Amidst the hullabaloo surrounding Liverpool’s flying start to the season, it has been easy to overlook the fact that the team managed most of it without the help of one of its key players, Thiago Alcântara. As has often been the case in his career, Thiago has spent much of the season injured. Now, however, he is healthy again. And as has often been the case in his career, Thiago has spent much of his time on the pitch absolutely dazzling.
Sunday’s match against Southampton put a great big bow on a sensational week for the Spanish midfielder. After suffering a calf injury in the middle of September, Thiago spent the rest of that month and all of October recovering. A couple substitute appearances in early November, plus a nice long rest during the international break, were enough to get him fit enough for major playing time. The past week has seen Liverpool welcome Arsenal, Porto, and Southampton to Anfield, and Thiago was able to start in all three matches. Relatedly, Liverpool won all of them, by a combined score of 10–0.
Everyone knows what a genius Thiago is with the pass, and he has gotten right back to his imperious best since returning from injury. But what’s fascinated me most about his recent jaunts on the grass has been something a little smaller: his total technical perfection. Perfection is the first word that comes to mind when I think about Thiago. Everything about the way he plays, from how he touches the ball to where he moves it to how he moves his body along with it, simply oozes intentionality and precision. Just look at how perfect his goal against Southampton was:
Those three little touches are everything. Running onto a looping headed clearance, Thiago gives the falling ball a single prod and it is instantly settled, compliant, rolling at the exact speed and angle its new master has commanded. The second touch is the real doozy. With his body contorted to telegraph a right-footed curler to the far post, at the moment everyone expects him to detonate the shot he instead drags the studs of his boots over the top of the ball to delicately spin it toward his left side. That feint then effortlessly flows into a powerful stroke with his left foot, a shot you get the feeling would’ve hurtled into the net even if the Southampton defender’s deflection hadn’t sent the ball past his wrong-footed keeper. The whole move is just gorgeous.
And that wasn’t even his purest hit of the week. Just a few days earlier, he scored with an even more perfect touch against Porto, with a strike the commentator rhapsodized by saying, correctly, “You cannot hit a football more sweetly than that.”
Thiago has magic in his feet. With any given touch, he’s able to turn a ball into a diamond. His first season at Liverpool probably wasn’t as flashy as it could’ve been, and he’s already missed a good chunk of this one. But now we get to see just how many diamonds he can create as part of what is already a glittering team.