Manchester City’s comeback win against Newcastle last weekend was painful viewing for Liverpool fans. Newcastle were on the ropes and clinging for dear life but just as it seemed they might hold out for a point, to deny City a precious full three points, Kevin De Bruyne and Oscar Bobb combined to produce some brilliance.
De Bruyne’s cameo off the bench was typically brilliant. He marked his first Premier League appearance since the opening day of the season on August 11 with a clever low finish to make it 2-2 at St James’ Park before a beautiful pass through to Bobb, whose stoppage-time winner was majestic and Luis Suarez-like.
The result moves City two points behind top-of-the-table Liverpool with both having played 20 games. Jurgen Klopp’s team can at least temporarily make it a five-point gap again today (4.30pm) at Bournemouth, with City not playing in the league again until the 31st when they are at home to Burnley.
But while De Bruyne’s return creates some dread on Merseyside, Liverpool have a world-class player of their own currently on ice and hopeful of a return for the business end of the campaign. Thiago Alcantara is Klopp’s most technically gifted midfielder but has not played since April 26.
After undergoing hip surgery last May, the classy Spaniard still has yet to kick a ball competitively after suffering multiple setbacks. The hope at Anfield is that he will be back in training in February, with the 32-year-old – out of contract in the summer – then expected to be slowly eased back in.
It might be March before he plays again, certainly in terms of starting matches. But a quick look at Liverpool’s March and April schedule – before potential Europa League and FA Cup games are added in – shows just how valuable it would be to have the controlling Thiago back to mix into their rejuvenated midfield.
In March, Liverpool face Nottingham Forest away, Man City at home, Everton away and Brighton at home. In April, Sheffield United visit Anfield before Liverpool go to Old Trafford to face Manchester United. Then comes a home match against Crystal Palace followed by trips to Fulham and West Ham.
And May’s final three Premier League matches consist of Tottenham at home, Aston Villa away – and Villa currently have the best home record of any team in the league (W9, D1, scored 29, conceded 8) – and Wolves at home.
It is entirely possible the Reds also have six Europa League games (round of 16, quarter-finals and semi-finals) and two FA Cup games (quarter-final and semi-final) in amongst those too.
Having a fresh Thiago to help lift the load off the likes of Alexis Mac Allister, Dominik Szoboszlai and Curtis Jones would be extremely helpful. He won’t have as much of a say as De Bruyne in attack, but the Spain international offers the kind of quality on the ball only Trent Alexander-Arnold can really match in the Liverpool team. There are few like him across the whole of Europe.
Even if he’s initially restricted to 20 or 30-minute cameos, the tempo-setting Thiago can come on to help the Reds see out matches. That will be a precious commodity if Liverpool’s fixture schedule is as hectic as it could be, with the potential to go deep in three cup competitions as well as maintaining a title tilt.
Thiago’s quality on the ball is a weapon Klopp will be desperate to utilise as soon as possible. And such artillery could go a long way for the German and his players in what looks to be another title race set to go down to the wire.