Liverpool failed to get the job done in last weekend’s game against Newcastle United, but that was through no fault of Thiago Alcantara.
While the Reds fluffed their lines in front of goal in the discouraging 1-1 draw, the Spaniard gave an exhibition of exactly how a deep-lying playmaker can dictate a game.
Thiago’s signing last summer was met with some of the most dramatic fanfare in recent memory. It is quite rare to see Liverpool go out and sign world-class players that are already the finished article.
After a superb first two games, a Richarlison foul saw him miss months of action.
By the time he returned, the team was ravaged with injury. It simply was not the Liverpool side that Jurgen Klopp signed him to feature in.
The effects of the injury, plus the uncertainty of the players around him, meant that Thiago was not performing to the level he is capable of.
He was not bad, but he was by no means his elite self.
The fact that his return to Liverpool’s starting XI coincided with a retched run of form meant that opposition fans were quick to falsely blame Thiago.
With Fabinho and Jordan Henderson covering at centre-back, he was left to play as the sole No 6.
While he impressed in possession and with his ball-winning ability, his lack of speed meant that he was prone to giving away silly fouls.
Fans wanted to see him playing higher up the pitch so that he could contribute to goals and assists.
The coaches agreed, and he played as a No 8 for a few games, but to little effect.
He has the intelligence and technical skills to create chances. However, the front three’s lack of form and energy prevented him from doing so.
The real Thiago on show against the Toon
It was a different scenario against Newcastle on Saturday.
Klopp decided to play all four of Sadio Mane, Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota. Liverpool switched between a 4-2-3-1 and 4-2-4 formation.
This allowed Thiago to play the exact role that he played at Bayern Munich. The role that Klopp calls “the double 6”.
The 30-year-old formed a deeper double pivot with Gini Wijnaldum.
This allowed the £20m man to pick up the ball in deep areas, while he was not overly isolated against counter-attacks.
He was free to gain possession in space and pick out any one of the front four ahead of him.
The Italian-born maestro played a series of line-breaking passes that were near impossible to see on the television, never mind from the pitch.
Rather than playing simple five-yard passes to keep possession, Thiago was fizzing the ball into the final third almost every time he got it.
Roberto Firmino was filling the spaces that Thomas Muller does for Bayern. Much like with Muller, Firmino was supposed to be the link between Thiago and the goal-scorer.
While it broke down at the vital times, it still allowed Liverpool to get into dangerous areas much quicker than normal.
His game-controlling exploits earned him the man of the match award.
If the front four finished the chances they had, there would have been even more attention on Thiago’s role.
Judging on last Saturday, a midfield double pivot featuring Thiago may be the way forward for Liverpool.
In possession, everything was excellent until the final third. The system was not the reason for the forwards losing their shooting boots.
In fact, things could be better again if Thiago had Fabinho or Jordan Henderson beside him. They are the three best midfielders at the club and we are yet to see them play there together.
While he would undoubtedly look better in a 4-3-3 with that pair alongside him, it may be a 4-2-3-1 that will get the best of him, and, in turn, Liverpool, for the rest of the season.
Unfortunately, there is nothing anyone can do if the forwards don’t remember how to finish.
This system just gives them as many chances as possible in the hope that one or two go in.