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Thiago Alcantara’s Passing Is Art, Not Paint by Numbers


The temptation is, in fact, to attach that tendency to the game’s growing interest in and reliance on analytics — that is soccer, because the nerds wanted it — and even to the sport’s continuing infiltration by individuals who can only be described as Americans. That will, though, offer only a partial explanation.

Just as relevant, perhaps, is the sport’s talking-point culture, its entrenched tribalism and limitless squabbling for supremacy, its thirst for virality, attention and clout. Cold, hard numbers carry more weight in 280 characters, in any case, than such outdated concepts as metaphor, or allusion.

Regardless of the cause, few have been boiled right down to a succession of numbers quite a lot as Thiago. In his first season and a half in England, it was generally a convenient follow which to beat him: His goal and assist tallies, in any case, hardly indicated that he was a helpful component of Liverpool, let alone an excellent performer.

Belatedly, in the previous few weeks, the dynamic has modified. Thiago had a pass completion rate of 92 percent within the F.A. Cup semifinal victory against Manchester City. He played 129 passes in probably the most recent humbling of Manchester United, and 123 of them found their intended goal.

A couple of days ago, he made more successful passes against Everton than all of his opponents combined. After which, against Villarreal, he turned in 119 touches, 103 passes played, 99 passes accomplished, one hundred pc of tackles won, five interceptions, nine long balls accomplished and one earnest feedback session with a rather unwilling Diogo Jota.

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