Jamie Carragher heaps praise on ‘brilliant’ Liverpool star after Champions League win

The Reds were dominant in their 2-0 Champions League win at home to Villarreal but one player caught the eye with a stellar performance.

Jamie Carragher and Michael Owen were in awe of Liverpool midfielder Thiago during his side’s 2-0 Champions League semi-final first-leg win over Villarreal on Wednesday.

The Reds go into next week’s second-leg with a healthy lead thanks to two goals in two second-half minutes, courtesy of a Pervis Estupiñán own-goal and a Sadio Mane finish.

Fortunate though the opening goal was - Jordan Henderson’s drilled cross deflecting heavily off the boot of the Ecuadorian full-back and looping over goalkeeper Gerónimo Rulli - Jurgen Klopp’s side were imperious from start to finish.

Mane poked home a perfectly-timed Mohamed Salah pass - the Egyptian’s seventh Champions League assist for Mane since 2017/2018 - two minutes later to give the Reds a commanding lead going into next week’s second-leg in Spain.

And Thiago embodied the class of a side at the peak of their powers, pulling the strings from midfield and orchestrating attack after attack against a resolute opposition.

First name on the teamsheet

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Carragher, speaking on CBS Sports after the game, labelled Thiago ‘brilliant’ over the last few months, adding he must be one of the first names on the teamsheet.

“He’s been brilliant, he really has,” said Carragher. “In these last three or four months, he has been one of the first names on the teamsheet.

“There was a lot of criticism when he came in because he wasn’t like the other Liverpool midfield players and would Liverpool lose something?

“But the reason they brought him in is that he can provide something different. There was always that debate last season ‘has he fitted in?’ Last season was a write off for Liverpool because of the injuries, also for Thiago as well.

“I think during the last three or four months, not just one of the best Liverpool players. He has possibly been one of the best players in the Premier League. He has made a huge difference to Liverpool.”

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And Carragher isn’t the only former Red heaping the praise on the 31-year-old, with ex-striker Michael Owen adding on BT Sport that he has been one of the most improved players in the world this year.

“There’s nobody that has upped their game in recent times like Thiago,” Owen said.

“A lot of people questioned whether or not he was the right style of player to play in this team, but he’s shown a different edge in recent times.

“We saw his stats there, he’s not a player who just passes it sidewards all of the time, he takes risks as well. The last few games he’s been absolutely sensational.”

Thiago outstanding in recent weeks

The former Bayern Munich man has really come into his own over the last few months, adding an elegance to a Liverpool midfield renowned for it’s industrious workrate.

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His last three games, against Manchester United, Everton and Villarreal, have seen an average of 105 successful passes per game, with an average accuracy of 96% - he missed 13 of a total 11, according to FBRef.

Statistics only tell part of the story, however, and to watch Thiago in motion is one of the most enjoyable things in football.

The ease with which he dictates play, setting the tempo before slicing a pass through a keyhole gap - and the shimmy turns that have become a Thiago staple are a thing of beauty: predictable yet completely undefendable.

At 31 he arguably looks fitter and hungrier than ever, no longer a luxury the relentless pressing machine and now atuned to Klopp’s demands out of possession.

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And here’s a balance to Liverpool’s midfield now, an element of all three styles of midfielder - the defensive destroyer, the industrious box-to-box worker, the maestro - and all of Fabinho, Henderson/Keita and Thiago complement eachother perfectly.

Liverpool and Thiago have to move quickly now to another huge game on Saturday, as they head north to take on an in-form Newcastle United.

Win and they go top, with Manchester City facing Leeds United on Saturday evening.