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Misfortune aside, Thiago must live up to hype in Anfield debut

Chris Bascombe


Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images

Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images

Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images

After a wait of 121 days, Thiago Alcantara will finally step onto the Anfield turf as a Liverpool player tomorrow.

The excruciating delay for a home debut - a consequence of ill health and injury - has served only to enhance the anticipation around one of the most heralded Kop signings in recent memory.

Blameless though he is for the circumstances, it is an unfortunate fact that Thiago has so far been restricted to assisting his new club's social media output more than its midfield since his £20 million signing from Bayern Munich. He has played just 242 Premier League minutes.

First, he contracted Covid-19 shortly after his debut against Chelsea. Then he was on the receiving end of a horrendous Richarlison challenge in the Merseyside derby, keeping him out for three months.

The vacuum was filled with enthusiastic forecasts about the evolution of Klopp's side once Thiago returned.

When photographs were published of Thiago completing his rehabilitation from a knee injury before Christmas, the Liverpool contingent of his 3.8 million Twitter followers were whipped into the kind of frenzy last witnessed when Klopp's flight path was being tracked from Germany in 2015.

Check out the responses to any video posts of his routine training exercises, and it seems Thiago need only tie his bootlaces to provoke a 1,000-word eulogy on his grace and poise, such is the power of pedigree and reputation.

While Thiago's misfortune must be acknowledged, such hype makes the start of his Liverpool career somewhat of a curiosity.

Heroic status has been bestowed upon him based on an idea of what he will do, not what he has been able to contribute so far.

There have been occasions when even Klopp has given the impression he thinks it has gone overboard.

"I get it," the manager said last September. "All of a sudden we announce Thiago Alcantara and people go completely crazy and mad and draw all the different pictures and stuff like this for how we could look now."

There was wisdom in observing that the reason Liverpool could attract a player of such class is because of the gruelling groundwork done by others over the last five years.

And in his absence, those same midfielders have ensured he can reassimilate into a side who many still consider the most likely Premier League winners, despite playing catch-up to Manchester United when they meet tomorrow.

"Honestly, the boys who did the job so far did exceptionally well," said Klopp after Thiago's latest comeback at St James' Park last month. "So it is not that we cannot survive if he does not start the next game."

Thiago is not the first player whose reputation seems to improve every time he does not play. The critical difference with him is every time he does play, the fanfare is justified.

The excellence of his cameos, certainly when he debuted at Stamford Bridge and more recently against Newcastle United and then Aston Villa's youngsters, confirmed how Liverpool will benefit as long as he stays fit.

Although the sample size is small, Thiago already averages more passes per game than any Premier League midfielder. His performances at the highest level confirm such figures will only get more eye-catching the more he features for Liverpool.

"The most important thing is he is fit and he trained," said Klopp. "He had 90 and 45 minutes in the last two games.

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"We will see if he can play and which position he will play because there are different options. But it is good to have him around now." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021]

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