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The front page of yesterday's Sport says Barcelona have sounded out Bayern Munich about bringing Thiago Alcántara back to Catalonia.
The Barcelona-based daily claims the club's hierarchy want to strengthen ahead of next season and one of the players technical secretary Robert Fernández thought would help take them to the next level is the 25-year-old Spaniard.
But Bayern Munich were not willing to sell.
They've reportedly slapped a €90million price tag on Thiago, who left the Camp Nou for €25million back in 2013, which is effectively a hands off warning as the Bavarian club are unwilling to sell the Barcelona transfer target back to his old club.
— Diario SPORT (@sport) March 26, 2017
Thiago – indispensable at Bayern Munich
There’s no doubt that when Pep Guardiola was at the Allianz Arena, Thiago looked great when fit and in form.
But staying fit was a struggle for the Spaniard and that led to his performance level dropping.
But this season, he has already played more minutes in the league – 1699 – than any other campaign since he moved to Germany. In the 2014/15 season, he managed just 285 minutes in the Bundesliga.
It was only during Guardiola's final campaign that Thiago became a regular, featuring in 27 league games.
But he has gone on to become a crucial part of the team at Bayern this season under Carlo Ancelotti.
The Spaniard has been given a lot more freedom to not only roam on the pitch, but also to be ambitious in his passing.
Guardiola tends to think giving away the ball is one of the worst things you could do on a football pitch.
Obviously Ancelotti isn’t a fan of losing possession but under the former Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain boss, the Bavarians have been given a little more freedom and are allowed to take the risk of giving away the ball in order to try and create an opportunity.
He lets players like Thiago make more ambitious passes and that really plays to his creativity.
READ MORE: An Autopsy Of Carlo Ancelotti's Start At Bayern Munich
And although the majority of Bayern’s attacks this season have come through the middle, 28 per cent of them are created down the middle, while 48 per cent of the action in their games has been in the middle third – this makes someone like Thiago a key player to the side.
Indeed, if you look at the statistics from their Bundesliga season so far, no Bayern player averages more passes per game than the Spaniard’s 102.7 per 90 minutes.
Only Jérôme Boateng (9.2) makes more successful long balls per 90 minutes than Thiago’s 7.5.
But the midfielder’s quality is clear when you see per 90 minutes he plays just 1.9 inaccurate long balls, whereas Boateng makes 9.2.
While he may be great on the ball, it’s not the only reason Thiago is so key for Ancelotti.
Only Arturo Vidal (3.1) makes more successful tackles per 90 minutes than the former Barcelona man (2.8), while Thiago also makes the most interceptions (5.2) out of his Bayern team-mates.
And while goals and assists may not necessarily be his forte, only four players at Der FCB have struck more than him in the Bundesliga – and it’s the same story in terms of assists.
No real replacement for Thiago
Because of his skill set there is no real replacement in the Bayern squad for Thiago.
There are several excellent midfielders at the Allianz Arena but none who could properly replace his creativity directly.
Vidal offers steel in midfield rather than out and out creativity. Joshua Kimmich is more of a dynamic box-to-box midfielder but he also lacks Thiago’s creative spark.
Renato Sanches is very physical like Vidal, but is unlikely to make the key pass that could take a number of players out of the game.
Out of the current squad the only man who comes close to Thiago in midfield is Xabi Alonso, but he sits deeper and is retiring at the end of the season.
And other than Thiago being frankly brilliant this season, the lack of replacement would be another reason why he isn't for sale.
And that’s something that will please Bayern Munich legend Lothar Matthäus, who has compared him to Diego Maradona.
“Thiago reminds me of Maradona in the way he moves and twists his body.
“He has become the heart of Bayern’s game this season,” he told Sport Bild.
“He is a classic No.10 with an amazing technique, he always keeps his calm and has a perfect sense of position.
“It is easy to see he is the son of former Brazil international Mazinho.
“He is a player who really enjoys the game and possesses skills few others have.
“In hindsight, Barcelona were unlucky to have Xavi and Andrés Iniesta, who kept Thiago out of the team.
“That is the only reason Bayern were able to sign him.”
How does he compare to Barcelona’s options?
Midfield has undoubtedly been a massive issue for Barcelona this season.
Their poor form earlier this campaign was largely down to midfield rotation and a lack of consistency and perhaps quality in the middle of the pitch, something you’d never usually associate with the Catalan side.
With Iniesta now 32 years old, it’s no surprise to see Barça looking at new midfielders.
It must be painful for them to see how good Thiago is at the moment, but as Matthäus said, when he was coming through, he had two of the best midfielders in the world ahead of him.
And it’s obvious if you look at the statistics how Thiago could improve the squad at the Camp Nou.
If you assume the current 3-4-3 system is unlikely to be kept next season and Barcelona will switch back to 4-3-3, the system in which Thiago thrives, it’s pointless comparing him to Sergi Busquets as he does not play that role.
Yet, if you compare him to the likes of Iniesta, Ivan Rakitic and André Gomes, the former Barça man puts them to shame.
READ MORE: How Barcelona's Midfield Rotation Is Hampering Their Consistency
As you can see from the graphic above, Thiago makes more passes per 90 minutes, with a better pass completion rate.
He also plays a considerably higher number of accurate long balls than any of the Barcelona trio and is more involved defensively too – winning more tackles and getting more interceptions.
In the role Thiago plays, Barcelona don’t have anyone like him. It’s easy to see why they want him back, and it’s even easier to see why Bayern Munich don’t want to sell.