In-form Thiago might already be Bayern Munich's most important player

The 24-year-old has hit top form since returning from another injury layoff, and Paul Wilkes says he embodies everything Pep Guardiola wants in Bavaria...

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Pep Guardiola will enter into his final season of a three-year contract next term with two Bundesliga titles already in the trophy cabinet.

The ease with which his Bayern Munich team has brushed aside domestic challenges means that, for some, the Catalan will only truly be regarded as a success if he wins the Champions League.

That's perhaps a little harsh given the style with which they have blown the opposition away, and this is the second consecutive campaign that they've reached the last four of Europe's premier competition. 

For Guardiola, the move to another club and country was vital in order to prove himself outside Barcelona. He needed to show that he could adapt his methods outside his comfort zone and that it wasn't just about an extremely talented generation of players. Meanwhile, the same could be said of Barcelona, who have been equally keen to demonstrate that they could perform externally of Pep's rigid system. 

Heir to Iniesta

Bayern were in unquestionably better shape than when he took over at Camp Nou – Frank Rijkaard's team had begun to lose the drive and passion to continue at the top level. Jupp Heynckes left a very gifted squad in Bavaria, but Guardiola has certainly added another dimension even to the likes of Manuel Neuer, Arjen Robben and Philipp Lahm. Within the transfer market, Bayern have managed to maintain the club's traditions and simultaneously abide by Pep's principles. They have signed the best players from their nearest competitors in Robert Lewandowski and Mario Gotze from Borussia Dortmund, complemented by Spaniards who are more than comfortable in possession. 

Summer 2013 saw Guardiola raid his former employers for Thiago Alcantara. Barcelona were committed to not letting any of their stars join their former coach, but they mismanaged his contract situation which left them with no choice. Thiago's agreement dictated that he would be allowed to leave on a reduced buyout clause if he wasn't given the adequate amount of playing time. 

Barca have regretted their handling of Thiago's contract

It was dealt with incredibly poorly considering that the midfielder was deemed the natural heir to Xavi and Andres Iniesta. "I spoke to the club about my concept and told them why I want Thiago," said Guardiola before the midfielder's signing. "He is the only player I want. It'll be him or no one."

Some managers would be derided for not having a better scouting network if they made a similar statement, but Guardiola was simply underlining the significance of Thiago to his philosophy.

The Italy-born youngster was not only schooled at the famous La Masia academy, but he understands the distinct positioning that his manager wants. "I played under him in the [Barcelona] youth team and I've got him to thank for everything that I have achieved so far," Thiago confessed when he joined the Bavarians. "I have never had a coach like him. He is unique."

Back in business

The 24-year-old has struggled with injuries since his move from Catalonia two years ago, and spent a whole 12 months out with a knee ligament tear. His comeback at the start of April has helped show his influence over the team's approach, however, and will likely see them progress tactically.

Guardiola has demonstrated that he isn't as ideological as many presumed, with the side displaying a variety of alternative solutions. They have occasionally played more directly, with long balls from Jerome Boateng and Xabi Alonso into the forwards not uncommon, especially when Bayern's defenders have been pressed in an aggressive manner. 

The Germans used a diamond midfield in the quarter-final first leg against Porto, but the Portuguese club defended very narrow and stopped their opponents from the creating through the middle.

At the Allianz Arena in the return fixture, Guardiola opted for a more straightforward 4-4-2 with Lahm and Gotze out wide. They were then able to provide crosses from the wings, which enabled Bayern to score three headed goals in the opening 30 minutes. 

Thiago scored in both legs and, despite the obvious change in tactics, he will be crucial to Bayern moving closer to the genre of dominant football that Barcelona once played under Guardiola.

It's not just his ball retention or ability to make passes that few others can see; the Spain international can fulfil his mentor's instructions without possession. He made 14 recoveries in that infamous quarter-final turnaround, five more than anyone else on the pitch. He instinctively knows when to push high up the pitch and when to drop deep to meet the needs of the team. 

Age of influence

The playmaker has been heralded throughout his short career for his dribbling and passing characteristics, yet his work-rate and tenacity off the ball is of equal merit.

Back in December 2011, he was part of a fringe Barca team that met BATE Borisov when Guardiola's senior players had already qualified from the group stage. With no pressure on them they were naturally on the front foot, and Thiago's influence on the game was incredible at just 20 years old.

Since returning in April, the young midfielder has been equally impressive. Bayern's squad is arguably the best in Europe, but providing the midfielder can stay injury-free he is likely to become Guardiola's most important player. His boss's philosophy has been ingrained in him from a young age, and he knows exactly what's required to make his team a fully functioning machine. 

"He wants to control the game with Bayern, the same as in Barcelona," Thiago once explained to FFT. "He has a definite idea of what his football should look like. One of Guardiola's objectives is creating superiority in numbers. Always having two players against one opponent is what the team strives for."

This understanding means that we could see Bayern step up another gear, as the team refines some of the finer details in Guardiola's overall plan. Some of these points won't be obvious to the casual observer, but following the movement and positioning of Thiago will go some way to illustrating the bigger picture. 

"I consider myself part of the team and will try to bring in my experience, just like everyone else," admitted the modest midfielder, whose brother Rafinha is growing in stature at Barca.

It can't be easy to maintain that positivity given the adversity he has faced since arriving in the Bavarian capital, but Thiago knows that he's central to Guardiola's final push for glory. 

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