Soccer

Van Dijk’s positive impact on Thiago at Liverpool has overwhelming evidence

Liverpool midfielder Thiago could be set for a huge boost as Virgil van Dijk was pictured back in training on Friday.

Champions League winning midfielder Thiago has not lit up Anfield like many predicted, and has attracted criticism for his lack of defensive work ethic.

For a team missing three centre-backs, that is not really what you want from a midfielder, especially in Jurgen Klopp’s system which relies heavily on the middle men playing box-to-box.

Thiago showed that he is capable of playing in that role in the win over RB Leipzig in midweek, dominating on the ball and off it.

But he might not have to, with Virgil van Dijk back in training.

The Dutchman isn’t expected to return next week, and is facing a lengthy rehabilitation programme alongside Joe Gomez.

But Van Dijk’s influence on Thiago has already been noticed, even though they only played 54 minutes together.

That came in the win over Chelsea earlier this campaign when Sadio Mane’s quick fire double put the Blues to the sword.

Thiago came on in off the bench at half time, and lit the game up in truth, showing his passing fine range and how he can dictate the pace of a match.

That was no doubt because he knew he had Van Dijk right behind him to back him up, showing that when he knows he has a backline he can trust, he can play his natural way.

Thiago and Van Dijk also played together briefly in the Merseyside derby as the Reds took an early lead before that fatal challenge from Jordan Pickford.

Jamie Carragher, who has labelled Thiago a “defensive liability”, thinks that the Reds performances have been poorer on the whole given their injury woes, and Thiago has been made to bare the brunt for some of that.

“Thiago has not changed Liverpool as much as many believe” Carragher told The Telegraph. “The world around him and Liverpool has changed. When the midfield reassembles, even if Thiago does exactly what he has been doing for the last three months, perceptions will shift.

“At 30, his game won’t change at Liverpool. He won’t get quicker. His passing will always be outstanding. He excels on the ball more than he does without it. That was his game at Bayern. That’s how it has been at Liverpool.

“The problem in this tough period of acclimatisation is the chain reaction of the club’s injury crisis, with Fabinho and Henderson moving into defence. That means Thiago has replaced, not added to or enhanced, the existing team structure.

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“I never believed Thiago was signed to play every game. Klopp would have okayed the deal with a plan in mind as he looked to introduce an extra five or 10 per cent into a winning machine. Instead, the pounding heartbeat of the team was lost.

“That means Liverpool’s results have been poorer than Thiago's performances. So while we may not think we are seeing the best of him now, it is wise to hold fire before suggesting this is a high-profile deal which has not worked.”

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