Thiago Alcantara knows that each time he pulls on the Bayern Munich shirt could be the last. The unforgiving single-tie knockout format of the Champions League, enforced for one season as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, leaves no margin for error for Bayern and their influential midfielder.
Despite his abundant quality, Thiago looks set to leave Bayern once their Champions League campaign is concluded. Bayern coach Hansi Flick has indicated that the club will grant Thiago his wish to leave, and the Spaniard is available for €30 million ($35.3 million).
His most likely destination remains Anfield, the home of English and current European champions Liverpool, as hinted at this week by Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge: “Thiago is 29 and as soon as you reach your thirties it’s more difficult to find a top club in Europe, so you have to have some understanding,” he said. “Thiago played at a top club in Spain, a top club in Germany, so maybe he’d like to join a top club in England.”
Made in Barcelona
A graduate of the renowned La Masia academy in Barcelona, Thiago made his name as part of Guardiola’s Barcelona team, before Guardiola brought his prized asset with him to Bavaria in 2013, making him his first, and arguably most important, signing.
It’s quite clear that Flick also has the highest regard for his midfield maestro, but it’s perhaps that same admiration for Thiago’s personal and professional demeanour that means Flick doesn’t want to stand in his way of a move, with only a couple of peak years ahead of the player,
“As a person and sportsman I can understand Thiago,” Flick told German tabloid SportBild on Wednesday. “He wants a new challenge, which in my opinion must mean the Premier League.”
When Bayern and Barcelona meet on Friday, it will be a resumption of a classic duel and a locking horns of old foes. Lionel Messi’s meme-friendly mockery of Jerome Boateng at Camp Nou in 2015 comes to mind, when Barca disposed of Bayern 3-0 in the semifinal first leg, paving the way for the Catalans to reach a final in Berlin that Pep Guardiola’s Bayern were desperate to be a part of.
There was also the 2013 semifinal meeting when a Thomas Müller-inspired Bayern won 7-0 over two legs. In fact, the last two occasions these two have met in the competition the victor has gone on to lift the trophy.
Of the survivors from the 2015 Bayern team that are likely to start in Lisbon – Manuel Neuer, Robert Lewandowski, Müller, Boateng and Thiago – it’s the Spaniard that inextricably links the two clubs.
Neuer vs. Ter Stegen
Another intriguing subplot in this heavyweight bout is that of the two men in goal. Still in Neuer’s shadow in Joachim Löw’s eyes, Marc-Andre ter Stegen could be forgiven for wondering what more he needs to do to be considered Germany’s No.1.
Ter Stegen voiced some frustration with the situation last year, but to no avail. He has saved some of his best performances for the Champions League, conceding just seven goals so far, and was particularly impressive in the goalless draw at Borussia Dortmund in September, when he also saved a penalty.
In La Liga last season, Ter Stegen played 36 games and conceded 36 goals, which is actually statistically just a shade worse than his previous three seasons as Barcelona’s goalkeeper but still a fine return. The problem for Ter Stegen is that Neuer shows no sign of relenting — despite making a rare mistake against Chelsea last week.
“I think you can say they are the two best goalkeepers in the world,” Bayern’s Leon Goretzka said. “We are really blessed with goalkeepers in Germany. It’s good for us to have Manuel at the back. The security he exudes and the experience he brings is good for every team in the world.”
Friday will be another opportunity for both goalkeepers to demonstrate on the biggest stage that they are Germany’s finest.