Watching Thiago Alcantara play in the Champions League final in the context of his likely move to Liverpool was a little strange.
The manner in which the Spaniard went about his work in Bayern Munich’s 1-0 win over Paris Saint-Germain said everything that we already knew about him.
This is a classy operator at the top of his game at 29 years old, and a footballer with the ability and knowhow to decorate and decide any football match.
And when was the last time Liverpool signed a player like that?
They have players like that of course, but those players have become top performers during their time at Anfield. They didn’t arrive as the finished article.
There might be some bellows of the names of Liverpool’s two most expensive players being aimed towards your screens right now, but Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker weren’t guaranteed successes.
Van Dijk’s £75million fee was ridiculed at the time of his purchase and Alisson, although closer to what we’re looking for, had conceded five goals in an Anfield Champions League semi-final in the months before he arrived.
In fact it is hard to think of a current Liverpool player whose fee wasn’t questioned when they signed.
It was true for all of the front three, for Gini Wijnaldum, for Jordan Henderson, even for £8million Andy Robertson. The wisdom of recruiting James Milner on a free was also a hot topic at one point.
But genuine world-class players like Thiago almost seem to transcend transfer fees. You are paying for the privilege of having them in your squad. The final number doesn’t really seem that important, especially not when it is fairly meagre by modern standards.
Even when you take talent out of it it really is difficult to think of the last time Liverpool signed a player who was so well-known worldwide, and even tougher once you realise the right answer is probably Mario Balotelli.
Everyone knew him for what he’d done before, just as they do with Thiago, although the Spaniard wins out for his reputation being created on the pitch instead of off it.
Any others? You’re probably going back to Fernando Morientes, and maybe Jari Litmanen. Like Thiago, Karl-Heinz Riedle had just starred in a Champions League final before he joined Liverpool, scoring twice for Borussia Dortmund against Juventus in 1997.
And if this isn’t exactly a roll call of honour then it isn’t supposed to be.
None of those players were signing for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, an outfit that meticulously scout their transfer targets and use several data metrics to work out if they’d fit.
Thiago would fit, he’s too good not to, and the real excitement should lie in just how Klopp and his team have worked out where that fit comes.
That answer could come from the first half of Liverpool’s 2018/19 season, as Klopp often set up his team in a 4-2-3-1 formation which seemed to teach them patience compared to the rip-roaring style of the years before.
Suddenly Liverpool had more control over matches, they weren’t dishing out chances easily and they began to work out how to grind teams down. Casual observers would come to claim that they weren’t as exciting to watch as they used to be, but suddenly they were winning every week.
One of the reasons Klopp could want to revert to that formation in the hectic three-game-a-week slog that will be 2020/21 is that it allows his players to conserve a bit of energy.
The full-backs don’t have to be as forceful going forward as they’ll have support closer to them on the flanks, and the two in midfield can play together as Thiago and Leon Goretzka did so brilliantly in Lisbon.
It is something you may have seen more of from Klopp and Liverpool in the Premier League winning season just passed but for Manchester City blowing up so spectacularly early on.
Klopp sensed the chance to put the hammer down, and so it was full speed ahead as the Reds won 26 of their first 27 league games of the season, after which they seemed a little spent.
Unlike that one, the coming season will surely feature peaks and troughs, and that is where the addition and experience of Thiago could be invaluable should Klopp switch to a version of a 4-2-3-1 in which the Spaniard could be one of the two in midfield.
Ahead of him, and while it was Mohamed Salah who took up the central attacking role when Klopp has tried this previously, that could all change again.
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Any one of the current front three could play there, as an emphasis falls on the fourth option closer to the attack. It was often Xherdan Shaqiri in 2018/19, but it could be Naby Keita, Takumi Minamino, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Curtis Jones, Rhian Brewster, Divock Origi, Harvey Eliott or someone else.
Each one brings something different, and you’ll probably end up seeing them all over the relentless nature of the fixture list.
Having a footballer like Thiago in amongst all this would be a huge help to Klopp, and represent the type of transfer that just wouldn’t have felt possible a couple of years ago.
If the idea of him going from starring in a Champions League final to moving to Liverpool might feel a little bewildering then it shouldn’t.
This is where the Reds are now, Klopp has taken them there.
And his squad seems as though it is about to get even better.
Will Thiago join Liverpool? Have your say in the comments below
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