There have been several occasions on which Thiago was highlighted in this blog. Back in 2017 the lively Spaniard was voted as player of the season. With this player of the month title he is once again awarded for his great playing style.
Criticism without reason?
After the rather disappointing finish of last season, the critics raised their voices again. In his column for the German sports paper SportBild former Bayern player and German international Lothar Matthäus proclaimed, that Thiago so far has failed to make an impact on the biggest stage. During the summer the international press connected Thiago to his hometown club Barcelona and even their archrival Madrid.
At the same time Thiago’s qualities are both obvious and unparalleled in the Munich squad.
With the ball at his feet the son of former professional Mazinho is an absolute joy to watch. His first touch is matched by only a few players worldwide. In most situations this short moment combined with a quick body move is enough to open up space. With 93-percent completed passes he is also a very reliable build-up player, who loses the ball only rarely.
Even though the defensive strengths of the Spanish international should be widely known by now, he is often undervalued in this area by the public. This season he has won 67-percent of direct duels with opposing players which is a very good percentage for a central midfielder. Looking at total numbers rather than quota he ranks fourth amongst Bundesliga players with 96 won duels. Furthermore, Thiago excels at intercepting passes and thereby stopping counterattacks early on.
All these qualities were shown once more by Thiago in September. He played a total of five league matches and 376 minutes during which he piled up six interceptions and four clearances. In addition the midfielder took on nine dribbles and assisted three shots on goal. Against Leverkusen he assisted James’ goal to make it 3-1 in the final minutes.
New coach, new role
While the former U21-European-Champion was most often used as one of the offensive-oriented midfielders in Ancelotti’s or Heynckes’ 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 system, Niko Kovac decided to position the Spaniard a little bit deeper.
Because of all the strengths outlined above, this role can be interpreted by Thiago quite well. However, there are still some changes he needs to make to his game. The Spaniard likes to move higher up the pitch in order to pressure the opponent early on. In his new role this creates bigger holes in the defense, which have to be closed by his team members. Thus far theses flaws have led to several easy counter attacks by the opposition.
This is not only an issue for the player though. Niko Kovac will need to refine the whole pressing system and work on group tactics. These moving patterns are very complex though and will need time to implement.
On offense the new position forces some adaptations as well. Obviously, the good passing percentages, overview and creativity of Thiago help Bayern in their build-up play a great deal. However, this often results in a barren midfield as a Thiago-like player is missing.
Without the Spaniard in central midfield the connecting links to the attacking third are missing. In order to avoid the pressure by the opponent the midfield strategist often lays deep. This only leaves him with two options. Either carry the ball up the pitch by himself or pass the ball. However, with the midfield spaces left vacant because e.g. Müller drags out to the wings the passing option often is blocked. All to often Thiago has to abort his attack and pass the ball back to a central defender only to be left in the exact same situation a few minutes later.
Two options to help out the 27-year-old would be to either place a second Thiago-like central midfielder next to him or to let the defensive backs gravitate more to the center of the pitch in order act as additional passing options.
After two unsuccessful weeks in October the new coach Kovac is under massive attack. Together with his coaching staff he will need to find the right answers to the most pressing questions and develop solutions for the outlined problems. No matter what this means for Bayern, it is without question that Thiago will have to play a key role.
Links of the Week
How the 1974 European Cup Final set Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid on Different Paths for Decades | Rahul Warrier | These Football Times
Bayern’s lack of domestic competition means they will be judged again solely on European performance | Raphael Honigstein | ESPN
Transfer cost to assemble the squad: Manchester City at the Top | CIES Football Observatory
ProVision Series – a data profile of Bayern bound Alphonso Davies | Paul Carr | The OptaPro Blog
Bayern are fine, but the Bundesliga may not be | Mike Goodman | Statsbomb
Are Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and Barcelona all in crisis? | Ryan O’Hanlon, Micah Peters and Donnie Kwak | The Ringer
Player turnover strategies in the five major European leagues | MRaffaele Poli, Loic Ravenel and Roger Bresson | CIES Football Observatory
How Hertha Berlin beat Bayern Munich | Max Bergmann | Total Football Analysis
Bayern Munich loanee Timothy Tillman struggling for minutes with FC Nürnberg | Tom Adams | Bavarian Football Works
Real Madrid most stable club in Europe | CIES Football Observatory
Quo Vardis, Juan Bernat? | Tobi | Maurice
Robben’s strike puts Leverkusen away | Christopher | Sam
Sanches impresses with strong performance against Benfica | Justin | Marc
Solid victory against Schalke 04 | Tobi | Sam
FC Bayern rewards strong Augsburg team | Maurice | Dennis
Mailbag September 2018 | Marc
Ajax takes home points against perplexed Bayern | Justin | Dennis
Gladbach throws Bayern into crisis mode | Justin | Dennis
Big Crisis, Big Analysis | Tobias | Marc