Thiago Alcântara’s Spanish mystery will divide opinion among fans of Liverpool and Jürgen Klopp

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Breathless, glowing and dragged fiercely into extra time, a 5-3 thriller saw Spain finally overcome Croatia’s reluctant reluctance to be beaten in the Euro round of 16 on Monday.

Having sailed through Group E and into the quarter-finals in an exciting way, at least one talking point for Liverpool fans is the puzzling omission of Thiago Alcântara from the starting lineup.

Spain’s draws against Sweden and Poland gave oceans of possession (85% and 76.4% respectively) but revealed difficulty in finding the target. The promise of things to come prompted Luis Enrique to compare his side to a bottle of Cava waiting to be uncorked. While this is quite a different mix (and certainly from a different source), Champagne football has certainly started to sink for Spain.

After two games that have scored ten goals in five days for Spain, perhaps one of the reasons for such a turnaround in results (and Thiago’s absence) is perhaps the impact of Pedri González , 18 years old. His 114 times in the last third of the Euro are the highest to date at Euro 2020.

Pedri’s early mastery of midfielder against Croatia, combined with the steel of Rodri and Koke’s experience, formed a formidable midfielder trio.

Perhaps another reason for Thiago’s lack of departure is a combination of that midfield balance and Pedri’s purring in his status as Spain’s elected prince. The Barcelona teenager was also involved in three of the five goals which saw Spain decimate an admittedly calamitous Slovakia and finally ignite its ambitions at the Euro.

After 71 minutes in the win, one of the double substitutions saw Busquets, playing in his defensive mantle, replaced by Thiago – with his opportunity, the Liverpool midfielder made more tackles than any other Spanish player although he only played a little less than 20 minutes. He provided a solid base in midfield and denied Slovak views on goal

Surprisingly, Thiago was named BBC Sport’s Player of the Match for his performance despite scoring five goals before entering the pitch. Elsewhere, Pablo Sarabia’s hugely influential first start – including a goal and an assist – was perhaps more recognizable as the Man of the Match.

While Cava is afloat and Spanish football sparkling, a very recent recency bias belies the team’s previously outlet potential. At the time, for lack of finishing the number, Thiago’s relative elusiveness wasn’t necessarily the problem. The finish was. A third explanation for his hiatus.

Abandoned, frustrated and totally dominant in their first goalless game against Sweden, Enrique’s side couldn’t force the point. Passmaster, the inclusion of Thiago would surely only have gilded the lily.

Despite a remarkable 85% possession, their efficient building game was undermined by unnecessary finishing touches, including brilliant opportunities for Álvaro Morata, Dani Olmo and Koke. 17 shots (five on target) weren’t converted into anything other than a strong inspiration.

In the first half alone, Spain played 419 assists – the highest number in the first 45 minutes of a European Championship game since Opta’s record-breaking 1980 began. whistle, they had completed 954.

Tiki-taka dominated his dominance of international football between 2008-2012, a period that saw Spain win a World Cup and two euros. Lessons can still be learned from the old vintage, but success in this year’s incarnation will only come with defensive resilience and a mix of short passes, quick moves and genuine offensive intent in the game. last third.

In the Swedish opener, Thiago replaced Rodrigo from Manchester City to enter in the 65th minute and impact the proceedings, but to no avail. Despite a poor finish being the villain of the play, Marca painted Thiago in largely dismissive strokes in their post-match standings: “He wanted to be the protagonist but he alternated good circulation with erratic passes and bad decisions. . He didn’t show any arguments to be a starter.

Following the wrath of the Spanish press, La Roja played a relatively calm 1-1 draw with Poland in their next game – a game in which Thiago failed to make it to the bench. Retaining the same midfield as Sweden’s draw, Enrique faced Koke, Rodri and a bubbling Pedri. A team-wide display of careful passing and a largely uncreative approach resulted in the second draw, against Poland.

After two draws gave way to two wildly effervescent wins, Thiago still played a combined total of just 44 minutes. But with Rodri and Busquets vying for the defensive midfield starts, the ubiquitous Koke and Pedri realizing his youthful potential on the international stage, Thiago may have to wait for his moments to contribute to Spain’s Euro campaign. .

With a quarter-final set against Switzerland on July 2, the stage may well be set for two representatives of Liverpool to face each other. Xherdan Shaqiri and Thiago, the Swiss against Spain. The irony being that Shaqiri, who rarely starts for the Reds, plays for the Swiss, while the pillar of Jürgen Klopp warms up the bench of La Roja.


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