After four months out injured following a nasty setback and important knee surgery, Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara finally picked up a ball and returned to training in Munich this week.
Although the former Barcelona star is still far from full fitness and won't be back in the side for another few weeks at the very earliest, coach Pep Guardiola will be delighted at the thought of the young Spaniard returning to his team.
What Thiago represents in this Bayern side is a true disciple of his manager's cause. Brought to Munich at the request of Guardiola, Thiago is nothing short of a wonderkid who plays the tiki-taka, quick-paced football of Barcelona and has since led the charge of Bayern's transition to this style of football.
Nobody at the German champions knows how to play Guardiola football quite like Thiago and, as such, could return to Bayern just in time for his manager.
Guardiola tends to judge his central midfielders not on their ability to tackle, header, cross or even shoot with the ball, but their ability to pass laterally across the pitch from one flank to the other. Bayern's system under the Spaniard has gone from a rather straightforward 4-2-3-1 counter-attacking formation to something more akin to a 3-3-4, which relies so heavily on camping in the opposition half and patiently passing the ball from left to right and right to left.
This is where Thiago comes in. The current system revolves around Xabi Alonso's distribution of the ball while Bastian Schweinsteiger tends to either play in front or behind the former World Cup winner, yet such a ploy is far from a long-term solution to any of the Bavarian club's problems.
Although the former Barcelona midfielder may have been brought in to eventually replace Toni Kroos or at least compete with the German attacker, Thiago is now undoubtedly the natural heir to Alonso's significant role in the team as long as Bayern are still coached by Guardiola and playing his style of play.
When we take a look at the manner in which Thiago tends to rotate play in any given match—such as a game against Hamburg last season, depicted by Squawka below—we see that the young international is almost a carbon copy of Alonso's own contribution to the Bayern side.
Yet there is more to the young, Brazilian-born talent than simply keeping the pace of possession ticking along.
As Squawka quite rightly points out, Thiago may have only played 16 league games over the course of last season, but in those limited appearances, he managed to rack up no less than 20 chances, with four assists and 16 key passes.
Where Alonso would usually play the simple passes, hold possession and usually leave the playmaking to more attacking players in the side, Thiago seems capable of not only doing the simple brilliance of his compatriot but also the more intricate, technical brilliance of Bayern's best attacking talent.
Of course, Bayern may seem like a side that need anything but more goals at the moment, but there is a genuine concern for attacking football through the middle of the park.
The Munich giants may have Arjen Robben on the right, Franck Ribery on the left and a combination of Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller up front, but there's very little that comes from deep aside from the long passes of Jerome Boateng, and as such, Bayern can at times look a little flat.
Should Thiago return to the side with the same hunger and desire he showed last season, then a spot should readily be available in this team. Guardiola's side lack a bit of bite and skill in the centre of the pitch, and the young Spaniard may just be the perfect solution.