Pretty big shoes to fill for anyone, but one gifted Spaniard is doing just that, excelling with his club, Bayern Munich, and establishing himself as the new lynchpin of the national team’s midfield; Thiago Alcantara.
In the 2016/17 campaign, the La Masia graduate has become the complete midfield entity, a small-statured star blessed with elegance, outrageous skill and the ability to slice opponents to pieces with passing so accurate it almost defies the human anatomy.
At this moment in time, there is no midfielder in the world quite like the Spaniard. Some statistics from Squawka reinforce this philosophy that Thiago is unique, a player who exerts ridiculous levels of skill but also does the dirty work.
Thiago is the only player in Europe’s top 5 leagues to complete 2,000+ passes & make 100+ interceptions.
Wins the ball. Keeps the ball. ? pic.twitter.com/mP1TB38m7g
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 28, 2017
It is almost bordering on the ridiculous, completing such a volume of passes while also winning back possession, what more do you need from a midfielder? The driving force of a team that picks the pockets of opponents? It sounds almost too farfetched to be true.
In the Premier League, N’Golo Kante has received deserved acclaim for his ability to break up the play but the Frenchman’s passing ability and nous with the ball at his feet leaves a lot to be desired. Frank Lampard recently said he believed the Chelsea star to be the finest midfielder in world football but the English pundit simply has to take one glance over at Bavaria to see the true winner of that accolade.
Thiago has grown in stature at the Allianz Arena; arriving as a slightly raw and under appreciated talent at Barcelona. The 26-year-old was brought to Germany by Pep Guardiola who knew from his time in Catalunya that the Spaniard had the makings of a midfield master.
Until this campaign, the glimpses of quality shown by Thiago were heavily undermined by niggly fitness issues but now, with a fully fit season under his belt, the rest of the footballing world has acknowledged his class. Despite not possessing ridiculous statistical proof of his success in 2016/17 – five goals and five assists in 26 league games – those who watch him know his impact upon matches runs far deeper.
Thiago has won a league title in eight of his nine top-flight seasons as a player:
Serial winner pic.twitter.com/DAzyZRVZJU
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 29, 2017
Carlo Ancelotti is the man who held the key to unlocking the talent which Guardiola knew would dominate the Bundesliga. The Italian threw away the original blueprint that the Spaniard was a deep-lying central midfielder and instead, gave him freedom, a number 10 position behind Robert Lewandowski with which to weave his artistry.
It is from here that Thiago has distributed the ball to the likes of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben while putting teams on the back foot, giving Bayern the most imaginative entity in the middle of the park. He will never be a number 10 such as Frank Lampard or Dele Alli – who are famed for their goalscoring prowess – however, his contribution is far more than simply putting the ball in the opponents net.
He is everywhere, averaging 119 touches per game; in contrast, Alli made just 16 touches in the 2-0 win over Arsenal. Never shying away from the limelight, Thiago’s potential knows no bounds and at just 26, Guardiola’s past project still has his peak years ahead of him – a scary thought for all opponents.