Thiago shows why Liverpool signed him with superb performance in victory at Chelsea

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It took Liverpool almost three months of pondering and prevarication before they suddenly snapped into action and completed the £20m signing of Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich last Thursday. Within five minutes of his debut against Chelsea on Sunday, you had to wonder why Liverpool spent so long making up their mind about the former Barcelona midfielder.

It’s true that we shouldn’t get too carried away by a 2-0 win and Thiago’s 45-minute cameo against a Chelsea team reduced to 10 men following the first-half sending-off of defender Andreas Christensen for a wild rugby tackle on Sadio Mane. This was the Chelsea that gives manager Frank Lampard nightmares — the Chelsea of individual mistakes and bad decisions that gift points to the opposition — but for all of the mitigating factors that should tone down the praise of Thiago, there can be no escaping the fact that the 29-year-old has already given Liverpool something new and different.

Entering as a half-time replacement for captain Jordan Henderson, who had complained of a tight thigh during the interval, Thiago strutted around the Stamford Bridge pitch as if he owned it, dictating play as though he had been playing in the Premier League for 10 years.

“We decided to bring Thiago on early because it was 11 vs. 10 and a player like him can command the rhythm,” manager Jurgen Klopp said. “It was the perfect start for him and the boys helped him massively.”1

But while Thiago looked good and made an instant impact with his passing and awareness, he also instantly changed the way Liverpool played. It was as though Klopp had flicked a switch the moment he sent Thiago onto the pitch.

Having been a team that has enjoyed European and domestic success by catching opponents out with a ball over the top for the likes of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Mane to chase, Thiago’s entrance suddenly made Liverpool a possession-based side capable of doing to opponents what Manchester City have done under Pep Guardiola. With Thiago at the hub of midfield, everything seemed to go through the Spaniard. He patrolled the middle third of the pitch, demanded the ball from his new teammates (at times telling them where to run) and then moved it on straightaway with a first-time pass to a red shirt in space.

Thiago made 75 completed passes during his 45 minutes of action — more than any Chelsea player over the 90 minutes, and the most of any player in 45 minutes since the Premier League began compiling such data in 2003-04.

Liverpool’s first goal was an example of the change Thiago’s presence made to their attacking approach. A slick passing move in the final third, which involved Thiago as a focal point, ended with Mane heading home from close range after Firmino had played a sharp one-two with Salah. It was a typical City goal rather than one you’d usually associate with Liverpool, but Klopp’s team needed to evolve their approach this season and, just five minutes after their new signing had entered the fray, Plan B was there for all to see.

Plan B suggests it’s only a backup to Plan A, and that may turn out to be the case, but once Thiago secures a starting spot — and it won’t take long — it is impossible to envisage Liverpool not using him as their creative force.