Homecoming and reunion for Thiago
Born in Italy, son of Brazilian parents, grew up in Spain and Brazil - home is not easy to define in the case of Thiago Alcántara do Nascimento. Or perhaps it is. Progress to the Champions League semi-final first leg at FC Barcelona leads the 24-year-old back to his roots. To the city and club where he spent the most time in his life (eight years). Home for Thiago Alcántara do Nascimento is probably FC Barcelona.
"I'm looking forward to meeting lots of old friends," said the midfielder ahead of his return. What reception will he get? "I don't know. But it's obviously very special when you play against a former club." He is still in contact with a lot of players. That does include his two-year younger brother Rafinha who is in the first team squad at Barcelona.
Thiago was 14 when he joined Barça academy La Masia in 2005. He progressed through the various youth teams, played for the Barcelona reserves (first under Pep Guardiola and then Luis Enrique) before making his debut for the first team in May 2009. Before his move to Munich in 2013 he made 63 appearances for Barcelona in La Liga.
There have been changes at Barcelona since he left, said Thiago. "They have more tempo up front but have kept the foundations that led to so much success over the years: plenty of possession." Taking the ball off Lionel Messi, Andrès Iniesta & Co. and maintaining possession yourselves is "the key" to success against Barça.
The Spain international could also play a key role in the game thanks to "his personality, his reading of the game, his adaptability and his ability to steady the ship," according to Xabi Alonso, who believes Thiago could make the difference. "We know things can happen when he's on the ball." Pepe Reina describes Thiago as "spectacular. He does things that few other players can."
Thiago is keen to put on a display against his hometown club. He hasn't talked to his brother about it much. "Just a bit about the draw and a couple of days later we talked about the overall situation," he explained, "there comes a point when you have to put your feelings to one side. Every one of us wants to get to the final and we'll do all we can to achieve that target."
The game at Barcelona also sees Pepe Reina return home. Like Thiago, the 32-year-old has his sporting roots at La Masia. He joined the Barça youth set-up as a 12-year-old in 1995 and he made his first team debut five years later in December 2000. Reina made 41 appearances for Barcelona before signing for FC Villarreal in 2002.