Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool finally won a piece of silverware this season, securing the Champions League with a comfortable 2-0 final victory over Tottenham Hotspur. After several runners-up finishes – in the Premier League, the Europa League, the League Cup and, of course, last season's Champions League – the win over Spurs seemed like a culmination of sorts.
However, for many fans and pundits, it feels more like the beginning of an era…
With one of the most effective pressing systems in world football, a squad of players with plenty of potential left to fulfil, a hungry fan-base and an outstanding manager, Liverpool are well and truly on the rise.
Next term, their aim will be to improve further, challenging once again for major honours domestically and on the continent.
Here, we at Tribal Football analyse what they must do in the summer transfer window in order to build on their Champions League success, focusing on three players to strengthen three key areas of the squad.
WHAT DO LIVERPOOL NEED?
To gauge which positions Liverpool need to target this summer, who better to ask than respected correspondent Sam McGuire, who has written about the club for several major websites over the last few years. He told us that the team is in need of another centre-back, left winger, and a Roberto Firmino alternative.
With that in mind, we got to work identifying potential recruits that could fill these roles. Our method was based around the following three categories.
- Does the player fit the club's transfer policy?
- Does the data suggest they are equal to, or better than, the existing starters in their position?
- Do they pass the eye test?
Liverpool's transfer policy during the Klopp era has been based around signing players in a very specific age bracket. Of the 16 individuals added in this period, 12 were aged between 23 and 26 at the time of their arrival. Of the other four, two were 19 (Dominic Solanke and Marko Grujic), one was 30 (Ragnar Klavan), and one was 39 (back-up goalkeeper Alex Manninger) – it's safe to say that these four are outliers.
Furthermore, the reigning European champions don't spend the sums of money thrown around by the continent's super-elite (Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona, etc.) in that their most expensive signing in this era so far was that of Virgil van Dijk, who joined for around £75 million. Players that aren't in the aforementioned age bracket, or who would cost more than the above fee, will not be considered as they are outside of the Liverpool model.
To assess the potential recruits statistically, we looked at their data in basic position-specific metrics (i.e. tackles for a centre-back; dribbles for a left winger). If their numbers were around the same as the existing starters in the three positions that need strengthening (Van Dijk and Joel Matip; Sadio Mane; and Firmino) they were considered. All data used in this article was provided by WhoScored.com and the statistics are per 90 minutes unless otherwise stated.
Finally, if a player had ticked the previous two boxes, we took a look at them to assess whether the numbers really added up and to get a better idea of how – if at all – they could fit in at Liverpool.
Below are the three players that made the cut.
CENTRE-BACK: GUILLERMO MARIPAN (ALAVES)
While Matip has enjoyed a solid season, Liverpool could do with bringing in competition for the central defensive berth next to Van Dijk. Maripan could be the answer here.
A Chilean international with 13 caps for his country, the 25-year-old shone for Alaves in La Liga this season. Only four centre-backs in Spain's top flight completed more tackles than he, while only 13 players made more interceptions. What stood out, however, was the fact he won 71.7 per cent of his aerial duels – that's almost a full one per cent more than Matip.
On top of all that, his 75.3 per cent pass accuracy was impressive in a team that had the second-lowest pass completion rate in the league, and was far higher than that of his central defensive partner Victor Laguardia.
Maripan is the right age profile for a Liverpool signing, and his stats look good. He also, crucially, passes the eye test.
Standing tall at 6ft 4in, it's easy to see why he wins so many of his aerial duels – he's strong, assertive 1v1 and a commanding presence in the air. He also times his tackles well, and seems to possess enough pace to defend the space behind him, something which would prove vital were he to move to a more aggressive pressing side such as Liverpool.
Maripan is an excellent penalty box defender, and he reads situations well. His understanding of situations was seen in a clash with Barcelona where, one-on-one with Lionel Messi, he forced the great Argentine onto his weaker right foot consistently to reduce his scoring threat.
