And in the end it wasn’t even enough to turn an overwhelming draw into a priceless win.
It was a frustrating start in England for the Spanish international. After arriving at Anfield in September in great excitement, he had been limited to three appearances so far, a total of 155 minutes; A start, a half and a promising cameo on Wednesday in Newcastle.
This is of course not his fault. A positive coronavirus test disrupted his early weeks on Merseyside and his season was then cut short by a ferocious challenge from Everton’s Richarlison that left him with a knee injury that would keep him out for more than two months.
Liverpool have done well in his absence to be fair. You fought your way to the top of the Premier League and made smooth progress in the Champions League.
« To be honest, what the other guys did is incredible, » said Jürgen Klopp after the game in Newcastle. « But we signed Thiago because we thought he was a good player. So you can imagine that we’d love to have him on the team! «
The availability of the former Bayern Munich would certainly mean a significant boost in a season riddled with setbacks. The perfect New Years present, you could call it.
Liverpool have been hit harder than most of the others by injuries. Center-backs Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk are out long-term while another, Joel Matip, is still a few weeks away from fitness.
The effects of these absences are not only clear in defense, but also in midfield. Fabinho, arguably the best no. 6 in the league, had to retire, while Jordan Henderson was occasionally needed.
And with other injured people, Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum and Curtis Jones had to play more minutes than is ideal given the schedule.
The return of Thiago – and others like James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Xherdan Shaqiri – changes things. Not only does it give Klopp a little wiggle room – he can let Jones on and off and keep the youngster fresh, for example – but it also adds one of the world’s best controlling midfielders.
The evidence was, if brief, in Newcastle. Thiago replaced Milner in the 73. Minute and Liverpool’s quality improved immediately. The substitute finished the game with more passes than any single Newcastle player, Bar Matty Longstaff, who played the full 90.
One of those passes, a great crossfield game against Trent Alexander-Arnold, helped create an opportunity that somehow Sadio Mane couldn’t bring home.
Others were whipped around the corner in the feet of strikers and midfielders. Against teams looking to defend – you think West Brom, who unexpectedly took a point from Anfield over Christmas – the ability to break lines, suddenly developing pace and imagination is vital. Few midfielders, few players, do it better than Thiago.
« He’s a great player, » said Klopp, although he was quick to point out a caution.
« Of the 20 minutes he played, 12 were brilliant, » he added. “And then he felt the intensity that is normal. He only trained twice in a team, so there is still some physical work to be done to get some rhythm. ”
Thiago is likely to start again on the bench in Southampton on Monday and it will be interesting to see if Klopp uses him in the FA Cup at Aston Villa on Friday. He will surely want to fly for Liverpool’s next game, on Jan.. January at home with Manchester United.
That already seems huge, a chance for the champions to reassert their favorite title status and burst a rival’s balloon in the process.
The Manchester threat is real: City looks ominous and United, inspired by Bruno Fernandes, lights up their pre-season struggles with a string of wins under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Both are expected to be there in May.
Liverpool remain the team to beat, however. You may have stumbled upon the festive season – only time will tell how expensive those four lost points will be – but no team knows how to win like that.
Despite their problems, they have only been beaten once in the league this season. And that came when Gomez and Van Dijk were available.
With Thiago back to scrutinize, dictate and create, Klopp’s team should be supported to find their best form in 2021. He was hired as a game changer, one of the few players who could immediately improve a title-winning site.
The Reds worked harder to get him than anyone else. It was a world-class footballer who joined a world-class team under a world-class manager. The perfect combination.
After a delayed start, Liverpool will now see what it can do. The perfect signing in January, as Klopp recently joked. A welcome boost for the most challenging campaigns.
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Liverpool F. . C.. . , Southampton F. . C.. . , Premier League, Jürgen Klopp, Ralph Hasenhüttl
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