In a game of such high-status and such fine margins, Sunday’s Champions League final ultimately came down to missed chances and the know-how required to edge over the finish line victoriously.
In the latter department, Bayern Munich had it in abundance, with talismanic figures Manuel Neuer, Jérôme Boateng, David Alaba and Thomas Müller all starters the last time Bayern won this competition against Borussia Dortmund in 2013. Bayern were steady and ground out the victory in the way many expected them to despite not being at their scintillating best, which was enough to see off newcomers Paris Saint-Germain in club football’s biggest game of all.
But it was one man in particular who firmly placed down another marker as the defining factor with an orchestral display from the centre of the pitch. It was a performance which, as he had gone a long way to doing in the preceding two rounds of this win or go home-style tournament, tipped the balance in his side’s favour. That man was Thiago Alcântara, who forcibly reminded everyone of his qualities; those which mean Liverpool cannot afford to miss out on signing him in the coming weeks.
It is no secret that Thiago wants to leave Bayern, and that there is one particular destination he seems to have his heart set on. It is also common knowledge just how much of an admirer Jurgen Klopp is of the former Barcelona man, with it being reported that the midfielder has been in contact with Liverpool’s boss “for weeks” and “would love” to join the club. Thiago has apparently said that he wants to leave the club, despite winning the Champions League in Lisbon on Sunday night.
Yet maybe, just maybe, this was the perfect farewell for the Spaniard. Perhaps it suits all parties for him to leave: the player and the buying club get what they want, while the German giants build from a position of strength, either by moving Joshua Kimmich back into midfield or by readying the next young star on the mightily impressive production line from the club’s academy at Säbener Strasse. If indeed Thiago is to depart the German champions and join the English ones, what a way to bow out this was.
The effortless brilliance of the Spaniard was, for the large part, encapsulated in this one match. However, such is the scale of his excellence that this was seen as merely another one of those games for Thiago — one of those games in which he conducts the play from deep, all the while quietly yet forcefully asserting himself as the best on the planet at what he does. Diminutive in figure yet graceful and fleet-footed in possession, there is seemingly no weakness in Thiago’s game as the La Masia product seems to be reaching the peak of his powers at 29 years of age.
As was the case in the more convincing quarter-final and semi-final victories against Barcelona and Lyon respectively, Thiago was near flawless in a variety of metrics against Sunday’s opponents.
There was the aesthetically pleasing trademark scoop turn which epitomises his press resistancy. There was a gorgeous array of long and short passes, ranging from arced switches of play to intensity-increasing punches to beat banks of PSG defence. A prime example of this came in the move leading to Bayern’s decisive goal, scored by Kingsley Coman, beautifully assisted by Kimmich but originally stemming from an incisive ball played by Thiago which instantly eliminated six PSG players and had Bayern bursting towards their opponents’ backline.
Thiago’s class is apparent through not only such precise and accurate line-breaking passing, but also his dribbling capability and burst of speed to cruise away from opponents in central areas. According to fbref.com, over the course of his latest masterclass, Thiago attempted more passes (86, at a completion rate of 88.4%), made more ball recoveries (7), more tackles (3), more interceptions (2) and created more chances (2) than any other individual. The two dribbles he attempted were successful, too, in sucking an adversary in before cruising past them and maintaining possession for his team once more.
Remarkably, such is his consistently absurd level of pass completion (91.3% for the entirety of Bayern’s winning European campaign) many felt he had a slow start to the game and that his passing may have been slightly off kilter compared to normal. But as the game wore on and as PSG missed big chances, you couldn’t help but feel that Bayern’s complete self-confidence would elevate them to success. As would Thiago’s understated dictating of the whole game. Even as he was brought off by coach Hansi Flick in the 86th minute, Thiago’s importance to his side’s triumph was evident. The game’s conductor embraced his manager before immediately turning and imploring his team mates to see the job through.
In the past few weeks he has repeatedly shone, and with each passing game and its increasing magnitude ending with Sunday’s final, has surely confirmed to any doubters that Liverpool must pursue him and do their upmost to bring Thiago to Anfield. The newly crowned Premier League champions simply cannot afford to miss out on signing the best central midfielder in the world, because of financial instability brought about by the pandemic, the move not fitting with the club’s recent transfer strategy, or otherwise.
Were Thiago to join the Reds, and with the small matter of Champions League completion now out of the way, it would complete an impressive set of clubs (and coaches, for that matter) that he has played for. For player, this is likely to be the last big move of his career and is therefore seemingly a no brainer to join the steadiest and most complete elite power in European football currently — aside from the club he would leave behind.
Thiago would be ready, clearly, for such a step. Sunday was particularly special for him in that he was now a central figure in a Champions League winning team — which could not be said of his role as an unused substitute in Barcelona’s Wembley triumph over Manchester United in 2011. It was, as he referred to by sharing a video produced by his agency The Player Management on Twitter on Tuesday, a triumph in “daring to make your dream come true”.
As for Liverpool, the benefits of securing the addition of Thiago would be two-fold. In doing so, the Reds would not just be bolstering their midfield but also strengthening slightly further back in the centre-backs department. With Thiago very much a number six of the modern shaping — the role that the Brazilian Fabinho has performed so well in for Klopp’s team over the past two years — it would allow Fabinho to become a 4th centre back option.
Not only could Thiago rotate with or play alongside Fabinho at the heart of the midfield, but it would allow the latter to simultaneously play the role of fourth choice in the centre of defence; replacing the recently departed Dejan Lovren in that role and providing back up for Joe Gomez and Joël Matip, both of whom could be fairly considered injury prone in that position.
Thiago would add depth. He would bring with him outstanding defensive qualities, which often go under the radar, to supplement his supreme assuredness when the ball is under his spell. Above all else, though, signing Thiago would mean bringing in a Champions League winner who is the best in the world at his role and looking for a new challenge at the summit of European football.
Liverpool cannot afford to miss out on an opportunity so tantalising.