While he is unlikely to play Van Dijk-esque long diagonal switches to the far side, the Chilean is decent on the ball. He can drive out of defence to instigate counter-attacks, and is a solid passer over short-medium distance. Most promisingly, he's also not afraid to play line-breaking passes into midfield.
Maripan has already been linked to Barcelona and West Ham United in recent months, so Liverpool may need to move quickly to seal his signature. Fortunately, he would be well within their budget, with reports suggesting he has a £22 million release clause.
Video Courtesy of Sion
LEFT WINGER: FELIPE ANDERSON
Not so long ago, Anderson was being linked to Manchester United. But after a poor season, interest in him died down, and he ended up joining West Ham last summer for a reported £36 million transfer fee.
While his career may not have gone the way many thought it would initially, the Brazilian is still a class act. His first campaign in the Premier League went well, as he scored nine goals and set up a further four to help the Hammers to a comfy mid-table finish.
Liverpool could do with giving Sadio Mane some backup on the left-hand side of their 4-3-3 system, and Anderson is an option worth seriously considering. While the percentage of shots he got on target in 2018/19 was 6.8 per cent lower than Mane's, he completed more dribbles, made more key passes and won more tackles on average.
These statistics suggest the twice-capped Brazil international, who at 26 is also the right age profile for Liverpool's transfer model, would fit in perfectly at Anfield.
Anderson spent most of his debut season in England on the left-hand side of West Ham's attack, where he showcased his exceptional dribbling qualities – only five Premier League players averaged more dribbles than he did this season. One-on-one he is almost impossible to predict as he possesses ingenuity, flair and quick footwork to get out of tight situations and evade markers.
Pace and skill isn't enough to star out wide for Liverpool, however. End product – scoring and creating goals – is necessary, and so too is a willingness to work hard defensively. Fortunately, the 26-year-old fits the bill in all of these respects. He can produce a final ball with either foot, is a reasonably accurate finisher and, thanks to time spent with Lazio in the highly system-focused culture of Serie A, realises the importance of pressing.
Anderson would be a real boost to Liverpool's attacking options, and it appears that the club already knows this – they have recently been linked with a move for the player.
While his playing in England would inflate his price tag somewhat, the extra cost would essentially be covering his Premier League experience.
Video Courtesy of Brazil Scout
FIRMINO ALTERNATIVE: JOELINTON
Divock Origi has played a vital role as a super-sub this season, and scored the key second goal in the Champions League final win over Tottenham.
However, he isn't a natural replacement for Firmino. And, if Liverpool want to continue challenging at the top of English and European football, a viable alternative up front to their Brazilian star is a necessity.
The data not only led us back to Firmino's previous club, Hoffenheim, but to a player some are labelling his successor.
Joelinton broke out in the German Bundesliga this term after a couple of years in Austria, playing in a number of attacking roles within Julian Nagelsmann's flexible system and contributing seven goals and five assists in 28 league outings.
He actually bettered his striking predecessor's numbers in three categories – dribbles, key passes and tackles – though his shooting accuracy was around six per cent lower.
Aside from the fact he's Brazilian and plays for Hoffenheim, the 22-year-old is similar to Firmino in a few ways. He occasionally drops off the frontline to overload the midfield area and offer a forward passing option to his teammates, links attacks well and creates chances for others. He also remains engaged when his side don't have the ball.
Many strikers don't involve themselves defensively beyond keeping their position. Some put pressure on opponents, but don't really know how to do so. Joelinton, however, is both hard-working and intelligent in pressing. Not only does he apply pressure to opposing centre-backs when they have possession, but he knows to use cover shadows and angle his runs to block passes at the same time.
One thing the youngster has over Firmino is his build. He's just over 6ft tall and thus offers a decent aerial outlet to his team. Additionally, his physical presence allows him to hold off markers and make the ball stick. If Liverpool wanted to go long from back to front in certain scenarios, he could help out.
Joelinton turns 23 in August, which puts him in the right age bracket for Liverpool's transfer policy. Furthermore, the only real competition for his signature this summer – if reports are to be believed – would appear to come from Newcastle United.
Video Courtesy of Cabazaya