Alisson to Fabinho to Henderson to Trent Alexander-Arnold, long ball, repeat- that has been the Liverpool tactic which has seen them stumble to three games without a win in the Premier League. And it’s one with immense predictability.
Teams have been quick to figure out that the creative spark lies on the Liverpool flanks through Andy Robertson and Alexander-Arnold and, therefore, have prevented the output of the fullbacks.
Yet, despite the predictability of the tactic becoming clear, the Liverpool midfielders still push on with it. The ball comes into the feet of Henderson or Gini Wijnaldum before it is distributed to either Robertson or Arnold who end up with little choice but to cross into the heads of the opposition defenders.
It is predictable, side-to-side, easy to defend play which is costing Liverpool. They must find creativity through the midfield and a passer of the ball capable of breaking the press and playing through low blocks.
Luckily for Jurgen Klopp, he has one of the best midfielders in the world capable of doing exactly that in Thiago Alcantara.
Thiago: The Solution to Liverpool Predictability
Passing Through the Press
Thiago’s ability to pass through the press is not news to anyone. The Spaniard has been doing it at the highest of levels for several years now.
And, now, back from injury and available for Liverpool, he’ll provide the Reds with the key to unlocking their creative spark once more- as proven in games against Newcastle, Aston Villa and Everton this season.
Using the Everton game as a first example, the former Bayern man more than proved his ability in abundance before picking up an injury. His pass, which took the Everton midfield out of the game, into Sadio Mane– whose cross found goalscorer Jordan Henderson- summed his talents up.
In the end, the goal was controversially chalked off for offside, but the pass still remains impressive. It could be argued that any other Liverpool midfielder that day would have played the simple and predictable pass to the fullback who would have produced a cross capable of being headed away with ease.
Thiago is one of the most forward-thinking passers in the world, however, and that is becoming clear now that he is back from injury.
His passing ability is refreshing, fluid, and, ultimately, unpredictable. Instead of playing sideways, the Spaniard constantly plays forward- providing a key supply line to the famous front three.
Using the Aston Villa game as another example- albeit against a youth side- Thiago made the difference when introduced at halftime. The scores were level at the break with Liverpool guilty of playing predictable, side-to-side long ball once more.
When Thiago was introduced to proceedings, his gulf in class was there for all to see. All of a sudden, Liverpool were quicker, more penetrable and clinical with every defence-splitting pass coming from Thiago.
Mohamed Salah’s strike to make it 4-1 is an example of Thiago’s passing ability. Instead of playing the easy pass to Neco Williams out wide, he found Xherdan Shaqiri with a defence-splitting pass, who, in turn, found goalscorer Salah.
As proven throughout the game, every other Liverpool midfielder would have played the simple and easy to defend pass out wide. Thiago came on and single-handedly put an end to the Liverpool predictability.
His game in numbers were as follows: 83% passing, 55/66 passes, one chance created, 4/4 dribbles, two interceptions and 2/2 areal duals won.
Liverpool Struggles Lie in Midfield Due to Lack of Defenders
People will be quick to point out that the Liverpool problems lie in defence due to their lack of defenders. And, in part, they do. Because Fabinho is forced to fill in at centre-back, Liverpool lack his influence in midfield.
The Brazilian has filled in remarkably to replace the injured Virgil van Dijk, but his passing range alongside the ability to put out fires before the smoke can even turn to flames is sorely missed.
Defensively, missing Van Dijk is a blow, yes, but his influence in the offensive play often went under the radar. The Dutchman’s diagonal passes to Salah, Mane, Arnold and Robertson, as well as his balls in behind, proved key last season.
Joe Gomez and Joel Matip’s ability to step out with the ball is also sorely missed. Matip, only capable of playing two or three games without injury, often steps out with the ball, taking players out of the game in the process, and beats the press and low block. The same applies to Joe Gomez.
Without that defensive trio, Liverpool are left without the assets they offer- forcing them to instead play the predictable passes and, therefore, fail to guide themselves past the low block defensive lines.
Now with Thiago, that predictability problem should be solved. The Spaniard can replicate what Fabinho often did in the deep-lying role last season, whilst the Brazilian leads the back four, as well as offer so much more in midfield to solve the Liverpool predictability problem.
Against Manchester United and the rest of the season, he could be the difference-maker between Liverpool keeping their crown and relinquishing it.
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