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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp claimed the abilities of Thiago Alcantara were possessed by only a few players in the world after the midfielder delivered a masterclass against Manchester United.
Faced with a passive, almost disinterested opposition in the middle of the park, the Spain international, who also played a starring role in the first half of Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester City, had the run of Anfield on Tuesday evening and used it to devastating effect.
The 31-year-old had 129 touches, completed 105 passes at an accuracy rate of 96 per cent (100 per cent for long-ball accuracy), created three chances, won seven out of nine duels, regained possession four times and made two interceptions in the hosts’ 4-0 rout.
“He’s a good player. We have to keep him fit,” Klopp told the BBC.
“He has rhythm now, which helps with these kind of situations to really be in the right spaces, the right little turns, finding the right passes.
“You don’t have five million players like this on the planet – only a few who see things earlier than anyone else and have the technical ability to not only see it but get the ball there as well.
“It was a top game from him.”
Klopp added on Sky Sports: “He is a world-class player. He can be pretty dangerous with and without the ball so, from our point of view, there is really nothing to moan about.
“Football is outstanding, but his counter-pressing was mad. That makes the full package. I couldn’t respect it more.”
When Thiago arrived at the club in September 2020 he was hailed as the missing link which would propel the Reds to the next level.
However, the midfielder’s integration into the team was disrupted as he caught coronavirus soon after signing and a knee injury in the Merseyside derby in October ruled him out for more than two months.
It was to have a lingering effect for the remainder of the campaign and, even this season, it has taken him a while to find his top form but since the turn of the year he has, arguably, developed into an even better player in Klopp’s system than he was at Bayern Munich.
In the last 13 months Liverpool have lost just one match in which Thiago has started – the Champions League last-16 second leg at home to Inter Milan – and his influence continues to grow.
“Thiago played with his slippers on” was former Reds midfielder Don Hutchison’s assessment of his performance against United on the BBC Radio 5 Live’s Football Daily Podcast.
After throwing himself into tackles and chasing down opponents, Thiago, who has often not completed games but has added a physicality to his game since arriving on Merseyside, was replaced in the 80th minute – but not for the reason expected.
“He ripped his pants. No, shorts… afterwards he told me,” Klopp said. “I didn’t get that. I thought it was something else, but obviously that was fine.
“He didn’t want to come off! He wanted to stay on the pitch – I like the desire behind that. He played a proper game.”