On the final whistle, Thiago Alcantara applauded the Liverpool fans in the West Stand and strolled over to Mohamed Salah, giving a stare that suggested he knew exactly how good his performance had been.
A few minutes earlier, the Spaniard had trapped a high ball with his chest while under the attention of Riyad Mahrez, moved away from his opponent and struck a half-volley that found Salah 50 yards away on the opposite side of the pitch.
The pass was merely one of the many highlights in arguably Thiago’s finest display during his two seasons in England. His first-half assist was an illustration of how he controlled the midfield, exchanging passes before moving his team forward and chipping the ball perfectly for Sadio Mane to finish.
It was a display that recalled Andrea Pirlo dominating the area of the pitch where matches are won and lost, dictating his team’s pace and almost always being positive in possession. Jurgen Klopp believed his midfield trio functioning so well helped produce one of the finest 45 minutes of football he had seen.
“Thiago’s was a top performance,” he said. “The whole midfield, Naby [Keita] and Fab [Fabinho] too, that was football. There were a lot of top-class individual performances.”
Mane got the headlines, but the performance was underpinned by Thiago’s control, his coolness in the face of a Fernandinho intent on battering Manchester City back into the FA semi-final. Early on, the City captain took aim at Thiago’s left ankle as he went through the back of him. He has taken his knocks during his time at Anfield. In his first season, he was sidelined by Richarlison’s wild tackle during a Merseyside derby.
Thiago was brought in to help Liverpool defend their title, but at times he was seen as a luxury player and it has taken him time to show his class. At the business end of his sophomore campaign, having a proven winner in the squad could be an important part of the next five weeks for Liverpool.
Thiago’s CV includes four La Liga titles and seven Bundesliga triumphs. Now he is aiming to join Arjen Robben as a player who has won titles in England, Spain and Germany. There is no panic in his game. When City fought back at Wembley, his game did not change.
Over the next seven Premier League games, Champions League and FA Cup ties, there will be moments when his calmness will get his team out of trouble.