Against Manchester United on Tuesday, Liverpool midfielder Thiago Alcantara looked like he was playing a different sport -- to his opponents, to his teammates, to pretty much anyone that had come before him in the Premier League.
The 31-year-old was moving in a way that other players couldn't. He saw passes that even his teammates didn't seem to think were possible. He was on a different timeline, able to access a different plane of movement. It felt like one of those rare matches where an already-elite athlete reaches a flow state: everything seemed so easy, in a sport and in a league that's so popular specifically because it's so damn hard.
He completed 105 of his 110 passes. He was perfect -- 15-for-15 -- on passes of more than 30 yards. Overall, his passes covered more than 2,000 yards of field space. He led Liverpool in passes into the final third, passes into the penalty area, and chances created for his teammates. And when he wasn't passing the ball, he was moving it himself, or moving for it, or getting it back. He carried the ball 381 yards, almost 100 yards further than any other Liverpool player. He received more passes (102) than any other Liverpool player. He pressured the ball more often than any of his teammates, and he won more tackles, too.
If the 4-0 win over United was the only Liverpool game you watched this season, you'd have a hard time imagining Liverpool without Thiago. Except, well, they've been without him more often than not. The Spain international has appeared in just 44% of his club's Premier League minutes this year.
He is not the only key player who hasn't always been available this season, though. So, inspired by Thiago's midweek midfield master class, we're going to take a look at all of the players in the Premier League this year who have played somewhere between 40% and 70% of their team's minutes, and then we're going to see how things have changed when they've been on and off the field. All data comes courtesy of FBref.