Despite signing with just about all the hype in the world and essentially being made the honorary sixth Beatle (with George Martin already being the fifth), Thiago Alcantara still hasn’t quite hit full stride at Liverpool.
Put down the pitchforks, please. This isn’t us putting him on Bastian Schweinsteiger at Manchester United levels, but the truth is he’s capable of more. Much more. And we’d probably be seeing it now had it not been for pesky injuries to both himself and just about every defender at Liverpool.
Thiago arrived last summer to the delight of fans and understandably so, but testing positive for COVID-19 was followed up by a knee injury, limiting him to just six appearances in all competitions thus far.
It’s been a frustrating start, but one you’d expect him to get over. What could help him ease that process of settling in and subsequently give the Reds the refresher they need is the chance to form a partnership with Curtis Jones – Liverpool’s hottest young prospect and honorary seventh Beatle.
It might sound somewhat absurd to suggest that the key to unlocking a two-time Champions League winner and seven-time Bundesliga winner is by pairing him up with a teenager who has yet to even rack up 50 senior appearances, but there’s method to the madness.
In his 33 appearances so far, Jones has already shown glimpses of why he’s so highly rated by Jurgen Klopp. After breaking into the side during the 2019/20 season, he’s regularly featured as a rotation arm this season and already possesses footballing wisdom beyond his years. Impressive passing is combined with neat dribbling and mobility which allows him to hang with the big boys of the English top flight with such ease.
And with both Jordan Henderson and Fabinho having to perform defensive duties and form a makeshift centre back pairing in the absences of Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, now is as perfect a time as ever to allow Thiago and Jones to form an astute pairing that’s bursting at the seams with creativity and zipped passes.
Twitter compilations aside, there’s serious potential in a Jones/Thiago partnership within a midfield three. When Jones came on for the closing stages during Liverpool’s stalemate against Manchester United, there were glimpses of the partnership then. His presence allowed Thiago to venture into more advanced areas and put his vision to better use.
In the long term, the two could make this a regular fixture. Having Jones and Thiago bounce off one another – protected by a workhorse third man in any of Henderson, Fabinho or Georginio Wijnaldum – could be key to Liverpool finding a change of pace from deeper down the field.
It doesn’t have to be the Thiago show, either. As the more experienced of the pair, there’s no reason why he can’t sit a touch deeper and allow Jones the room to move forward with the ball. The Spaniard possesses a frightening passing range that could be exploited from deep, while Jones can play the advanced role. Granted, someone like Wijnaldum is key to a system like this working in order to provide the balance between defence and attack, thus a replacement for him is still needed.
Still, the potential pairing gives Klopp’s side another dimension and allows them to dominate games from the midfield more often, rather than relying on full backs and forward movement for creativity. And this is without even considering the world of good it does for Jones in the long run; regularly playing alongside someone with a CV and a skillset as well tuned as Thiago provides a constant source of football education, similarly to how David Silva helped to polish Phil Foden in previous seasons.
It’s still very early days and to overhype another English talent so soon would more than likely end up backfiring if not careful. But Jones is already showing exactly why he’s held in such high regard by Klopp and Liverpool fans. Pairing him up with Thiago in a master/apprentice pivot is key to seeing the duo succeed together.