that front 3. He does like a long ball over the top, but it will often be to put someone into space to create a chance for another, rather than actually carving out a big chance himself.
Mané and Salah become even better options, especially from an assist point of view now.
Thiago just hasn’t operated in the final 3rd enough to get the returns his talent deserves. It’s not his role and it’s not how he plays. He brings plenty to a team but his own attacking returns are often not it.
Not an FPL player
No doubt we will all enjoy him as a footballer. Unless he’s tasked by Klopp to venture further forward and be that focal point for a final pass or a shot on the edge of the box (which hasn’t been his natural game), it’s difficult to argue he’ll be a viable FPL asset.
He has however, played 26 times as a CAM and scored 7 goals and 4 assists, which isn’t great, but it’s not terrible either. If priced fairly, and if Klopp decides to task him with more attacking responsibility, there could be potential there, but it’s not something he’s typically used to nor is it his natural game.
Allow me to compare him to another highly rated Premier League midfielder, Bruno Fernandes. What makes Bruno such a great FPL asset, (other than penalties) is his urgency to make something happen in attack.
He’ll shoot on sight, he’ll look for the most direct and often most difficult ball. He will lose the ball plenty and can be frustrating but he is, and will be again, a points machine because of his constant desire to make the progressive attacking play.
Thiago’s pass success is over 90% most seasons. He will lend the ball to his team mates, get it back and wait for something to open up. Bruno is the lead guitarist who wants to jump straight into that 9 minute guitar solo, while Thiago is the conductor patiently directing the orchestra.
Both do a great job but in FPL terms, we don’t go to see an orchestra for the conductor, we want to watch the show and mainly, the lead performers in that show.
Thiago is going to add so much to Liverpool, mainly for the players around him. He can offer more protection for the backline, he’ll always offer a pass with his smart off the ball movement, he’s rarely wasteful when he’s on the ball and can pick the smart, cutting pass.
He is a perfect fit and will bring that X factor in midfield that they can lack at times. What he likely won’t do, is challenge one of our 3 Liverpool slots.
Stats taken from:
Understat.com, Transfermarkt.com, sofascore.com