Thiago Alcantara’s Liverpool performance at Leeds United justifies Jurgen Klopp’s bold transfer decision

The Spain international delivered an all-action display to help the Reds to a 3-0 victory at Leeds United.

Jurgen Klopp remained unmoved by the clamour from supporters to replace Gini Wijnaldum.

Even when probed by the media about fans’ concerns regarding the void the Dutchman’s departure had left, the Liverpool boss vehemently defended his stance.

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Despite Wijnaldum making 51 appearances last season - the joint-most along with Mo Salah - Klopp was confident his midfield options could forge a Premier League title charge.

Thiago Alcantara was one player he had the utmost faith in to take up the mantle.

Liverpool’s lynchpin

When the Spain international signed, excitement among Kopites was palpable.

Someone who had just won the Champions League and Bundesliga double with Bayern Munich was lured to Anfield. His capture was regarded as a real coup.

Yet Thiago's maiden season on Merseyside reflected Liverpool's. Stuttering, injury-ravaged and a far cry from what the previous few years had yielded.

He totalled only 30 appearances in all competitions and sections of fans questioned if he was up to the physicality of the Premier League.

However, Thiago's display in the 3-0 victory at Leeds on Sunday embodied why he was recruited.

In a game overshadowed by Harvey Elliott's cruel ankle injury and Mo Salah becoming the latest player to reach 100 Premier League goals, the 30-year-old was Liverpool's linchpin.

LEEDS, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 12: Harvey Elliott of Liverpool applauds the fans as he leaves the pitch on a stretcher following an injury during the Premier League match between Leeds United and Liverpool at Elland Road on September 12, 2021 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

That’s a stat

Against a high-octane Leeds side, Thiago was selected over the ever-energetic duo of Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita to provide what was abundantly paramount on the day: control.

Liverpool needed someone to have the bravery to take an extra touch amid a frenetic engine room and the vision to pick out the spare many when being closed down by frenzied white shirts.

As per FBref.com, Thiago completed 58 of his 61 passes - which works out at 95.1% - and made him the most successful for the Reds in the category.

In terms of long passes, seven were attempted and each one found its intended target.

Thiago's crisp distribution got its rewards with a stoppage-time assist when he picked out Sadio Mane, who rounded off the visitors' victory.

A telling pre-cursor

Perhaps part of Klopp's process when selecting Thiago was down to last season's trip to Elland Road.

The ex-Barcelona midfielder started the 1-1 draw in April. It was the beginning of a run of seven successive starts, which saw Liverpool secure what had seemed an impossible third-place finish.

Thiago Alcantara in action against Leeds last season. Picture: CLIVE BRUNSKILL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

According to WhoScored.com, Thiago's second-best performer that evening. He was given a match rating of 7.12, with only goalscorer Mane (7.33) proving better.

Thiago registered a similar impressive passing success rate to yesterday of 92.7%, while 16 of his 17 long balls were also on the money.

Klopp evidently did his due diligence of the last meeting.

Fabinho partnership

Thiago couldn't have enjoyed such a swashbuckling afternoon without the assistance of Fabinho, however.

The Brazilian hadn't been expected to play after being blocked from international duty by the Reds before the ban was waived late on Friday night.

Fabinho might have swept home Liverpool's second goal in the 49th minute but it was his protection that proved fundamental.

Fabinho celebrates with Thiago Alcantara after netting Liverpool’s second goal at Leeds. Picture: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

He was the enforcer who sniffed out the danger, allowing Thiago to play slightly more advanced.

Let's not underestimate Thiago's defensive contributions, though. In total, he completed six tackles and interceptions. Fabinho only produced one more.

The partnership is something Klopp was deprived of for much of last season due to Thiago's injuries and Fabinho often having to be deployed as a centre-back amid a defensive crisis.

But it's one the Liverpool boss will be acutely aware can be a potent weapon.

The Leeds win was just the ninth time they were paired together in midfield. It yielded an eighth victory, with the other game ending a draw. A truly remarkable record.

If Klopp can keep the duo available then, from what we have already seen, they could forge a rapport that can provide the bedrock for a push at the Premier League title.