Jurgen Klopp has already hinted at Thiago Alcantara’s new role he’ll play at Liverpool

He’s been regarded as Liverpool’s best midfielder over the past few years by large sections of supporters. In the 2021-22 season, a berth in the PFA Team of the Year confirmed how highly his Premier League counterparts rated his ability.

Yet Thiago Alcantara now finds himself in an intriguing position at Anfield. As the midfielder closes in on a return to full fitness, having been sidelined with a hip injury since April, his Liverpool role is now unclear despite being the only fully-fledged engine-room operator that remains from last season.

James Milner, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all departed at the end of their respective contracts before Jordan Henderson and Fabinho were sold to Al-Ettifaq and Al-Ittihad respectively. Curtis Jones, 22, is still relatively in the formative years of his career despite being around the first-team squad since he was a teenager. Harvey Elliott, 20, is similar while 18-year-old Stefan Bajcetic is still very much a fledgling member of Jurgen Klopp’s side although he made 19 appearances last season.

Thiago could well have been on the move in the summer transfer window in his own right. He was one of several Liverpool players also coveted by the riches of the Saudi Pro League but he instead opted to remain on Merseyside. Such an attitude should be commended. In truth, it would have been the easy option for the 32-year-old to make the move to the Gulf state with a year remaining on his Reds contract and land a mega-money deal - especially with wholesale changes in Liverpool’s midfield taking place.

With Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai being recruited for a combined £91 million before Wataru Endo and Ryan Gravenberch subsequently arrived later in the window, Klopp duly replenished in the middle of the park. Factor in the scintillating form that Jones displayed at the end of last season, as well as the enthusiasm and vigour of Elliott and Bajcetic, it could have led to Thiago heading for pastures new.

Yet the Spain international may feel he’s got unfinished business at Anfield. Since arriving from Bayern Munich in September 2020, injuries have halted him from regularly showing the sort of form that saw him previously regarded as one of the world’s best midfielders by plenty. The 2021-22 campaign was undoubtedly his best as Liverpool fell two games short of an unprecedented quadruple. Even in that season, though, he played only 25 Premier League matches, pulled up in the warm-up before the Carabao Cup final triumph over Chelsea at Wembley and was troubled by an issue for the Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid.

Per Transfermrkt, Thiago has been absent for 50 games for the Reds because of injury. Four of those include this term as he battles back from a hip problem. In the past, there has often been a clamour - sometimes coming across as desperation - for Thiago to be immediately be restored to the Liverpool team as soon as he returns to fitness. Aafter a lacklustre start to last term after the Spain international suffered a hamstring problem in the 2-2 curtain-raiser draw against Fulham, that was the overridng sentiment.

However, there has scarcely been that demand 12 months later. With the Reds garnering 10 points from their opening four games, Kopites are quietly satisfied with how this campaign has begun. Szoboszlai has made a barnstorming start, Mac Allister has caught the eye despite largely being played deployed in an auxiliary role and Jones’ performance in the 3-0 victory over Aston Villa before the international break was solid. In addition, Elliott has impressed during his cameos, Endo will continue to adapt, Gravenberch is to be added to Liverpool’s plans and Bajcetic will get chances after overcoming an adductor issue.

Thiago shouldn’t just be disregarded, though. Klopp is lacking experience in the middle of the park. Off the field, Thiago can impart all of his wisdom to help develop the likes of Szoboszlai, while Bajcetic is someone who’d already learned plenty from the ex-Barcelona man. And Klopp has already hinted at what sort of role Thiago can play for Liverpool when he is back available.

Towards the end of last season, Milner was frequently utilised as someone who’d come off the bench in the closing stages to help see out games. Indeed, that tactic bore fruit in the final 1 fixtures as the Reds went unbeaten to secure a fifth-place finish. Milner featured in all but one. With a void needing to be filled, it could be taken up by Thiago.

Speaking during Liverpool’s pre-season tour of Singapore, Klopp said: “Now a lot of changes, but again, it’s not only that the new players come into the team – they are obviously in and are real quality – but it always gives opportunity as well to other players to just make the next step if the guy on the position is not there anymore.

“How we finished games, it was always James Milner came on, stuff like that, and finished the game pretty much for us in a super-professional way. In the end – the last few weeks and months – maybe he finished more of the games off. We have players for that role, younger players, and it just opens doors and that’s what we need. Yes, we as a group want to put things right.”

Klopp admitted that the international break would ‘hopefully be enough’ time for Thiago to recover from his hip issue. When he is back, his role may be clear.


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