Jürgen Klopp has never been in any doubt. Many questioned it after a disrupted debut season, but the manager has always known that Thiago is a perfect fit for Liverpool. Having just been included in the PFA Team of the Year, the Spaniard is belatedly getting his recognition.
The line that the former Bayern Munich man is stylistically unsuited to Liverpool looks particularly absurd in light of the campaign just gone. Klopp has made one or two tweaks to help get the absolute best out of his mercurial midfielder, but for the most part it is the same system: the personnel have simply been upgraded.
Pressing statistics collated by the Anfield Index ‘Under Pressure’ podcast give a vivid depiction of just how adeptly Thiago has settled into his new environment. Arriving with a reputation as a smooth, silky playmaker, he finished the season as the most voracious presser in the Liverpool team.
His pressing, just like his passing, is considered. Volume is coupled with quality. Only two Liverpool players finished the season with a higher press efficiency than Thiago. Klopp has been comprehensively vindicated in his belief that the midfielder would fit the system.
Nonetheless, there can be no argument that bringing Thiago to Liverpool was a departure from usual FSG policy. Already 29 when he joined, he is now 31. He has the aura of a player who could go on forever, but the Premier League is an unforgiving division, particularly in midfield. The pace of it will eventually catch up to him.
Together, FSG and Klopp made the decision that the deal would nonetheless be well worth it in order to get Thiago’s remaining prime years. Despite effectively losing one of those years to the 2020/21 debacle, that maths probably still adds up. He is a truly elite player, and he was a big part in taking Liverpool to the brink of an historic quadruple. But that does not change the fact that planning for the future needs to begin sooner rather than later.
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Thankfully, Klopp already has the answer right in front of him, and a quick look back at the pressing statistics helps prove it. Of the two players to press more efficiently than Thiago, one is a fellow midfielder, and he is more than a decade the Spaniard’s junior. Harvey Elliott looks extremely well-suited to inheriting the role.
Klopp already showed last season that he has no qualms about trusting Elliott. A serious injury issue derailed his early progress, and Liverpool’s intense end-of-season run-in was hardly the time to be experimenting too much. But prior to that, the teenager was entrusted with a starting berth against Chelsea, and did not look at all out of place.
Everything looks primed for a gradual changing of the guard. This will be a slow process: there is absolutely no need to usher Thiago out just yet, and Elliott has many years ahead of him. He recently declared a desire to stay at Liverpool for his entire career. But the England under-21 international will be targeting slightly more regular minutes next season, and it would be no surprise if Klopp handed them to him as a way of giving his far more senior colleague some rest.
A young, enthusiastic player would be expected to be among the top pressers in terms of volume, but the fact that Elliott is the most efficient in the Liverpool squad says a lot about his maturity. He has that same considered nature as Thiago, something which translates to all aspects of his play. Klopp saw that in him: that’s why he quickly moved him into midfield upon his return from loan at Blackburn Rovers.
Perhaps, then, Elliott is not so much a new ‘pressing monster’ as he is a pressing maestro. But whatever label is most appropriate, Klopp knows that the youngster can have a massive future in this Liverpool team. The fact that he could be the heir to Thiago might just be the highest compliment he could get.