The Spanish international’s ability to dictate possession and control the tempo of matches will become a vital asset for the Reds this season if they are to thrive without a player who has been the most transformative Liverpool signing of the modern era.
It could see Jurgen Klopp incorporate a similar philosophy to that which proved so successful with Bayern Munich on their way to Champions League glory last season.
Thiago’s influence and importance to the team under Hansi Flick was unquestionable. His reading of the game and effortless ability to keep his former team on the front foot helped absorb a lot of pressure away from his Bayern defence.
The German champions were able to successfully navigate their route to European glory last season despite a previously unfamiliar and unrecognised central defensive partnership between David Alaba and Jerome Boateng – a situation similar to that of Joel Matip and Joe Gomez.
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Remarkably, Gomez and Matip have never started on a single occasion for Liverpool when partnered together in central defence.
Both players offer different qualities and both in their own rights are fantastic players, however, as a partnership, it remains to be seen how effective they can be.
Liverpool immediately lost their aerial threat from a defensive standpoint following the injury to Van Dijk against Everton and it proved costly for Klopp as both of the Reds’ goals conceded were from headers.
It highlighted just how vulnerable Liverpool are off the ball without Van Dijk which creates a problem for Klopp that arguably only Thiago can solve.
Keeping Liverpool pressed up high and constantly in possession is a must as it immediately takes the pressure off of Gomez and Matip.
Mirroring Bayern’s success
Thiago was the linchpin of a similar philosophy at Bayern as the Spaniard’s qualities on the ball were able to keep his team ticking in possession which made life a great deal sweeter for both Boateng and Alaba.
Because of Bayern’s dominance in possession and ability to retain the ball, both players were rarely tested from a defensive standpoint as it is increasingly difficult hurt your opponent and exploit weaknesses if you do not have the ball.
This makes Thiago’s role at Liverpool even more fundamental than it already was when he signed from Bayern last month. The Reds have to be smarter in their tactical approach and cannot afford to surrender possession too easily because as we saw against Everton, the absence of Van Dijk inevitably makes the team more vulnerable from the back.
Luckily for Liverpool, Thiago has already showcased that he has the quality to do this for his new team. Against Everton, he was the central figure on the ball and completed more passes and enjoyed more touches than any player on the pitch according to WhoScored.
He was the catalyst for Klopp and always ensured the Reds were pinned high up the pitch. Also, what sets Thiago’s qualities apart from the rest is his ability to take risks with his passes.
The former Barcelona man doesn’t like to just take the easy option and keep possession ticking which was evident in stoppage time at Goodison Park after Thiago executed a beautifully disguised no-look pass to find Sadio Mane who teed up Jordan Henderson to score what should have been a historic winner in the 237th Merseyside derby.
Thiago’s qualities offer Liverpool an alternative system and provide hope for supporters that the Reds still can be the team to beat for the title even in the absence of their most consistent player over the past two seasons.
He has only featured in just two appearances since sending the media into a frenzy following his Anfield arrival yet in just over 135 minutes of football, Thiago has showcased he is no ordinary footballer and can offer Liverpool hope of survival in the absence of Van Dijk.