Liverpool were frustrated in their pulsating 2-2 draw against Chelsea on Sunday – a high-octane encounter in which both sides were hamstrung by absentees.
While Alisson Becker, Andy Robertson, Joel Matip, Roberto Firmino and Harvey Elliott among the long list of absentees, a pattern has emerged which shows that another missing star is the key player for the Reds defensive record.
Jurgen Klopp’s side have now conceded 18 goals in 20 Premier League matches – but have let in just two goals in the eight league games in which midfielder Thiago Alcantara has been included in the XI.
Aside from conceding one goal apiece in their 4-1 Merseyside Derby victory and win over Newcastle, the Reds had a perfect defensive record in the Premier League games since with clean sheets against Leeds, Crystal Palace, Arsenal, Southampton, Wolves and Aston Villa.
Thiago was absent in the 3-2 defeat at West Ham United in October and was also absent from the line-up as the Reds conceded more than one goal in games against Milan, Brentford, Atletico Madrid, Manchester City, Brighton and Tottenham.
HAVE YOUR SAY! Do Liverpool need to strengthen their squad in the January transfer window? Let us know what you think in the comments section below
Liverpool have now dropped points from five league games this season where they have led – another indicator that they have less midfield control than in previous campaigns.
While Klopp’s side have a game in hand, they are now a whopping 11 points off league leaders Manchester City and hauling themselves back into a title race now represents a mammoth task.
A lack of squad depth at the Reds has been highlighted this season, the summer exit of Georginio Wijnaldum coupled with injuries and the age of James Milner has meant that the fitness of Spain international Thiago is more important than ever.
It is not that Thiago is a traditional defensive midfielder who goes into crunching challenges or continually shields the front four.
Instead, it is the Spaniard’s positional sense and technical attributes in possession that allow Liverpool’s midfield to retain its shape and assert its authority against opposition sides.
Thiago’s presence ensures that the Reds can maintain their attacks through recirculation of the ball, allowing Fabinho and Jordan Henderson to hold position while he finds space to collect possession and prevent space for counterattacks.
With Klopp’s front three all intent on providing a constant attacking threat and the two full-backs in the 4-3-3 system being constantly urged to bomb forward – there is little need for the midfield to think about proactively joining attacks.
Instead, the midfield trio is designed to maintain the team’s shape and keep intensity in attacks by allowing possession to be recycled and to prevent opposition sides from breaking forward.
Of course, Thiago has scored in wins over Southampton and Porto but it is his role in retaining the midfield shape and piecing the team together which makes him so influential.
Of all the absentees for Klopp’s team, it is the former Bayern Munich midfielder who they will want back available for selection as soon as possible.