As the Bayern Munich storm raged around Barcelona in Lisbon one man stood at its centre, bending everything to his will.
Thiago Alcantara left the Estadio da Luz with his former club annihilated and his own reputation soaring.
From no-look passes and nimble flicks to arcing aerial balls, the Spain international was the chief surgeon in a brutal dissection of Barca, and showed exactly why Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp is so in awe of his talents.
Yet the performance itself may have done more bad than good for Liverpool, who have been linked with a move for the 29-year-old all summer.
Match those dizzy heights in tonight’s Champions League semi-final against Lyon, and every big club in Europe should surely be knocking on Bayern’s door asking about Thiago.
Thiago has already expressed a desire to walk away from Bavaria and take on a fresh challenge, and holds dreams of playing in the Premier League.
Bayern chief Karl-Heinz Rummenigge made clear recently that his side are willing to sell Thiago this summer, in order to recoup a transfer fee before he becomes a free agent next year. Yet they are only prepared to do so at a ‘fair’ price.
This so-called fair price is seen by Bayern to be in the near region of €30million – or just under £30m – which would represent a profit on the man they bought for £21.6m in the summer of 2013.
Yet with Liverpool reluctant to meet such a figure for a player soon entering his thirties and available for free in a matter of months, Klopp could well be set to miss out on his maestro signing.
Here are some of the figures of Thiago’s Lisbon masterclass that could influence whether Liverpool should stump up the cash.
If there is one thing Thiago could probably do in his sleep, it’s passing a football.
In a similar way to Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City, Thiago sees lines of space on a football field that others simply cannot.
What’s more, the Spaniard tends to sense these openings before they even emerge.
It has served Bayern quite beautifully over the season, with Thiago threading delicate balls into various channels for the likes of speed merchants Serge Gnabry or Alphonso Davies to make something happen.
With Liverpool boasting players with very similar attributes to Bayern in the wider areas, such as Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, it is clear to see Klopp’s train of thought.
Against Barca Thiago set the both the tempo and the standard, within the opening 45 minutes.
The playmaker made no less than 37 passes in the first half, completing every single one successfully.
As the game wore on, Thiago’s relentless slicing open of Barca left the Catalans chasing shadows and begging for mercy.
Upon the final whistle, Thiago checked in with 74 passes for the total match – more than anybody else on the field. Only Barca’s Gerard Pique came close with 61, mostly comprised of short, sharp and sometimes erratic passes amid Bayern’s rapid press.
Of Thiago’s 74 passes, remarkably only three of these went astray. The other 71 found their target as intended.
What makes Thiago unique, and so desirable to any manager of a forward-thinking team, is his knack for binding his passing repertoire with generous helpings of flair.
Born to Brazilian parents, Thiago exhibits the footballing creativity of his ancestral homeland every time he takes to a football pitch, and this was shown markedly in Lisbon.
Playing with confidence in full flow, Bayern’s No 6 did not shy away from a variety of passes, ranging in length, pace and height.
Almost half an hour was on the clock when Thiago opted to pull out his party piece, leaving viewers around the world with mouths agape.
Collecting the ball and rolling possession into the Barca half, Thiago caught the vision of tracking midfielder Ivan Rakitic.
Staring the Croatian square in the eyes, Thiago deftly glanced away before shifting his body ever so slightly, and passing the ball in the opposite direction.
The ‘no-look’ pass caught Rakitic completely unaware, with the ball beautifully weighted so as to penetrate through the Barca midfield line and find the feet of a waiting Leon Goretzka.
Goretzka, of course, knew exactly what to expect. Straight from the training ground, the move was executed to a tee. Goretzka flicked the ball with a faint chip, up and over the back line and into the path of an onrushing Gnabry. Goal.
It’s easy to observe Thiago and understand why any manager would love to have him in their team.
For Klopp, however, it is also the unheralded facets of his game which makes Thiago such an attractive talent.
For all the glitz and glamour, the playmaker showed a very important Klopp-esque trait against Barca which would define him as the perfect Anfield acquisition.
Throughout the game, the tidy ball-retainer happened to lose possession on six occasions. Yet in each incidence Thiago harried his opponents so as to get his side back in control.
Thiago therefore finished the match with a tally of six lost balls but six recoveries, putting in the graft so as not to unpin the hard work of Bayern’s collective press.
This is music to the ears of a manager like Klopp, who places utmost importance on his team turning over possession on a constant basis and grinding down opposition both physically and mentally.
Of his 12 duels attempted against Barca, Thiago came out on top in just less than half (41.7 per cent). It needs to be taken into consideration, however, that Barca midfielders were rarely in possession of the ball enough to make this either a key issue or necessity during the contest.
In the same manner, Thiago would be brought on board at Anfield to play alongside the perfect foil of the tough tackling and restless Fabinho, who would give him a platform on which to shine.
So, with all this in mind, surely reigning champions Liverpool have enough in the bank to cough up and get this deal rubber-stamped?
Alas, things aren’t quite as simple as that.
Klopp recognises the unique talent of the player and is heavily backed by the board above him, though Liverpool have a strict transfer policy which has zero room for manoeuvre.
Turning 30 next April, Thiago does not fit the classic mould of Liverpool acquisitions. The club’s Fenway Sports Group owners have a carefully curated plan in place to purchase talent at a younger age with a large ceiling for potential development.
Liverpool then either develop the player to sell for a premium fee – as was seen years ago with Luis Suarez. Or, much more recently, the players become stars in their own right and lead the club to silverware – as evidenced with the likes of Salah and Mane.
Thiago therefore presents an entirely different conundrum. A world-class player available at what – up until the coronavirus pandemic struck world football – would have been seen as a bargain fee.
Yet Liverpool’s transfer budget has been painfully crippled by the pandemic, with the Merseysiders having to pull the plug on a deal to bring Timo Werner to Anfield as a result.
With limited funds in the bank and another defender needed before the window closes, Klopp and sporting director Michael Edwards above him are astutely aware the club must be more calculated than ever before.
Thiago will undoubtedly make what is already a very good Liverpool side ooze with that little bit of extra quality, though carries an injury record which poses an element of concern.
With the transfer window shutting on October 5, Klopp still has plenty of time to see if an agreement can be struck. Rival teams will likely be more than willing to throw a bid in Bayern’s direction for Thiago, meaning the move ultimately could come down to the player himself.
If Bayern fail to budge on their £29m stance, it remains to be seen whether the Spaniard is willing to see out another season in Germany before finally pulling on the famous red of Liverpool in just under a year.
Time will soon tell.