Liverpool and Lyon played out a topsy-turvy contest. It raised questions for Jürgen Klopp, but Thiago Alcântara helped provide some answers in the first half.

For Liverpool, it was the first game of the Dubai Super Cup. But it was Lyon’s second and final outing, in an odd format that sees each of the teams involved avoid one of the others. The French side had already got some minutes in the legs against Arsenal, and would therefore have been expected to be the sharper of the two outfits in this match-up.

For the first 40 minutes or so, quite the opposite transpired. It looked as though Jürgen Klopp’s team had an advantage of at least a couple of weeks on Lyon, who struggled to lay a glove on Liverpool for the vast majority of the opening exchanges.

A freak mix-up between Andy Robertson and Caoimhin Kelleher undid this good work, meaning the teams went in level at the break. Punishment for lack of a clinical edge has been a recurring theme this season, and Klopp will not be at all thrilled to see that rear its ugly head again, especially after a limp second half showing. But in the early going, Liverpool did not just look as though they had never been away — they looked even better than before.

Even with some key players still absent, the initial collective effort looked far more like Klopp’s sides of old. Crucially, a key weapon returned, with Liverpool looking more coordinated in their press than they have done for months.

Klopp once famously claimed that no playmaker can be as effective as a good counter-pressing situation, and there was a concerted effort to win the ball back high against Lyon. Thiago Alcântara appeared to be playing a subtly different role, pushed really high up the pitch and tasked with hustling and harrying the opposition.

Thiago was aided in this quest by Stefan Bajčetić, who sat behind him and swept up on the rare occasions Lyon beat the first press. The teenager did not look at all out of place — in fact, he was one of the most impressive players on the pitch. With Fabinho not yet back among the group, not to mention out of sorts, the Spaniard is looking increasingly like a genuine solution for Klopp, even if it would be a bold call.

After all, one of the alternative options would be to move Thiago deeper, into the number six role. But on the evidence of the first half of the Lyon game, he is required further forward, where he can be a real leader of the press — especially if the injury which forced off Harvey Elliott, another enthusiastic presser, proves to be in any way significant. Klopp needs his number eights to be spot on when it comes to creating chances through high turnovers.

But perhaps even more significant against Lyon was the use of the press as a defensive tool. Liverpool may not have scored from winning the ball back high, but their set-up utterly stifled the opposition in the first half, preventing them from crafting any real opportunities of their own. The hopeful ball in behind that caused the mix-up at the end of the opening period was the first real time Laurent Blanc’s side even managed to get off a long pass without being instantly closed down.



One thing opponents should never expect against Liverpool is time. But far too often this season, that is exactly what they have been afforded, leading to claims that Klopp’s side are beyond their best years. In that respect, the youthfulness of the team put out against Lyon is potentially significant — but with 31-year-old Thiago so key in the pressing efforts, perhaps all. That was needed was a proper break.

Klopp will certainly hope that is the case as he seeks to engineer a big second half of the season. He will also be leading an inquest into where the intensity went in the second period; he cannot afford for his best playmaker to make such patchy cameos, and needs the press to be at its effective and consistent best if Liverpool are to salvage a top-four finish and potentially win some silverware.

Both offensively and defensively, Thiago can be a key part of that — and on the evidence of the Lyon game, adding to a growing base of evidence, so too can Bajčetić


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