First published on 2 March
Liverpool have been linked with a move for RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner.
The German will be in high demand and may well have his pick of Europe’s top clubs.
Werner has 10 MOTM awards (in all competitions) from FC this season. The only man with more in the database of over 59,000 players is, predictably enough, Lionel Messi. If you’re only behind the GOAT, you’re doing something right.
Werner hasn’t been coy about where he wants to move to, either. In various interviews, the 23-year-old has made numerous comments suggesting Liverpool is his preferred destination.
He said: “I know that Liverpool is the best team at the moment in the world and when you are linked with that team it makes me very proud.
“There's one of the best managers in the world with Jurgen Klopp. Many things suggest that I would maybe fit in (at Liverpool) very well with my playing style.
“Why on earth would I go to Manchester United? They’re such a mess. As if”.
Okay, the last one is made up. But Werner has 'already received proposals from Barcelona and Manchester United, but is waiting to see whether Liverpool make a move.' (via the Athletic). The Liverpool Echo claim the club haven’t yet decided whether to or not, so it will be interesting to see how this saga pans out.
But with speculation in the air, let’s add some of our own. If Werner joins Liverpool, where would he play? Would he replace one of the club’s current legendary front three, perhaps supplement them, or become an option when they are rotated out of the side? Next year’s Africa Cup of Nations will deprive the Reds of Salah and Mané for a spell, so could Werner provide the cover?
Jurgen Klopp almost exclusively deploys his players in a 4-3-3 formation. They have started 41 of their 44 matches this season that way, with three games as a 4-2-3-1.
While formations can be in the eye of the beholder, Leipzig have used a remarkable 11 different set-ups in 33 games. Where Werner is concerned, 23 of the matches have seen Julian Nagelsmann opt for a front two, with Timo often alongside Patrik Schick. At Liverpool, Werner would have to expect to be used differently, as Klopp rarely uses a front two; just four times in his 171 league matches in charge, in fact.
Perhaps the Liverpool manager is contemplating a change of tactics so that his side does not grow stale, though. In the winter of 2018, Klopp often sent his side out in a 4-2-3-1, with either Xherdan Shaqiri or Adam Lallana as part of the attacking quartet. With both likely to leave Anfield in the summer, Werner would represent a significant upgrade.
It’s interesting that on a statistical profile for the 2019/20 season, Werner doesn’t really match against any one player from Liverpool’s front three.
But it’s vital to remember statistics can only give us a picture of what a player did, not what they were asked to do. They also don’t confirm that a player isn’t strong at a particular attribute, only that they haven’t displayed it to date. The context of the player’s team and their tactics are vital too. For instance, Werner has averaged more shots and shots on target per 90 than any of the Liverpool front three this season, but of course the burden on his shoulders is greater as Leipzig’s main man.
Most Shots P90 (Top Five Leagues, min 500 mins played)— FootballCritic (@CriticFootball_) February 25, 2020
Cristiano Ronaldo 5.9
Lionel Messi 5.0
Kylian Mbappe 5.0
Sergio Aguero 4.8
Robert Lewandowski 4.7
Gabriel Jesus 4.6
Timo Werner 4.4
Similarly, while the German has created clear-cut chances more frequently than his potential new attacking team-mates, Liverpool rely on their full-backs for a large part of their creativity. Trent Alexander-Arnold has assisted more big chances than any other Red this season, and only Mohamed Salah from the front three has bettered Andy Robertson’s efforts on this front too.
Speaking of creativity from the flanks, Werner hasn’t offered much of an aerial threat for Leipzig. He only has six league goals with his head for them, and only two from the summer of 2018 onward.
This seems counter-intuitive when you view Werner’s goal map, as only three of his 71 league goals for his current club have been from outside the box, and two of those were struck from inside the ‘D’.
Timo is a penalty box predator – he’s had fewer touches per shot in the penalty box than any of the Reds’ front three in 2019/20 – but he relies almost exclusively on his feet. However, if you play for Liverpool with their firecracker full-backs, you need to be good in the air.
Since the start of 2017/18, the Reds have scored 33 headed goals in the Premier League, at least 13 more than any other club.
Andy Robertson has assisted six of them and Trent Alexander-Arnold a stunning 15. If the latter’s assist tally was only allowed to include headers, he’d still be joint-fourth in the Premier League for setting up goals since August 2018.
But back to Werner, if I were to pick a Liverpool forward who he most resembles statistically, it would be Sadio Mane, a fellow alumni of the Red Bull footballing organisation.
Werner has played on the left of the attack at times, and scores most of his goals – 54 out of 71 in the Bundesliga for Leipzig – with his right foot, much like Liverpool’s Senegalese star. This season, Werner and Mane have been just five apart on their touches per 90 average, five percent separates them on their proportion of total passes in the final third, and they recover the ball in the attacking third at near identical rates too.
Prior to Salah joining the club, Mane played on the right and could do so again allowing Werner to feature on the left. If Klopp were to switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation for 2020/21, an attacking trident of Mane, Firmino and Werner behind Salah would have Kopites licking their lips in anticipation.