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Thiago Alcântara: Manchester United Scouting Report

Last week, the Mirror’s Alan Nixon reported that incoming Manchester United manager David Moyes will make an audacious move for Barcelona youngster Thiago Alcantara by activating his £15million buy-out clause.

The Spaniard has been heavily linked with United over the past couple of weeks, having become frustrated with the lack of first-team opportunities at the Nou Camp.

What follows is a scouting report of Thiago and how he might not fit into Moyes’ plans at Old Trafford.


Attributes

Being a La Masia graduate, Thiago has the Barcelona-DNA embedded in him.

In his entire professional career so far, Thiago has played in teams that like to press high up the pitch and his stamina allows him to maintain such a pressure on the opposition throughout the course of a match.

David Moyes, however, has never really put emphasis on ball-retention, and hence, Thiago might need time to adapt to a completely new approach in which he’ll need to sit back and be patient, rather aggressively press in the attacking third.

When we talk about his main attributes, Thiago is undoubtedly one of the best passers in Europe. The 22-year-old also has a wide vision and likes to dictate the tempo of the game. His awareness and understanding is a class above most of the players in the same age-bracket.

He always looks over his shoulders while receiving the ball, searching for open teammates or space and already thinking about his next move. Moreover, Thiago’s first touch is exemplary and enables him to get a few yards away from his marker.

His ball control is equally impressive. He gets dispossessed only 1.3 times per game, and even against physically strong player, he doesn’t lose his control.

Opposing teams often try to outnumber Thiago when he tries to directly run at them. The lad remains calm in such situations and plays a quick pass to one his open teammates to continue the flow of the attack.

The Spain international’s technique, ball control and vision are so developed that a considerable chunk of Thiago’s passes are one-touch passes.

When he is not looking to make a pass, Thiago produces attacking runs towards the final third.

He’s got ample pace and quick feet to torment the defenders. Many people compare him to Xavi Hernandez, but his willingness to get forward makes Thiago more of a hybrid between Xavi and Andres Iniesta.


How He Exactly Plays

Thiago’s favorite area to operate in is not ahead of the backline, but in the space between the opposing midfield and backline (or slightly ahead of the midfield)

He likes to receive the ball in that zone and from there, he either continues the flow of the game by playing quick one-touch passes to the attackers (mainly wingers) or he might make an attacking run on his own.

When he thinks the team is struggling to make any attacking progress from the defensive third, Thiago might drop deep to commence attacks. Thus, Thiago’s role can vary on where he gets the ball.

Sometimes, if he feels the centre of the park is too congested, the Spain U-21 captain may shift the play out wide.

Similarly, if he thinks a particular wing is overloaded with personnel, he switches the side of action. Thiago’s wonderful long ball skills allow him to excel in this avenue.

Thiago also likes optimal freedom on the pitch. He doesn’t want to play as a static deep-lying midfielder. Instead, he likes venturing all over the field to receive possession and distribute it effectively to keep the momentum going, as can be seen from his following two pass charts against Espanyol.

thiago_5

thiago_1

He usually stays away from the ‘action areas’ as his job is to present himself as a passing outlet for his teammates. If he spends too much time in these ‘action areas’, Thiago is likely to be marked and hence, his colleagues lose their field general.


Problem for fitting at United

Thiago operates best when he has a defensive midfielder playing behind him.

Many people believe he can play in place of Michael Carrick but the truth is Alcantara is a much more adventurous and attacking minded midfielder.

Moreover, he’s always played in a three-man midfield at Barcelona and Spain, with a midfielder behind him who gives Thiago the license to roam all over the pitch.

If Thiago takes up the Carrick role, due to his willingness to press and get forward, United will have no one to close down the space in front of the back-four.

I’ve used the following two ‘action areas’ graphs to highlight the massive difference between the two players.

Carrick spends most of the time sitting just in front of his defenders and rarely looks to exploit the space in between the lines.

On other hand, Thiago spends relatively much less time in the deep lying midfield role (as Alex Song was playing behind him) and looks more interested in playing in between the zones.

thiago_3

thiago_4

Now, the ‘other’ midfield role under David Moyes will be of the box-to-box midfielder, for which United are likely to buy Kevin Strootman.

