Christmas came early on Wednesday for Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp when Thiago Alcantara finally returned to training in Kirkby.
And in addition to the main gift from the Liverpool manager, Klopp also received some quality fillers for stuffing socks when Xherdan Shaqiri and James Milner also joined the session.
It remains to be seen if any of the three are competing for West Brom – Milner was the only one of the three shown in training with teammates – but their outings will be a welcome sight to Klopp and his coaching staff.
All three players provide the Liverpool manager with an opportunity not only to rotate, but also more tactical options as the Reds try to strengthen the grip at the top of the Premier League table before the return of the Champions League and the third round of the FA Cup.
Milner’s return due to a tendon problem suffered in Brighton strengthens Klopp’s chances in the midfield and, the moment Kostas Tsimikas stays aside, will allow Klopp to rest Robertson again.
Although he has spent most of the last 18 months of his Liverpool career on the sidelines, Shaqiri remains an interesting option when he is in form.
The Swiss is different from other Liverpool strikers and has allowed Klopp to tweak his formation earlier. Klopp would often turn 4-2-3-1 in Shaqiri’s first season with the club, playing him right behind more advanced Mohamed Salah.
Shaqiri can also play on both sides of the front three or even as the most advanced of Klopp’s midfield.
It also offers another left threat from the set.
Both Milner and Shaqiri give Liverpool more hope and domestic cup glory, giving Klopp more chances if he chooses an alternative XI in the competition.
But Thiago’s return to action brings the most excitement.
The Spanish conspirator has played just 135 minutes of football since arriving at Anfield in September from Bayern Munich.
Announced as the man to take Liverpool to even greater heights, Thiago has reached the pinnacle of his powers, fresh from helping the German giants to historic highs, including the title.
Liverpool saw him as a man who would tear down a stubborn defense when the sides decided to sit down and prevent Liverpool from using their defenders to stretch the pitch.
The trips to Brighton, Fulham and Man City ended in a 1-1 draw for the Reds. Brighton and Fulham in a particularly frustrated Liverpool, giving precious little space to Liverpool to create chances of falling behind.
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Thiago has proven at Everton that his long, direct pass from midfield can find gaps that other players simply cannot. One such ball could, and perhaps should have secured a winner for Jordan Henderson after sending Sadio Mane breaking through the left channel late in the game, only for VAR to find Liverpool’s toughest wing offside.
The Spaniard can play in the midfield two or the deepest fall in a three-pointer, allowing Henderson the freedom to go further – just as he did brilliantly at Goodison Park.
It also eases pressure on other Liverpool midfielders, with Fabinho playing for most of the season now as a central defender to cover the injured Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez.
In full force, Liverpool boasts the most complete and diverse squad in the Premier League.
So far this season they have not been able to perform anything like their lineup from full strength. Given that Gomez and Van Dijk are both long-term absentees, it is unlikely that Klopp will be able to do so this season, but the latest returns offer hope that they are at least on the right track.