When Thiago Alcantara was substituted on for Bayern Munich against Tottenham, I thought of David Alaba, who Thiago replaced. Alaba hadn’t played badly, but sometimes in chaotic games, like Bayern vs. Tottenham before the half, players are sacrificed due to no fault of their own in an effort to gain some control. So off went Alaba and on came Thiago.
Thiago quickly justified the decision. He turned what was an even game, if not leaning in Tottenham’s favor, into a glorified scrimmage Bayern dominated. Adding an extra man in midfield is sensible to gain control, but Thiago in particular injects a sense of calm. When a midfielder can make any pass across the field, as well as move the ball and keep it away from the opponents, the whole team tends to relax.
Tolisso, who was also in midfield, is a good player, but Tottenham’s first goal came when he was pressured into making a bad pass, a mistake that’s hard to imagine Thiago making. After Thiago came on, the difference between the two was made stark. Tolisso looked like an apprentice mimicking, but failing to replicate, the full actions of the genius next to him. Tottenham’s pressure was nullified by the fact Thiago could easily break past defenders with the ball at his feet, or find and exchange passes with an open teammate ahead of him.
Few players in world football are more fun to watch than Thiago. He has all the qualities that make a great midfielder: great intelligence, technical ability, vision, close control and composure. But he also has a sense of style and the spectacular. He doesn’t just make the right decisions, he makes decisions normal players aren’t able to imagine. And he does it all in a very aesthetically pleasing way. He shows off for himself and the crowd.
Now and again, clips of Thiago doing tricks or exchanging long balls with a teammate without the ball touching the ground pop up on social media. They’re wonderful to watch, as well as a showcase of his elite technical ability. Those videos aren’t exclusive to him, though. Many players are capable of the same tricks in practice. The difference is, other players won’t dare try those tricks in games, where there is a chance any mistake could have consequences. Thiago takes those risks. He takes them all the time, and it’s routinely breathtaking.
Thiago plays the game as if he never doubts he can make the no-look pass, bring down a high ball between defenders with a gentle touch, use an elastico to wriggle out of a bad situation, or drop a 60-yard pass onto the feet of a running winger. He has the self-assuredness and imagination of someone who is so gifted that he plays to entertain himself and to test the limits of his own creativity, in a field where his colleagues are struggling to be competent.
This is all a roundabout way to get to the fact that when Thiago came on against Tottenham, after pulling the game to Bayern’s favor, he made this pass to Serge Gnabry for Gnabry’s third goal of the night and it was ridiculously good:
This ball from Thiago tho pic.twitter.com/FhEL6JCihd— Bleacher Report Live (@brlive) October 1, 2019
The pass demanded a great touch and goal from Gnabry. Many times in football, great moments, like this pass, can be lost or dismissed because it ultimately came to nothing. Thankfully, Gnabry made sure that will not be the case.
The game was memorable for the fact Bayern won, 7-2, and for the smaller events within the game, like Gnabry’s four goals, Robert Lewandowski’s spectacular performance, and Tottenham’s collapse in the second half. These events were underlined by Thiago showing why he’s one of the best midfielders in the world. A statement punctuated with a gorgeous and difficult pass that he executed as if it was the most routine thing in the world.