Liverpool have completed a deal to sign Spain midfielder Thiago, Jurgen Klopp’s main summer transfer target – the question now is what next for the Reds, after his arrival?
Finally, after a summer of claims and counter-claims, Jurgen Klopp has his man.
Liverpool have completed the signing of Thiago Alcantara, the much-admired Spain international, following his magnificent 2019-20 season, in which he shone as Bayern Munich claimed Champions League glory.
The Reds have snapped up Thiago for a grand total of just £20million and a further £6million in add-ons – with that initial outlay spread across his four-year, £200k-a-week contract.
Thiago had made clear in discussions with Bayern bosses that, after seven years in Bavaria – during which he won the Bundesliga title seven times – he was keen on a new challenge.
Klopp, having learned of Thiago’s desire to test himself elsewhere, has been pushing throughout the summer to land a player he has long coveted, but whom has previously been unattainable.
The German has had to push Liverpool’s board to go against the grain where their transfer dealings are concerned, by bringing in the former Barcelona star, son of Brazilian World Cup winner Mazinho.
In the past two seasons, Fabinho and Jordan Henderson have split duties as the side’s No.6 in front of the defence, while the Liverpool captain has also played slightly further forwards, in the box-to-box role he prefers.
Then there is Gini Wijnaldum, Naby Keita, James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, plus young star Curtis Jones, Harry Wilson and Marko Grujic, back from loan spells at Bournemouth and Hertha Berlin respectively.
As such Klopp is facing a balancing act, particularly if there are no outgoings between now and the end of the transfer window.
Wijnaldum continues to be linked with Barcelona and has less than a year left on his deal, while no-one has so far met the £20million price tags of either Wilson or Grujic.
Klopp is also keen to give Jones more minutes this term, and has shown little desire to sanction any kind of loan move for the Scouse teenager.
It was also notable how Jones was called from the bench in the opening day 4-3 win over Leeds, while the calming head of veteran James Milner remained on the bench.
Liverpool have taken 196 points across their last two Premier League campaigns.
During that time, Klopp has largely been wedded to a 4-3-3 system with a single pivot in midfield.
It has been his go-to system, the one he has always fallen back on in big games, with Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane either side of Roberto Firmino, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson firing down either flank and a midfield trio largely supporting and backing up play, keeping balance.
Thiago is not your archetypal midfield anchorman, but in that 4-3-3 shape the man who wears No.10 for Spain is perhaps most suited to playing as the sole holder.
In the Bundesliga last season, no player progressed the ball smarter, nor more efficiently, than Thiago; the job Jorginho does at Chelsea, he does that, only better. Much better.
So with his preference being to orchestrate from deep with more movement ahead of him and seeing the bigger picture, and with Liverpool likely to dominate possession more than ever this term, perhaps that is where he will be best served.
He doesn’t shirk the defensive side of the game either, his 12.91 possession recoveries per 90 minutes ranking second among midfielders in Germany in 2019-20; his 7.2 counterpressing recoveries per 90 minutes similarly ranked second, both times behind Eintracht Frankfurt’s Lucas Torro.
When initially signed by Bayern Munich in 2013, it was the sole anchor role for which he was earmarked by Pep Guardiola.
However, his debut campaign at the Allianz Arena ended with a serious knee injury in March 2014, keeping him out of action for 13 months. When he returned, Xabi Alonso had signed from Real Madrid and with the ex-Liverpool man in the holding role, Thiago played slightly further forwards as one of Guardiola’s No.8s.
That role, that of Wijnaldum and Keita, just to the left of centre, dovetailing with Sadio Mane and the overlapping Robertson, is where Klopp may well prefer to see him, particularly in the ‘big games’, or those when opponents may carry a greater counter-attacking threat.