I'm doing my best not to get too feverish about the possibility of Thiago Alcantara joining Manchester United. I'm doing a horrible job at this, though, and the 22-year-old isn't helping when he's scoring 38-minute hat-tricks in the final of the Euro Under-21 Championship for Spain.
Let's go with an obvious starting point for Thiago in this final: the variety of goals he scored. The first one was beautifully worked by Spain and the possible United transfer target timed his run well for his header near goal from a Morata cross near the byline. The midfielder's second goal also came from a cross as he brilliantly brought down the ball from his chest -- Robin van Persie-esque -- before he clinically slotted home a left-footed strike. And finally, in the 38th minute, the Spain U-21 captain cooly converted a penalty to complete his hat-trick. Quite predictably by this point, United fans were swooning over the talented midfielder on Twitter.
With Thiago though, it's so much more than just the goals, after all, he is a midfielder. In this match, he started as one of the two advanced central-midfielders in Spain's midfield trio. From here, he absolutely bossed the final. No player touched the ball more than him (100) and only two players attempted more passes than his 79 (at an impressive 94% success rate) -- he was in absolute control from the center of the park and he did well to up the tempo early in the game when Spain pursued a lead and he slowed it down at times late in the game when his side was comfortably ahead. In addition, he showed incisiveness and drive while carrying the ball forward. This is perhaps evident by his three successful dribbles*, the three fouls he won, the two chances he created, and the four through-balls he attempted (two of which penetrated the Italian defense, including a beauty from a deft touch with the outside of his right-boot in the 16th minute for Morata). Oh, and of his four shot attempts, all of them were on target. Furthermore, although he was far from being the most physical player on the pitch, he did display his usual willingness to get stuck in. There was one particular instance when he scraped the ball away from Paris Saint-Germain's Marco Verratti prior to quickly igniting a counterattack.
* He has this Luka Modric type of knack of skipping past defenders -- although, he does it more powerfully.
As of late, I've been asked on numerous occasions which player does Thiago remind me of. I've been forthcoming that I struggle to find one because he seems an amalgam of a number of great players. Now this isn't to say that he'll become as successful as these players -- although he has he potential to do so -- but there are certain attributes he exhibits that he shares with the following: as mentioned, he has that ability to carry the ball forward like Modric, he has that Xavi quality in being able to dictate the tempo of a match (although he has a worrying tendency to make a loose pass in deep positions), he has close-control similar to Andres Iniesta so that he can maze through defenders, he times late-arriving runs into the box well and he has a thunderous long-range shot like Paul Scholes, and he has a David Silva or Mesut Ozil type of ability to slip in a penetrating through-ball for one of his fellow attackers. I'm not saying he does each of these things as well as these tremendous players, I'm just pointing out that he can do these things quite well.
He's just an extraordinary all-round talent and I think he'd slot in perfectly as a No.8 in United's midfield next to Michael Carrick's No.6 role. Can you imagine the passing combinations between these players, and with Shinji Kagawa as a No.10? Hopefully United are able to get a deal done for Thiago this summer -- it would go a long way to alleviating our pain of not having bought a midfielder since 2007 and also allowing Paul Pogba leave on a free last summer.
David de Gea was involved in this match too -- well, kind of. It had been awhile since the United goalkeeper had to do much on Spain U-21 duty because they hadn't allowed a single shot on target for a few games. Italy continued to play the ball over the top of Spain's high-backline and they were able to score in the 10th minute when Ciro Immobile -- the ironically named attacker -- got in behind and finished past de Gea. It's arguable that the 22-year-old 'keeper could have done better off his line because by the time the Italian striker received the ball, de Gea was caught 'in-between' when he came off his line. Perhaps he could have come off his line quicker or stayed deeper before he engaged Immobile in a one-on-one. The reigning PFA Team of the Year 'keeper, though, had a superb save in the 16th minute from a close-range effort. After this, he didn't have much to do.