Paul Tomkins raised an interesting, if somewhat depressing, point in the latest episode of the TTT Podcast. He remarked that Thiago Alcántara, the Reds’ latest midfield maestro, is not going to play as part of Liverpool’s best XI any time soon, having not yet had the chance to either.
You’ll have your own opinion on which players should be in the theoretical top side Jürgen Klopp could assemble, but as Thiago has yet to play even 90 minutes with Alisson Becker, Joe Gomez, Virgil van Dijk and Gini Wijnaldum for starters, and we’re not sure when we’ll next see him wearing the liver bird, few Kopites would argue with Paul’s point.
With such limited playing time (and a third of it against 10 men), clearly any statistics which follow could easily be worthless. They might turn to dust once further evidence has been gathered, even if Thiago’s career to this point suggests otherwise. But what’s also true is that the sum total of his Liverpool career to date has been in difficult matches.
FiveThirtyEight’s expected goal database doesn’t just contain statistics on games which have been played, but also forecasts for matches still to come. Using this data it’s possible to rank the Reds’ league fixtures for 2020/21 from 1 (most difficult) to 38 (easiest) based on their percentage chance of winning the game. The average difficulty rank of a match is therefore 19.5.
For Thiago, it has been 7.5. While the games against Chelsea and Everton were not a two match sequence for Liverpool, they were for their new number six. Of the Reds’ 36 actual two league match pairs this season, only one – which occurs in February when they host Manchester City before heading to Leicester, in a neat inverse of their most recent two matches – is harder than what Thiago has faced.
It’s important to acknowledge this, as it can make a difference. Naby Keïta has amazing stats, but rarely plays in the toughest matches, at least as a proportion of his total anyway. And an algorithm will underrate the difficulty of an away derby, even one played behind closed doors, so perhaps Thiago’s matches have been even more difficult than FiveThirtyEight think.
But now that we’ve established Alcântara hasn’t had it easy so far, what has he achieved?
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