The festive period may not have gone quite to plan for Liverpool but the return of Thiago Alcantara provides a reason for optimism at the start of 2021.

The Spaniard came on as a second-half substitute against Newcastle United on Wednesday, having not featured since suffering an injury when caught by Richarlison in the Merseyside derby back in October, a challenge that saw the Everton forward dismissed late on in a 2-2 draw. 

Yet despite the lengthy absence, Thiago hardly showed no signs of rust at St James’ Park. While unable to help Liverpool fashion a late winner as they drew for a second successive outing, his appearance off the bench provided a welcome reminder of just what the Reds have missed in recent months. 

After replacing James Milner in the 73rd minute, the midfielder had 29 touches, completed 21 of his 23 pass attempts and won all six of his duels. It was as if he had never been away. 

Having stuttered in their last two outings – they were held at home by West Brom before the 0-0 result at Newcastle – there must be a temptation to put the 29-year-old in the starting line-up at Southampton on Monday, as Liverpool aim to move clear of Manchester United at the Premier League summit.

Jurgen Klopp, though, is understandably unwilling to take any undue risks with a player who has also had to deal with testing positive for COVID-19 since moving to England.

“We will see. That he could play 20 minutes is special, I would say. He’s had only two sessions with the team – that’s it,” the Liverpool boss said after the 0-0 result at Newcastle. 

“This game gave us an opportunity to do it, because it was mainly about creating and that’s obviously his best skill.

“Honestly, the boys who did the job so far did exceptionally well. It’s not that we could not survive if he cannot start the next game, but it’s very good that he’s fit and in contention. I like that a lot.” 

Liverpool fans should like it too, considering what they have witnessed in the limited glimpses of the big-name signing from Bayern Munich so far. 

Thiago completed 75 passes of 83 attempted (90.24 per cent) against Chelsea on debut – and that was just in one half. Since Opta began collecting full passing data in 2003-04, his tally sits as the most made by a player to have played a maximum of 45 minutes. 

He was even more accurate with his passing when handed a first start against Everton, finishing up at 92.41 per cent. He also completed 80 per cent of his attempted dribbles in that game, having 99 touches in total at Goodison Park. 

Liverpool’s midfield – so often without Fabinho this season, with the Brazilian having to switch to fill in for injuries at centre-back – has performed admirably so far. Yet Thiago provides something different, something a bit special.

It may well be Klopp, with his focus only on the bigger picture, leaves him in reserve once more at Southampton, but the Reds will only benefit from having the playmaker back involved again.