Liverpool’s famous front three is one of the greatest in the modern era. Since 2017, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have terrorised defences from Slovenia to Stoke, Manchester to Monterrey, and Burnley to Barcelona.
The three have combined nearly 300 goals since Mohamed Salah’s arrival – but as time goes on, numbers will dwindle as the unfortunate inevitability of age catches up with them.
Diogo Jota arrived last season for £43million from Wolverhampton Wanderers, which provided much needed competition for the established trio. His presence last season ensured Liverpool finished third, with his injury ultimately costing Liverpool more points, and maybe the league title.
As eras dawn on, Liverpool need to add another forward to ensure the elite success of Jurgen Klopp’s team is not limited to these few solitary years - despite each of their fabulous starts to 2021/22.
After spending five or six years without operating with a ‘proper number nine’, it would be fun to speculate which strikers could fit Liverpool’s age profile, system and current squad, whilst maintaining a level of realism, and using FBRef’s percentile system to decipher who would be suitable.
It’s been well documented in the past that Liverpool do not operate well with a target man. Peter Crouch is arguably the most successful in the modern era, but he never hit double digits in a Premier League season for the Reds.
Saša Kalajdžić however is somewhat different. His form for VfB Stuttgart last campaign propelled them to a ninth placed finish, with their exciting and dynamic build-up play marking them as one of the most interesting teams to watch.
Under Pellegrino Matterazzo, the 2006/07 champions have excelled with Kalajdžić at the forefront, with his total amounting to 16 in the league, eclipsing his personal best of 10, which came in his first season for Admira Wacker’s reserves.
His skills also translated to the international stage, scoring four in his first 11 games for Austria, including two at Hampden Park against Scotland.
Would his skills translate immediately into the Jurgen Klopp Liverpool system? Arguably no. Just think how Christian Benteke was ostracised.
But as an option – and a regularly used one at that whilst Firmino slows down – Kalajdžić would offer more than most available on the market.
He is in the 91st percentile for non-penalty goals at 0.67 per 90, whilst also being in the 82nd and 75th percentile for progressive passes recovered and pressures – showing his pressing game is also up to scratch for a Klopp system. And, at 6’7, it is no surprise that his 4.55 aerials won per 90 is in the 87th percentile.
However, as he is playing in such an advanced role, his pass completion is only 70.4%. This may prove a stumbling block as Klopp likes his forwards to be good on the ball as well as off it.
He’d probably be one of the cheaper options on this list, and would surely be an addition
Rumours have swirled this summer about the future of Dusan Vlahovic from Fiorentina. Another target man, 6’2.
Having burst onto the scene now aged 20, he scored a mammoth 21 goals in Serie A last season – only bettered by three others – Luis Muriel, Chelsea-bound Romelu Lukaku and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Liverpool’s general profile seeks established younger players who’ve already impressed for several seasons – which Vlahovic does not suit. It could be argued that despite this outstanding campaign, he fades back in to the six-goal mediocrity that we saw last season.
This is unlikely, of course. Vlahovic is just 21 years-old, and with the amount of adulation and admirers he has gained for his single season, many will be willing to take the gamble on him with his age.
Atletico Madrid have been rumoured to be looking at the Serbian, but with the arrival of Moussa Dembele on loan from Lyon and the development of Joao Felix, it would be somewhat detrimental for them to purchase him.
Once again, his aerial’s won percentile is high at 78, and his non-Penalty goals is in the 73rd.
Again, the target man argument comes in to play. But Liverpool’s evolution after Klopp leaves, or even in his final three years as manager, may revolve around such a focal point.
A fee of £60 million has been touted – and why not? He could be special.
This is likely the most unrealistic option in terms of transfer fee, but the most suitable player in terms of Liverpool’s current profile.
Ollie Watkins is to Aston Villa what Roberto Firmino is to Liverpool but can also play wide and scores more goals.
The caveat comes as obviously, he isn’t as successful skilfully, and doesn’t set up as many chances for his teammates.
He joined Villa from Brentford last summer for £32m, and immediately daggered Liverpool’s hearts with a hattrick in that fateful 7-2 result away from home.
The noticeable, exceptional stats about Watkins lie in his tackling and pressures. He is particularly noticeable in his pressures in the attacking third, being in the 94th percentile.
As Liverpool aim to win the ball high with Klopp’s gegenpress, he would be almost perfect for the system deployed. In comparison, Roberto Firmino in in the 74th percentile.
He was picked up on missing one too many chances last campaign by Villa fans, but he has shown – especially with his destructive form in the Championship with Brentford – that he still has the clinical edge to his game.
Firmino however does have superior stats in pretty much everything else bar expected goals. But Watkins, a few years younger, could be moulded into the perfect Firmino replacement.
He would also solve the ‘homegrown’ predicament which caused Liverpool fans headaches this summer, but with that it would add an extra 10-15 million to his price tag. He’d likely cost between £60-70 million.
Worth it? Probably not but could be made to be by Jurgen Klopp in his twilight years as Liverpool manager.
Ah, the EUROs.
Many clubs fall into the trap of signing a player based on their performances at international tournaments – which is forgivable given they are on the world’s biggest stage. Liverpool did so in quite humiliating circumstances with El Hadji Diouf.
Patrik Schick is the Diouf, Enner Valencia, Keylor Navas or Alexandr Golovin of Euro 2020. However, his stock was already high enough.
Schick has been on the periphery of greatness since his first maraud into the elite European leagues.
He first joined Sampdoria in 2016, where he scored 11 goals to earn himself a move to AS Roma, with whom he featured against Liverpool in the 2018 Champions League semi-final alongside Alisson Becker.
Just eight goals in 58 appearances followed, however, and Schick was shipped to Germany, where he has found home both at RB Leipzig and now Bayer Leverkusen.
Now Jurgen Klopp loves his versatility. Like Watkins, Schick has featured wide despite his commanding 6’2 presence, but he can also play behind the striker as a creative number ten.
This allows for the interchanging of Salah, Mane, Jota and Firmino to continue in the way that it has been, incorporating a skillset yet seen amongst those said four.
He ranks in the 91st percentile for tackles in the opposing third – again similar to Firmino – but lacks the pressing guile of Watkins.
He only just signed for Bayer Leverkusen last summer and lacks the goal scoring threat of the three previous. But that could be improved once more by Klopp’s coaching team.
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