Liverpool have already started to rebuild their midfield with the Alexis Mac Allister signing. But, as Paul Gorst writes, a fit-again Thiago will also be a huge boost.
Of all the clues that suggest Liverpool have been taking a more long-term view in recent months, the decision to bring forward Thiago Alcantara’s surgery was one of the most telling.
A hip injury, picked up toward the start of the year, left Thiago sidelined for two months between early February and April as he missed 10 games in total before returning as a second-half substitute in the 2-2 draw with Arsenal on Easter Sunday.
In truth, however, Thiago‘s campaign was virtually curtailed after his last start, which came in a 3-0 defeat at Wolves on February 4. His return consisted of four substitute appearances that lasted a total of 96 minutes before the decision was taken to undergo surgery to correct what had become a long-standing complaint.
The decision to go under the knife was taken firmly with a view to having the former Bayern Munich and Barcelona stat fit in time for pre-season rather than delay the minor operation so Thiago could continue contributing to the remainder of a campaign that had fallen by the wayside.
“Thiago will have surgery and is out for the rest of the season,” said Jurgen Klopp on the eve of Brentford’s visit to Anfield in early May. “It’s the same issue he was recently out for a couple of months with. Do I expect him to now be fit for pre-season? Yes, that’s why we do it now.”
Thiago was spotted on crutches for the end-of-season lap of honour at Anfield after the 1-1 draw with Aston Villa on May 20 and while the decision to have the surgery meant he was forced to miss the final four matches of a campaign that still had slim hopes of a top-four finish at the time, it was a strategic call that was very much focused on getting him fit and firing in time for the new term.
With midfield being targeted as the designated area for Liverpool’s summer transfer plans, the Reds will enter the new campaign against Chelsea on August 13 with something of a new-look engine room. Having signed Alexis Mac Allister from Brighton earlier this month, further reinforcements are anticipated following the official opening of the transfer window on Wednesday.
But while the likes of Khephren Thuram of Nice, Bayern Munich’s Ryan Gravenberch and Celta Vigo youngster Gabri Veiga are all being looked at, a fully functioning Thiago would represent a major boost for Klopp going forward.
His 18 appearances last term was the fewest he has made since he traded Bayern for Liverpool in September 2020 and there is a school of thought that suggests his injury issues have occasionally been exacerbated due to an overreliance on him in the middle of the park.
With more set to join Mac Allister through the doors of the AXA Training Centre in the coming weeks, Thiago may find himself being out of the team through design more than lamentable injuries as he enters the final 12 months of his contract.
At his bewitching best, there are few like Thiago in the Premier League, but his injury troubles have rarely subsided during his time with the Reds. Last season, he featured in just 28 of the club’s 52 fixtures as he ended a campaign that started with a muscle injury at Fulham on the opening day by recovering from surgery.
Next season, aided by the bolstering of the midfield ranks, Thiago might be deliberately held back and managed more carefully, giving Klopp an incredibly experienced option for certain fixtures at critical junctures.
It’s no surprise that one of the most flourishing periods for Klopp’s team in recent years was during the second half of the 2021/22 campaign when Thiago was fully fit and available to his manager on a consistent basis.
As Liverpool lost just two of 34 games between early January and late May – during a run that saw them rack up 92 Premier League points while winning a domestic cup double and marching to the Champions League final – Thiago was able to boast the most influential period of his Anfield tenure to date as he turned out 26 times and starred against the likes of Manchester United, Everton, Villarreal and, perhaps most notably, Manchester City in an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.
The fact Thiago was made to take some pain-killing injections in his toes just to be part of the Champions League final to Real Madrid at the end of that 63-fixture marathon was a frustrating aspect for Liverpool in Paris. Could that result have been different had the midfielder been at 100%?
With the Spain international entering the final year of his terms at Anfield, there is no appetite to offload him this window. Thiago is considerably more valuable to Klopp for what he is able to contribute for the coming campaign than he would be if it was decided that the club should cash in on a 32-year-old in the last year of his contract.
He appears set to join a lengthening list of high-profile players who have walked away from Anfield at the expiration of their contracts. But while Gini Wijnaldum, for example, made 50 appearances in the final year of his time with the Reds, Thiago will be a more precious commodity when used more wisely. Less can in fact be more and it could yet be his most important period yet under Klopp, which is why that proactive call to undergo surgery was made. It may prove to be a masterstroke.