The temptation is, of course, to connect that tendency to the sport’s growing interest in and reliance on analytics — this is soccer, as the nerds wanted it — or even to the game’s continuing infiltration by people who can only be described as Americans. That may, though, offer only a partial explanation.
Just as relevant, perhaps, is the game’s talking-point culture, its entrenched tribalism and endless squabbling for supremacy, its thirst for virality, attention and clout. Cold, hard numbers carry more weight in 280 characters, after all, than such outdated concepts as metaphor, or allusion.
Whatever the cause, few have been boiled down to a succession of numbers quite so much as Thiago. In his first season and a half in England, it was generally a convenient stick with which to beat him: His goal and assist tallies, after all, hardly indicated that he was a valuable component of Liverpool, let alone an outstanding performer.
Belatedly, in the last few weeks, the dynamic has changed. Thiago had a pass completion rate of 92 percent in the F.A. Cup semifinal victory against Manchester City. He played 129 passes in the most recent humbling of Manchester United, and 123 of them found their intended target.
A few days ago, he made more successful passes against Everton than all of his opponents combined. And then, against Villarreal, he turned in 119 touches, 103 passes played, 99 passes completed, 100 percent of tackles won, five interceptions, nine long balls completed and one earnest feedback session with a slightly unwilling Diogo Jota.