West Ham midfielder Declan Rice was blown away by Liverpool midfielder Thiago Alcantara during the 3-1 defeat at the hands of Jurgen Klopp’s English champions last month.
Rice, 22, hailed the experience of the two-time Champions League-winning midfielder, who joined Liverpool from Bayern Munich last summer.
Both midfield generals came up against each other during a Premier League encounter at the London Stadium a fortnight ago. Ironically, it represents Liverpool’s most recent win, with the Reds currently on a barren run of three consecutive league defeats.
A brace from Mohamed Salah and a late effort from Gini Wijnaldum were enough to secure the three points on January 31, and Rice said that the presence of Thiago in midfield was impossible to ignore.
“When I played against Thiago the other day for Liverpool, obviously he is a holding midfielder, it was a big lesson because he ran the game,” Rice said, per BBC Radio Five Live.
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“The ball was like on a string. It was like he dictated the tempo of the game and he has been there and done it.”
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Rice’s comments shouldn’t come as too much of a shock. Thiago is one of the best midfielders in the world, after all, and his meticulous ability to bend the tempo of a game to his will is unparalleled amongst the Liverpool squad.
Unfortunately for Thiago, he hasn’t been able to maintain any momentum in the side due to the enforced tactical changes that have occurred as a result of injury to key personnel.
The likes of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson are yet to be utilised in midfield since the turn of the New Year, forcing Thiago, who was previously branded by Klopp as ‘world-class’, per Goal, to adopt and unnatural position in Liverpool’s midfield.
So, it’s pretty obvious, then, that we are unlikely to see the best of Thiago until the dynamic of Klopp’s systematic approach is restored.
Virgil van Dijk is back on Merseyside to begin the next phase of his recovery plan. His return would enable both Henderson and Fabinho to return to their natural positions.
Whether or not the Dutchman will return before the end of the season, however, still remains to be seen. Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip have all sustained season-ending injuries this season, after all, in what has been an unprecedented injury crisis for the club.