On Wednesday, Thiago Alcantara was given the not-so-common honor of being named to Bayern Munich's starting lineup to face Bochum in the DFB-Pokal quarter-final.
The Barcelona academy graduate, widely regarded as Pep Guardiola’s preferred signing in the summer the trainer moved to Munich, started ahead of Arturo Vidal after falling behind the Chilean in the pecking order for the previous two Bundesliga fixtures.
Given a chance to showcase his quality, Thiago left plenty to be desired, especially while the match was still in the balance.
The Spain international spent most of the opening 20 minutes or so being yelled at by Guardiola, and for good reason. He looked off the pace and his decision-making on the ball was uncharacteristically poor.
Rather than the metronome to keep the attack ticking, he was more the awkward arrhythmia that broke things down with too many forced, hopeful balls forward. The trainer made it a point to specifically take him aside for an earful during an early injury-induced stoppage.
Yet early in the second half, Thiago was the player for Bayern who put the match beyond any doubt, poking home from Thomas Muller's cross to double the Bavarians' lead at 2-0.
Judging from Thiago's reaction, one just tuning in might have thought he'd won the World Cup. The expression on his face was one of intensity with a touch of relief as he let out a cathartic roar.
He went on to have a quiet but decent display for the rest of the match, although by that time Bochum were down to 10 men and two goals behind—a mangled corpse of an opponent.
Thiago's face 😂 pic.twitter.com/RCxDkxUZAL— München Photos (@MunchenPride) February 10, 2016
Still, Thiago's goal could prove a turning point for him. If it does, it could not have come at a more vital time.
Vidal has been a problem all season, and as of late, he has become an even greater mess. Franz Beckenbauer repeatedly criticized the player for his lack of fitness in the fall (via TalkSport), and SportBild (in German) reported the player left the club's January training camp on several occasions and returned smelling of alcohol.
It's something the player has threatened to sue the German publication for reporting (via ESPN), but he isn't exactly inconsistent with his history: Last summer he was caught drunk-driving during the Copa America. And it didn't exactly help the situation when Vidal left some payslips in the dressing room for his teammates to see, according to Bild.
His head seems to have been out of the game over the last year or so, and that's a big problem as Bayern approach the business end of their campaign. They need a player they can rely on.
Thiago is a very different player from Vidal and will come with some different tactical offerings, but what is more important is that he has a much better attitude. He's not toxic to the team; actually, he's shown his leadership in the past and was magnificent in catalyzing Bayern's comeback against Porto in last season's Champions League, for example.
Wednesday's game was far from Thiago's best overall, and he'll really need to raise his level to justify a starting role on a regular basis. But it was probably just a blip.
He needs some more playing time, some more chances to build a rhythm and some confidence.
Overall, Thiago wasn't great against Bochum, but his goal may have been the factor to get him back on track. It's critical for a Bayern side that above all need quality in their midfield in order to function at their best.