Football is a game of two halves. Tonight, though, as Barcelona languished to a win over Deportivo la Coruna, it was the input of Thiago Alcantara in one half which made him La Blaugrana's star performer.
Hotly tipped as the heir to Xavi's throne, the 21-year-old put behind him a recent drop in performances to play a wonderful 45 minutes.
And as Barca lacked any sort of intensity or variety in their second half performance, it is those 45 minutes which made Thiago the star performer as they moved 14 points clear at the La Liga summit.
Starring roles against the two G's—Getafe and Granada—made Alcantara look set to be the start of an extended run in the first team.
It didn't quite work out as well as anticipated, though, and his performances against Sevilla and Real Madrid—both in La Liga—saw a drop in form, which is hardly unexpected given his age and experience.
Against Depor, his talent was there for all to see again. In the first half alone he completed 60 of his 66 passes—not one player on the visiting team completed more than 40.
He also produced this wonderful piece of skill early on.
This heat map also shows how active he was in the first half, cropping up time and again on the right side of the central midfield area and also pushing into the final third at times.
Squawka Football @Squawka
@barcastuff #Thiago heat map for the 1st half Vs #Deportivo: http://t.co/RlEnqWaEvj3/9/2013, 7:59:48 PM
When he was replaced by Andres Iniesta after 67 minutes, he had attempted another 52 passes already—ending with a completion rate of 90 percent from his 118 passes (via whoscored.com)
It wasn't just short passes, either. The son of former Brazilian international Mazinho completed 10 of 11 long balls, although only one of his four through balls proved successful.
Of course there were negatives, too. The few times he gave possession away tended to be notable occasions, but the positives in his performance far outstripped the negatives.
With Xavi injured and Cesc Fabregas enduring a bad run of form, Thiago will be hoping that he put himself in the window to start against AC Milan.
When the Italians visit on Tuesday night, Barcelona have no better like-for-like player to replace their central midfield talisman than the youngster.
Alex Song seems a million miles away from earning a start, and if it is decided that Iniesta should begin the match centrally, Thiago may be the man to play that deeper central role—relegating Fabregas to the bench.
Either way, in the long run Tito Vilanova, Jordi Roura or whoever is in charge needs to find a way to accommodate him more.
He needs to benefit from a run of games which isn't just against the smaller sides of La Liga, but against the better teams from both Spain and Europe.
Xavi's injury and a start in Tuesday's Champions League decider could provide him with the perfect stage to kick on from.
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