After Jurgen Klopp personally led Timo Werner almost since winter, and then he ended up in Chelsea, news about the transfer Thiago Alcantara aroused healthy skepticism. It is clear that the player was interested in the club, it is clear that he himself was interested in the transfer – but it is also clear that Liverpool have no money. Klopp himself explained everything: “In a situation where we ask football players to reduce their salaries, you cannot simultaneously make transfers for 60 million pounds.”
Bayern wanted to sell Alcantara not that expensively – the media constantly reported an amount of 30 million euros – but such a player, in principle, cannot go over a symbolic couple of million. Therefore, the final outcome is similar to a happy ending: Liverpool not only signed the player, but also did it on fabulous conditions. 22 million euros + a maximum of five million in bonuses for victories in the Premier League and the Champions League, the payments will be stretched over several years. Wow. Here we must pay tribute not only to Michael Edwards , but also to the leadership of FC Bayern.
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge could not resist the caustic remark, saying: “Everything was decided by Thiago’s great desire to try something new at the end of his career” – the phrase about the end of a career in the context of a 29-year-old player sounds strange ( Lewandowski, apparently, has already finished his career) – but in fact, Bayern let the player go on very lenient conditions.
Why this is a great transfer
Perhaps Alcantara does not do one thing better than anyone else, but in his arsenal there are many techniques that he performs at a very high level.
The range of passes is excellent, Thiago is not only a metronome for short passes, he also easily throws diagonals on the flank, and most importantly, he passes between the lines with quality. Remember the third goal against Barcelona. The last pass from Kimmich made it striking, but the goal would not have been without the penultimate one: a vertical pass into a narrow corridor between two Barcelona players, which Thiago gave.
Another important quality is pressure resistance. Thanks to excellent coordination, he does not even have to scatter opponents with feints: Alcantara deceives them with light half-turns of the body, or passes at speed due to a subtle change in the trajectory of movement. So if he doesn’t have an obvious pass option, he just drags the ball forward, including under pressure, until it appears.
These qualities make Alcantara an excellent player – one of the best controlling midfielders with a wide range of skills. But he’s just as good off the ball. By the number of passes for 90 minutes, he is the best in Bayern last season, and in terms of the number of tackles and interceptions – in the top three (data from the statistical portal Fbref). For players of this role, such a combination is rare. That is, Alcantara would strengthen almost any team. But he is especially suited to Liverpool with such characteristics. It’s about style. This is why this is a super transfer for the reigning England champion.
Why Liverpool needed Alcantara so badly
Liverpool has evolved over the years under Klopp’s leadership. The PPDA, which measures the intensity of high pressure, was 7.23 in Klopp’s first full season at the club, and 8.01 in 2019/20 (the lower the better, Understat data). In terms of passing accuracy in Klopp’s first full season, the team was not even in the top 6, and now only lost to Man City and Chelsea. This indicates a change in style.
Almost immediately after his arrival, Klopp turned Liverpool into a machine for hacking top rivals. Therefore, in the first season, he took points from Man City twice and beat Chelsea and Arsenal away. Problems arose against simpler rivals who did not hesitate to park the bus. Pressure was a powerful but uncontested weapon. When the team physically sat down (that is, after about an hour of play in most matches and in every January), problems also began. Gradually the team got rid of them.
Over the years, Liverpool has evolved from a pressure monster with a weak positional attack into a team with a good positional attack and excellent pressure. Wing back Alexander-Arnold as a playmaker is not trivial, but the most effective solution. Fabinho also added quality in ball control. True, attacks are too dependent on the flanks.
In the last victorious season, none of the midfielders even made it into the top 5 teams in terms of the number of assists or at least the number of passes under attack. Henderson , Fabinho , Keita , Wijnaldum and Milner together have assisted the same number of times how much is one Trent (13). The midfield at Liverpool plays an important but mechanical, not creative role. Alcantara should help with this.
Alcantara gives Liverpool more than just depth. With it, you can adjust the style. For example, to disperse attacks through the center, not just through the flanks. He is not the master of the last pass, but the master of the penultimate. With the necessary qualities to meet Klopp’s midfielder requirements (endurance, intensity, aggressive off-the-ball style), he also has qualities that Liverpool today lacked. A player with a great passing, pressure-resistant and high volume off the ball is an enhancement in both playability and play style.
Liverpool still lacks the depth of the squad (three clearly main players for three places in attack – not enough for 50 matches per season). But at least in midfield, this problem has been resolved. Great news for the team – and for Alcantara himself, who seems to want this transfer the most.