Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp never had any doubts over Thiago Alcantara’s suitability for his team despite criticism last season over how he impacted their style.
The Spain international has been in brilliant form in the last couple of weeks, with his impressive performance in the first half of last weekend’s FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester City followed by a masterclass against Manchester United in midweek.
It was around this time last year the 29-year-old came into his own as he helped orchestrate their drive to Champions League qualification, something which looked unlikely in the March and has again taken centre stage as they pursue an unprecedented quadruple.
He is now looking like the world-class midfielder Liverpool expected they were getting when they paid Bayern Munich an initial £20million in September 2020, making a mockery of the criticism he received last season regarding the suitability for Liverpool’s style with the suggestion he slowed down play too much.
‘People were questioning if he suits our football? Thank God these people don’t make decisions,’ Klopp said.
‘If a player is calming a game down in moments due to a lot of reasons – one of them is just to have a look, or whatever – it is of course nothing we thought (was wrong).
‘It is more important Thiago wanted to join us and he knew how we played. He is a real football person and thinks a lot about football. He knew how we played and he knew he would fit in and we knew it as well.’
Liverpool legend Didi Hamann was last year critical of the Spaniard and said his style of play did not match how the Reds wanted to perform.
He said: ‘He slows things down and doesn’t really play the way Liverpool play.’
‘Liverpool in the past have had hard-working midfielders, they were not as skilful as Thiago, but they have the ball to Mane and Salah early.
‘If you get the ball early on the wing, and theses guys can run at players they are very hard to stop.
‘I just feel with Thiago, everyone was raving about him coming to Liverpool, he’s hardly played.’
Part of the issue last season was Thiago struggled on arrival, after first contracting Covid and then losing more than two months of the season to a knee injury sustained in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park.
By the time he returned the team looked much different with at least one – and sometimes both – of fellow midfielders Jordan Henderson and Fabinho playing in central defence to cover for long-term injuries.
‘It is always about being fit and staying fit and getting used to the slight differences to his former club, whatever these things are in different teams,’ Klopp added.
‘Thiago had only one problem, he was injured and it started with an Everton game, to be honest. That didn’t help. It was never a question if he would suit us. We only signed him because we knew he would help us.’
Thiago looks certain to start against Everton again in the 240th Merseyside derby at Anfield on Sunday – a fixture Klopp admits he would miss were Everton to get relegated.
While Klopp’s side are challenging for three more titles, having already won the Carabao Cup, their near neighbours are mired in a battle to avoid the drop, sitting in 17th just a point ahead of Burnley.
Asked whether he would miss the fixture he said: ‘Yes. Of course, I think we are all used to the two clubs in the city and that is how it is.
‘Around the derbies it’s always special. This week is slightly different because we played United in midweek but usually the full week before you play Everton all people talk about is the derby.’
In addition to Thiago’s injury in last season’s encounter – after a red-card tackle by Richarlison at Goodison Park – Liverpool also had Virgil van Dijk ruled out for the season with a knee injury following a reckless challenge by Toffees goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
Klopp welcomes the passion of the encounter but wants it to be controlled.
He said: ‘These derbies never lacked intensity to be honest. I love intensity and physicality in football but there is a rule book and just make sure we all stick to that and don’t go over the top like in the good old times and we suffered from these situations.
‘I just want to have a very intense, very physical game but not more because we play games after the derby, we should not forget all of us. It was always very intense. This one is important for both but I can’t remember when it was not important for us.’
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