Henderson hails 'phenomenal' Thiago despite Liverpool woes

By Sports Desk February 15, 2021

Jordan Henderson believes Thiago Alcantara has been a "brilliant" addition for Liverpool despite significant struggles for Jurgen Klopp's side of late.

Klopp conceded Liverpool's Premier League title defence was effectively over after a 3-1 weekend defeat at Leicester City left them 13 points shy of leaders Manchester City having played a game more.

The Reds are back in Champions League action against RB Leipzig in the first leg of their last-16 tie on Tuesday, bruised by a run of five defeats in seven domestically and three in succession.

Spain playmaker Thiago arrived as a coup of a close-season signing from European champions Bayern Munich, billed as the man to take Klopp's phenomenal winning machine to the next level.

He sparkled on his debut from the bench in a 2-0 win at Chelsea but a bout of coronavirus them preceded a maiden start in the Merseyside derby against Everton, one cut short by Richarlison's red-card lunge.

That meant a lengthy spell on the sidelines until the December 30 0-0 draw at Newcastle.

Thiago returned to the starting line-up at Southampton next time out and the 1-0 defeat was the first of six reverses in his subsequent 10 outings in all competitions - culminating in the nightmare unravelling at the King Power Stadium.

Nevertheless, club captain Henderson holds his team-mate in the highest regard.

"Thiago's been brilliant since he's come to the club. I think everyone knows how good a player he is. He's a world class player," he said.

"Even off the field he's a really good person, leads by example and you learn a lot from him.

"He's been a fantastic addition to the squad."

Pass master interrupted by injuries

Injury means Thiago is yet to play a minute in the Champions League this season, making comparisons with his purring form in Bayern's treble run last time around tricky.

But judging per 90 minutes played, the former Barcelona man's main stock in trade appears to be in good order.

Thiago averages 78.1 successful passes each match for Klopp's men, second only to Henderson (81.1) this term, set against 84.3 last season for a Bayern team a little more noted for their ball retention.

He creates 1.2 chances per game for Liverpool, up on 1.1 for the Bavarian giants in 2019-20, while his overall passing accuracy has only dropped fractionally from 90.6 per cent to 89.2.

Complaints that Thiago has neutered Liverpool as an attacking force can be countered by the fact that no Reds player averages more than his 30 passes ending in the final third per game, suggesting a progressive element of his game is very much present. He passed into these danger areas 24 times per 90 at Bayern last season.

Perhaps concerns should be more centred upon what happens when Thiago doesn't have the ball.

A liability in the tackle?

Having started the Leicester match on the bench, only to be pressed into action by James Milner's first-half injury, his foul on Harvey Barnes inside the final 15 minutes led to the hosts' equaliser and started the meltdown.

Thiago's tracking of Barnes for Leicester's third also left plenty to be desired but he can be a danger to himself and his team when he engages opponents.

Despite his limited game time, the 29-year-old's 28 fouls this season are second to Sadio Mane (49) in Klopp's first-team squad. Among first-team regulars, his 2.6 challenges per 90 are only behind Milner (2.9).

He might want to dial back this more unhelpful part of his work rate, although the other side of this is 7.5 recoveries (behind Henderson's 8.3 among outfield regulars) and 2.2 interceptions (joint second with Naby Keita to back-up defender Neco Williams on 2.4) every game.

Of course, the most important statistic of all arrives at full-time, and so long as Liverpool are winning 59.1 per cent of their games without Thiago and 30.8 per cent with him, the doubters will remain.

Not that Henderson is among them, as opponents and a competition that have seen his colleague thrive await.

"He probably knows Leipzig better than anyone, so he'll be telling us a few things over the next 24 hours," he added.

"He's settled in very well, like I knew he would. He's a phenomenal player and hopefully he can keep improving every time he plays for us and getting used to the way we play as a team."

Related items

  • Australian Open: Kvitova crashes out at Melbourne Park Australian Open: Kvitova crashes out at Melbourne Park

    Petra Kvitova was convincingly beaten to bow out of the Australian Open in straight sets in the first round on Tuesday.

    The Czech 20th seed, a finalist in Melbourne in 2019, was crushed 6-2 6-2 by Romanian Sorana Cirstea on John Cain Arena.

    Kvitova produced a staggering 39 unforced errors with just seven winners to bow out in 71 minutes.

    It continued a mixed record at Melbourne Park for the two-time Wimbledon champion.

    Kvitova has now bowed out of a grand slam in the first round 11 times – with four of those coming at the Australian Open.

    Cirstea will face either Misaki Doi or Kristina Kucova in this year's second round.

    The 31-year-old also beat Kvitova at the Australian Open last year – in the second round.

  • Pioli claims referee apologised to Milan but admits his players got it wrong against Spezia Pioli claims referee apologised to Milan but admits his players got it wrong against Spezia

    Stefano Pioli has revealed the referee apologised after ruling out what should have been a valid Milan goal in Monday's defeat to Spezia.

