Amid all those accurate passes, it might have been easy to miss some of the passion. In one of the rare moments of the second half when Thiago Alcantara didn’t have the ball, N’Golo Kante was trying to work it through the Liverpool midfield. Thiago himself did a bit of a Kante, however, as he harried the Chelsea midfielder and then wrapped his leg around to brilliantly win the ball in a manner the French international didn’t expect. James Milner immediately went to clasp hands with Thiago, as the Spanish midfielder then offered a little fist pump. There was real vigour to it.
Thiago certainly isn’t lacking in assertiveness. You only have to look at the way he takes the ball on. You only had to hear the way he was issuing instructions to his new teammates here. Thiago was constantly urging Andy Robertson on, for one, and the left-back looks like he’s going to be picked out a lot by the playmaker.
He was released a few times, and it’s a link-up to look out for. It feels like we’re going to see it a lot.
Through the prodding of Thiago - and that includes his words, gestures and his passes - you could visibly see how he was altering the shape of Liverpool, directing the flow of their play. One inevitable consequence was the pattern of play for Sadio Mane’s opening goal. Liverpool were just in synch.
Brilliantly influential as Thiago was, it would be a stretch to say he transformed this game. Liverpool were already on the front foot, and had an extra man. It was inevitable that they would be in control.
What Thiago really did, though, was show them how to best use that control. It was as if he personified and elevated the confidence that now runs through this team. You never once got the sense they were going to waste this opportunity, or make a mess of this game. They were too assured. They had one of the most assured midfielders in the world ready to come on.
It is why, even if Thiago didn’t exactly change this game, he can be a game-changer this season. He can be the difference Liverpool require to make the difference in any title race against Manchester City.
It had felt like the gap between the two might be cut up until his signing. That was not because of any major statement by City, or issue with Liverpool, but more because there is always a danger of a staleness afflicting a side as they reach their third season together.
As we saw with City themselves last season, it doesn’t mean they won’t still be good, but they do just become that bit more susceptible to drop-offs. Opposition teams also become more used to what they do, so can better prepare for them.
Thiago solves two problems in this regard for Liverpool.
He refreshes them, changing the chemistry in the team, but also offers them fresh qualities.
Because of how Jurgen Klopp sets up, that midfield had been more about force and industry than finesse and inspiration. The two number-eights did the pressing and shielding so the full-backs and forwards could wreak havoc.
It did mean they could occasionally lack that perceptive pass. That is what Thiago offers, as well as a whole lot of control.
A solution to a different issue has meanwhile been presented at the other side of midfield, through a very different type of player. Fabinho displayed he can be a more than adequate centre-half option, as he supremely subdued Timo Werner twice. It was all the more impressive given the German forward’s livewire pace.
The Brazilian looked a lot sturdier than most of Chelsea’s centre-half options, and Manchester City’s.
That is another area where Pep Guardiola’s side are short without a major signing, and another area where Liverpool are ahead.
It is why they again look like they may finish ahead of them in the title race.