Liverpool in the Champions League: Twisted like Cuban cigars

The biggest honor went to Thiago Alcantara on Wednesday night in the TV studio. In rare agreement, the remarkable group of experts in English old internationals joined the chorus that it was “a joy to watch” watching Liverpool midfielder play football. Literally, former club defender Jamie Carragher sang the highest song to pay tribute to Thiago along with CBS colleague Micah Richards – a song that fans once composed in recognition of Thiago. To the tune of the Caribbean hit “Cuba”, both danced and buzzed in front of the cameras: “Thiago, Thiago Alcantara”. Almost even better than the atmospheric chorus that sticks in your head after the first listen is the accompanying five-line laudatory speech. As for Thiago’s football talent, it is fitting that he would roll his opponents “like Cuban cigars” (“He’ll roll you like a Cuban”).

Although Thiago failed to score or assist in Liverpool’s depressingly clear 2-0 win over Villarreal Club de Fútbol in the first match of the Champions League semi-final at home at Anfield, no other player later received more anthems. It was probably mainly due to the fact that during the match it felt like only Thiago had been on the ball. With 119 ball touches and 113 passes, of which 96.3 percent reached his teammates, Thiago created a game that made him worthy of the term “playmaker”.

However, she wrote New York Times in their tribute to Thiago, the problem with these statistics is that they say nothing about what his passes would have done on the pitch. The numbers could not show how “unimpressed he was, even by the most intense pressure”, or how “immaculate” his technique was. With his ball control, Thiago not only keeps the team’s game afloat, he also sets the attacks in motion himself.

Jurgen Klopp can lead Liverpool to the final for the third time in five years

There is a four minute compilation of his scenes against Villarreal on the internet, which gives an impression of how skillfully Thiago moves across the field. Always playable for teammates – and above all always in an open body position that allows him to continue the game in several directions. His ball touches with the outer and inner instep and especially with the sole of the foot has a gentle effect like stroking a rabbit. As a result, Villarreal’s players found themselves almost stuck in their own penalty area. Not once did the Spaniards shoot at the opponent’s goal, as well as after they almost never got over the half.

Rejected own goal: After Pervis Estupinan touched a cross from Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson, Villarreal goalkeeper Gerónimo Rulli had no chance.

(Photo: Angel Rivero / Marca / Imago)

Liverpool’s dominance led to the often misleading suspicion that it was only a matter of a few minutes of play before the optically superior team would score their goals. In this case, however, the assumption was confirmed: Thiago started 1-0 in the 53rd minute by moving the game, with Villarreal’s Pervis Estupinan deflecting a cross from Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson to an own goal. Only 133 seconds later, Thiago made room for Mohamed Salah to turn in the penalty area and make a pass to attacking partner Sadio Mané, who easily put in a 2-0 (55 ‘).

In the creation of the two goals, Thiago explained afterwards, “discovery of holes” played more of a role than “patience”. Sports magazine Athletics the headline that things had been “as comfortable” for Liverpool as a first-class semi-final could be. Even more than the mathematical lead, the difference in quality before the second match in Villarreal on Tuesday hardly allows any other prediction than that the permanent coach Jürgen Klopp (in the post since October 2015) will probably lead the Reds to the final for the third time in five seasons.

Temporary doubts were raised about Thiago, which really annoyed Klopp

Unlike in its early days, Liverpool now defines itself more in terms of control than chaos. The change began with the signing of ball genius Thiago, 31, in the summer of 2020. FC Bayern had to let him move to Liverpool for an offer price of around 25 million euros, because otherwise there would have been a risk of a free transfer when the contract expired one year later. While his departure hit Bayern far more seriously than the defensive issues just discussed should suggest (and the club have not progressed past the quarter-finals of the Premier League without him since), thanks to Thiago, Liverpool have been able to develop into a universal team. In the three-man midfield with clearer Fabinho and driver Henderson, he took the half-left position as Georginio Wijnaldum, who moved on to Paris St. Germain in 2021.

In his first season on the island, Thiago initially slowed down a serious knee injury. In the second half of the season, he, like the rest of the team, seemed to suffer from the club’s huge injury problems, which made it impossible to warm up. This may have been the reason why there were occasional doubts about the collaboration between Thiago and Liverpool. When Klopp was recently asked if Thiago fit into Liverpool at all, he could not control his anger. “Thank God,” Klopp said, these critics “make no decisions” in football. The debate is now over.

Instead, commentators are now wallowing in praise. In preparation for his interview d BT-Mic even asked Owen Hargreaves, one of the most competent ex-players on the island, to give his opinion on Thiago as well. He said: “Thiago was the best man on the pitch. With Fabinho and Henderson he has total control.” Hargreaves did not just start singing.

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