    The Rossoneri slumped to a shock 2-1 loss as Emmanuel Gyasi scored with almost the final kick of a thriller at San Siro.

    Title rivals Inter drew 0-0 with Atalanta on Sunday, but Milan failed to claim a win that would have sent them to the Serie A summit.

    The hosts dominated the first half and took a deserved lead through Rafael Leao, just after Theo Hernandez had missed a penalty.

    Yet their profligacy cost them in the second half when Kevin Agudelo equalised.

    Milan were then left furious as Junior Messias' fine late effort was struck off due to a premature whistle from referee Marco Serra, who had blown up for a foul on Ante Rebic.

    Serra appeared to realise his mistake, though that did nothing to appease Milan, who subsequently hit the bar through Zlatan Ibrahimovic only for Gyasi to snatch a last-gasp winner on the counter.

    While Pioli was keen to point out the official's error, he acknowledged Milan did not control the game well enough.

    "I tried to calm my players down, but I didn't manage as Spezia's goal proves," he told DAZN.

    "We knew it was an injustice, we have ourselves to blame, but we share responsibility with the referee.

    "I am sorry to say that. He even apologised, maybe that wasn't even a fault. It's a shame.

    "However, we should have scored more goals in the first half. It's a bad night and we must react now."

    Milan had 25 attempts in total, with eight on target. It was the most shots they have managed in a Serie A defeat since December 2017 against Verona (31).

    Leao was a standout performer with four shots and as many key passes, while Ibrahimovic, making his 150th league appearance for the club, had a team-leading eight efforts.

    "We could have won the game, somehow we lost," said Pioli, whose side finished the match with an expected goals (xG) value of 2.5.

    "We knew we had a good chance, Leao's goal should have given us self-confidence, we failed to seal a win that we strongly wanted, but the season is still long."

    Milan remain second, two points behind Inter and one ahead of Napoli in third, with Juventus next up on Sunday.

  • Tuchel reveals Mount was unhappy at not starting Man City defeat but insists 'everyone loves Mason' Tuchel reveals Mount was unhappy at not starting Man City defeat but insists 'everyone loves Mason'

    Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel has admitted that Mason Mount was not happy with starting Saturday's 1-0 defeat at Manchester City on the bench, but insists that it will "not last long."

    The Blues' defeat at City saw them fall 13 points behind the Premier League leaders, and eyebrows were raised when Mount was named among the substitutes, not coming on until the 81st minute of the clash at the Etihad Stadium.

    The England international has the most goal involvements in all competitions for Chelsea this season (13 – seven goals and six assists) and has created the most chances (47), ahead of Marcos Alonso (42), Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James (both 38). 

    Speaking at a news conference ahead of the European champions' trip to Brighton and Hove Albion on Tuesday, Tuchel said that he received the "burning eyes" that previous Blues manager Frank Lampard had spoken about when he had dropped Mount in the past.

    "Yeah, I get them and this is absolutely normal," Tuchel smiled. "But it's still within Mason's character of kindness and being polite and being respectful, so there is no harm in this.

    "I get the eyes, I get the look. I know the look, of course. He is here to play these kinds of matches, but we were simply opting for runners. We thought we could break the line more often with Hakim [Ziyech] as a left foot on the left side and going for Christian [Pulisic] as a right side because of the arrival of Christian in the box.

    "Normally, he is a bit more offensive, a bit more of a runner than Mason and we expected the spaces more behind the last line and not in front of the back four from City. So that was the decision.

    "I felt Mason not 100 per cent in the zone where he is like untouchable, which he normally almost is. So we took that decision and it can happen from time to time. He's not happy about it, but it will not last long because everyone loves Mason – me included."

    The former Borussia Dortmund head coach also suggested that Mount has missed playing with wing-back James, who has been missing with a thigh injury since the turn of the year, with the duo, along with N'Golo Kante, working well as a triumvirate since playing together at Stamford Bridge.

    "Reece, N'Golo and [Mount] were so strong together," Tuchel added. "This is what we've been talking about. When you turn, you know without even looking he will come now or I will go and get the pass and he will come in, so I will be here.

    "We are missing this. And I think, without asking him now, Mason is missing this. He has this genuine understanding with Reece and with Ben [Chilwell] on the other side."

    Meanwhile, Emerson Palmieri, who Chelsea are rumoured to be attempting to recall from a season-long loan at French club Lyon to help solve their problems at left wing-back, has confirmed that he has tested positive for COVID-19.

    The Italy international said on Instagram on Monday: "Hi everyone, just wanted to come here to say that I tested positive for COVID on Friday, and I truly feel fine and the rest of the family do too.

    "Many thanks for all your caring messages. I hope to be back as soon as possible."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.