Hello, welcome back, it’s been a while.
I wanted to take a more detailed look at an attacker that I feel is ideal would fit in perfectly at Liverpool. I know Twitter expanded the character limit a while back but it just isn’t enough and I’m not really a threads sort of person. So, here we are.
Wilfried Zaha wants to leave Crystal Palace, Manchester United are trying to convince Borussia Dortmund to sell Jadon Sancho and there’s a big push for Liverpool to sign another attacker.
You could be forgiven for thinking we’re back in 2019.
Zaha may finally get his move away from Selhurst Park and the Sancho saga looks likely to end this summer. While Liverpool are in the market for an attacker this summer, reports in the Liverpool Echo recently claimed a big-money move isn’t on the cards.
But, in all honesty, when is it ever?
The Reds, under Jurgen Klopp, are famed for turning £35million forwards into £100million ones. When you’ve got a proven track record of doing this, it is hard to justify spending £80million on a player and giving them £200,000-per-week wages from the off. From a fan perspective, it is frustrating. After all, you want to see the best players turning out for your team.
From a business perspective, however, it just makes sense. As an example, Michael Edwards and the recruitment team could probably find two players for what it would cost to bring Sancho to Anfield when you factor in wages and agent fees.
Another thing to consider is that those players going for £80million are ones who are already front and centre. They aren’t underrated, there’s no value for money there for buying clubs and it is difficult to scale their output.
I’ve mentioned this a few times previously, but Liverpool tend to have certain criteria when identifying potential attackers. Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Diogo Jota all shared similar numbers prior to their moves. Even Xherdan Shaqiri ticked a couple of the boxes, too, despite being signed as a squad player.
All of these players had a minimum expected goals (xG) average per 90 of 0.31 across two seasons. They were taking a minimum of 2.3 shots but a maximum of 3.7. They also have over three touches in the box per 90.
They aren’t Erling Haaland or Kylian Mbappe numbers. If you sign one of those, you ideally have to shape the system around them to ensure they’re able to be as productive as they have been elsewhere.
The averages for the likes of Mane, Salah, Jota and Shaqiri weren’t bad. They just weren’t exceptional. The point of it was, they all had the potential to improve. The Reds knew that with subtle tweaks here and there to their game, certain metrics would spike. And they did.
Previously, I’ve profiled Raphinha. Liverpool like to sign players with Premier League experience to speed up the adaptation period. The Merseysiders are reportedly keen on him, but, as a few Leeds United journalists have said online, the Brazilian won’t be cheap.
David and I also looked at players who could be targeted if there was a system change in the near future. One player named was Dusan Vlahovic. Initially, it was reported a fee of £30million might be enough to convince Fiorentina to part ways with him. The appointment of Gennaro Gattuso has changed the landscape. The Italians want to keep him and a big fee would be required to pry him away from Serie A.
It is a sellers market right now. Teams need money and there won’t be many as accommodating as Wolves were last summer when they agreed to a favourable deal for Jota. It makes the job to find an attacker for Liverpool that much more difficult.
There is one player, though.
Hertha Berlin’s Matheus Cunha.
He’s tentatively been linked with Leeds United recently despite signing a new deal until 2025. Fredi Bobic, Hertha’s new Sporting Director, didn’t sound that convincing when asked about the 22-year-old’s future with the club.
"I'm glad he's with us and doesn't have a release clause. We'll have to see if he'll still play for us in the future. I can't say right now whether he is so happy here that he wants to stay."
Local press in Germany seem to think a fee in the region of £35million would be enough to convince the capital side to sell. It would see them double their money on a player they signed in January 2020.
Now, such a fee for a player with 22 goals across three seasons might appear to be like bad business. Especially when you can get Patson Daka, a player with 34 goals this season, for £20million.
Daka benefits from being the main man in a dominant side. His numbers are all at the top end and if he’s to match that, he’d have to be a focal point for a team. That isn’t likely to happen at Anfield. Cunha, on the other hand, has been decent, but not exceptional, numbers since moving to Germany in 2018.
They’re all scalable. He also fits the criteria for a Liverpool forward.
For example, his xG average, per Wyscout, in the Bundesliga across two teams is 0.34. He’s averaging 2.68 shots and three touches in the box.
He isn’t a prolific goalscorer yet, but it doesn’t mean he can’t be. In his one season with FC Sion in Switzerland, he showed glimpses of what sort of forward he could be in the right hands.
Confident on either foot, he’s deceptively quick for a player of his size. He’s played in a two-man attack, as a No9 and on both flanks. His technique is exceptional and is one of the reasons all of his goals look as crisp as they do.
As revealed in a DW Sports feature, he played Futsal as a kid and it still influences how he is on the pitch today. One of the standout lines from that interview was: “I’m not just doing this as a job, I’m doing it out of love.”
When you watch him play, you can tell he’s enjoying himself.
It’s like watching Roberto Firmino when he’s really in the mood. He exudes confidence that can often be misconstrued as arrogance.
There are areas of his game he needs to work on, but you’d expect that. If there wasn’t, he’d not be £35million and you’d have many more teams after him.
One part he’d immediately have to address is hit shot selection. As you can see on his shot map, courtesy of Understat, he takes far too many low-value efforts from distance.
Tweak that and his goal return likely increases. That is perhaps his most glaring weakness right now.
He’s not the perfect modern-day forward, but he has the tools to be pretty effective. He’s press resistant and regularly drops deep to pick up the ball before carrying it into the opposition’s half.
Cunha seems to thrive in one-on-one situations. He’s in the top ten for dribbles attempted and completed in the Bundesliga and in the top 20 for progressive runs. In fact, he’s averaged a similar number of dribbles as Mane this season. The B Brazilian shares a number of traits with the 2017/18 version of the Liverpool No10 when he was tasked with being more of a creator after the sale of Philippe Coutinho.
That is a role he could fill for Liverpool, with Jota taking up more of a central one. He could also be a long-term successor to Firmino. As evidenced by the Twenty3 radar, they are eerily similar.
Finding an heir to Firmino has always been the trickiest task. It is near impossible to find a selfless attacker with the high work rate needed.
Yet despite being one of the most aesthetically pleasing players in Europe right now, his off the ball work often catches the eye.
In the sequence above, he preempts the pass, intercepts and takes Hertha from their defensive third to the final third. It was very Firmino-esque. As is the example below.
The finish isn’t the best, but that hustle to regain possession in a dangerous area is perfect for Liverpool. For a little more context, the player he’s dispossessing is Jonathan Tah. He’s not supposed to be brushed off like that. He’s built like a tank and he’s no slouch.
If, and this is a big if, Cunha really is available for £35million, he might well be one of the bargains of the summer. In Klopp’s hands, he could turn into one of the best in Europe.