As it is, Thiago doesn’t fill in over here either- he can supplement the attack, but with an average of just two defensive actions per match, the Spain international is clearly not a ball-winner.

What Thiago does is that he forms the chain between the two ends of the pitch. He can link Carrick with the wingers and the strikers. Moreover, he can also fall back to start attacks if Carrick is unable to do so. However, to accommodate Thiago, Untied will need to play a three-man midfield, something that could threaten Shinji Kagawa’s potential match time next term.

Frankly, Thiago will need ample time to adapt to a two-man midfield pivot and he’s not quite the kind of player who will suit Moyes’ direct attacking approach. He’s just someone who links up the loose strings creatively in the centre of the park and keep the game flowing.

thiago_2

What do you think about Manchester United’s interest in Thiago Alcântara?

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By Surya

Surya Solanki is a freelance football writer covering the Premier League and African football. Being an avid Manchester United supporter for the past ten years, something always motivated him to go beyond just being a spectator, and gradually he began blogging about his views. He is currently a Manchester United critic at Goal.com and a correspondent for Football.com.

15 replies on “Thiago Alcântara: Manchester United Scouting Report”

man he and excellent and cud be good for manu but for case of the player, he should stay in barca. his time will come. very excellent player. kagawa players ina similar attackin way.

Yes but (if we factor in a possible Wayne Rooney transfer) what about playing Kagawa uptop behind RVP. Then if Moyesy still insists on a 4 man mid he can play Carrick and Strootman at the center then, with his propensity to play slightly off the middle, thiago ( factoring a further Nani transfer) and Zaha/Valencia on the wings. Thats a Champion side for sure!

I think that alcantara is the next iniesta and plays similarly, also he is so much better than kagawa. Would be a great buy for £15 million would be cheaper than fabregas and other attacking playmakers linked with us. GGMU

I think the best option and something that has not been mentioned is a 4/3/3 formation. ..with carrick central, strootman to the left (and playing the box to box role), thiago to the right of carrick playing more offensively. ..with kagawa..playing behind van persie (supported by one other…be it a striker o another offensive player alongside shinji) the cohesion and fluidity that we take place between those players (and throw in a potential bale o ronaldo) ) would be something to consider!

I don’t care united must pull all stops to get him we have been looking for a lo g term replacement for Paul Scholes and ot looks like we might have finally found one and for a ship at £18 million especially considering the asking price of most players? I know its just the under 21’s but he was outstanding against Italy tonight git a great hatrick? Regardles about how hes gonna fit in hes a qaulity attacking and creative midfielder who is only gonna get better over the next 4 to 5 years he is are priority before any other buy

Carrick Defensive Thiago in the right and Kagawa in the left,and Ronaldo,R Van Persie,Ronney in the top,we should win all tounerment. G G Man U

He is quality, we should sign him and Strootman up now and work it out later, we have seen Scholes retire this season and Giggs will retire next season so we are replacing two legends of Utd with two of the outstanding young midfield talents in world football for about 30mil, good business I reckon.

I agree as i was saying its rare at the minute to get top quality players for a realistic price that’s why strootman and alcantara arre a must

Please buy these players nowadays its extremely difficult to buy good and top talents as them at such a cheaper price. These players are match winner which we have been missing since Paul Scholes was in top form

exactly spot on….. I totally agree with what u said…. it is hard for united to let their mid field roam around because of have only two in the middle…. and the spark of kagawa will be lost if alcantara comes in…. the other option is for moyes to change his philosophy or the united philosophy which I think is not easy to do,,,

[…] djöflarnir verða að sjálfsögðu með puttann á púlsinum. Á meðan getið þið lesið þessa grein sem kafar rækilega ofan í það hvernig leikmaður Thiago Alcántara er og slúðrað um þetta og annað hér fyrir […]

If signed, Thiago will slot in beside Carrick in our 2 man midfield. Carrick will be our Defensive Midfielder and give Thiago the opportunity to roam as he see’s fit. Just like Keane and Scholes of the past.

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