Thiago put in a fine all-around performance for Liverpool in their 1-1 draw with Newcastle United. The Spaniard played a different kind of role.
We said ahead of the 1-1 draw against Newcastle United that Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t repeat old mistakes. They were weak at the back once again and that creates problems.
Nat Phillips couldn’t play, leaving Ozan Kabak as the only natural centre-back option – assuming Ben Davies will never get a game. That means Fabinho is his natural partner.
But Liverpool are a lot weaker without the Brazilian in midfield. Fabinho is the shield that makes the defence stronger, stopping counter-attacks and consistently recycling possession.
Without him, Liverpool are vulnerable.
So if Klopp was going to put him in defence, he had to re-think his midfield. If Fabinho can’t be the holding player, no one should be.
There’s isn’t an alternative to play that holding role in the middle of a three, after all. Not with Jordan Henderson also out.
We saw the answer in using a two-man shield, instead. Two players to share defensive responsibility, thus allowing each a little more freedom.
That’s what Klopp went with, partnering Gini Wijnaldum and Thiago. For the latter, it was a fine move.
Thiago in Liverpool 1-1 Newcastle
That two-man midfield role is a tricky one. You’ve got to be defensively solid but also capable of pushing the team forward with progressive passes.
Finding a balance is tough. Thiago found it, however.
In possession, he was what you’d expect. Thiago completed 91 passes in the game – the second-most. Given he didn’t play the final 13 minutes, that’s actually quite remarkable.
The Spaniard created two chances with his passing, too. In a game where Liverpool did create plenty, Thiago left his mark.
Defensively, Thiago impressed, too. He won six tackles over his 77 minutes, which was the most of anyone.
He managed to work well with Wijnaldum in that regard. The Dutchman won zero tackles but he played the covering role. As Thiago pressed to try and win the ball, Wijnaldum picked up three interceptions.
That’s essentially exactly what Liverpool needed. Fabinho can usually do the role on his own but when he’s not there, the Reds needed a combination to do it.
And it worked, without sacrificing Thiago’s passing. Perfect.
Liverpool should have won this game, of course, but didn’t take their chances. The general performance was decent, however, despite the result.
So we wonder if this is something Liverpool can use again. Swap Wijnaldum for Fabinho, put Phillips at the back and maybe the team looks a lot more solid.
With Thiago playing like this, there’s certainly room to experiment.