Welcome back to Marginal Pains.
We’ve had a bit of a break, but we’re back. I’d love to say I was refreshed and raring to go, but, as a Liverpool fan, I’d be lying.
Today, I’m going to be focusing on Raphinha and why he could be the next Premier League attacker to make the switch to Anfield.
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Prior to obsessing over centre-backs Liverpool could target, I spent far too much of my time trying to find the next Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah. I wasn’t looking for direct replacements, but players with scalable output who, if they joined the Reds, could replicate what the No.10 and No.11 have done at Anfield.
I went back and looked at their data prior to their moves to Merseyside and spotted a few similarities. I then used those as a base to identify potential targets and one of those happened to be Diogo Jota.
I’ve discussed this previously, but I’ll give a rough overview of what the guide is.
Liverpool’s attack is built around having reliable goal threats. For sustainability, you want repeatability. The players need to be genuine goal threats, regardless of whether they're consistently prolific, as well as creators.
So, the open-play expected goal contribution (xGC) per 90 was one I went with. This stat combines expected goals and expected assists. A key point to factor in here is to make sure xG is higher than xA. As a metric, shots are closely tied to this. It’s a tricky balancing act but you want someone used to having shots but not a player already reliant on huge volumes.
Touches in the opposition box is a key metric, too, with players needing to be able to be comfortable in these areas. It highlights composure and it shows they're used to these situations, potentially easing the adjustment period. However, you don’t want this particular metric to be too high. For example, if they’re already averaging six per 90, it’s going to be difficult for that to be scaled up as they’re already at the top end for that particular stat.
A large sample size is required to get a better understanding of the players. The minimum requirements on a per 90 basis are as follows:
3.5 touches in the opposition box
70% of goals from inside the penalty area
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While at Wolves, Jota averaged 0.54 xGC, 4.03 touches in the box, 2.16 shots and 100% of his goals arrived from within the penalty area. Obviously, there’s a lot more to it, but find a player with similar averages to those over two seasons and they’d likely be a good fit for Liverpool.
This brings me to Raphinha. His move to Leeds went under the radar during the summer transfer window. The newly-promoted Premier League side parted with £17million to bring him to England after a single season with Rennes in Ligue 1.
His haul of five league goals was his best return in three seasons, but he left the Roazhon Park stadium for a fee not too dissimilar to the one he arrived for. There was hope he’d rediscover the form he showed while at Vitória Guimarães. During the 2017/18 campaign, he netted 15 league goals in 32 appearances. I vaguely remember the Brazilian being linked with a move to Liverpool following that season, but he ended up signing for Sporting.
While his return of four goals in the Premier League this term might not scream Liverpool quality, his underlying numbers do tick a number of boxes.
His xGC90 average across the last two seasons is 0.51. You also have to factor in that he hasn’t really been settled in that time, having moved to France and then to England. He’s posting impressive averages while learning new systems in different countries.
The 24-year-old has averaged just a little over 2.3 shots and 3.2 touches in the box, while 90% of his goals have come from inside the area. Those particular metrics are scalable, especially when going from a chaotic, high-press team like Leeds to one that is more of a possession-based side.
He’s a progressive player and adept at carrying the ball. In fact, he ranks in the top 30 for dribbles attempted this season and only Mane can better him. Raphinha isn’t shy when it comes to trying to make something happen. For Leeds this season, he’s averaged around five passes per 90 into the penalty area. For context, Mane averages 4.2 and Salah averages 3.3.
The former Sporting man has that trait of forcing team-mates into being offensive. His assist against Newcastle really showcased it. Using KeyFrame software, we’re able to analyse his play.
Having picked the ball up on the right flank, Raphinha drifted inside onto his favoured left foot. He’s fronted up by a Newcastle player and could make a simple pass to Stuart Dallas. He could then play a pass to Jack Harrison and Leeds would be in down the left. However, that extra pass could slow things down and allow the hosts an opportunity to better manage the situation.
To ensure Marcelo Biela’s side make the most of this opportunity, Raphina ignores Dallas and plays a pass into the area. He forces Harrison into attacking the ball, instead of waiting for a pass to feet, and the on-loan Man City forward puts the visitors in front with a first-time finish.
It looks simple, but it forces Harrison into taking on responsibility. At times this season, Liverpool have been too timid and have opted for the safer pass.
Pedro Neto and Harvey Barnes are two other players who seem to be mentioned as good possibilities for Liverpool. The former’s output isn’t at the level required yet. Even if you factor in the jump he’d likely have moving to Anfield, his numbers would still be significantly off what is needed. Barnes and Raphinha are posting near-identical numbers. The Leicester City man, however, comes with an English premium and the Foxes have shown in the past that they don’t budge on their valuations.
The Leeds United No.18 just seems to tick every single box. He’s posting the right numbers, he’s at the right age and he’s likely going to be available for the right price, by that I mean I can’t see him costing £80million.
His arrival could allow the Reds to use Salah as the No.9 while injecting even more pace into the forward line. The addition of a left-footer also helps balance out the attack. If Liverpool do go shopping in the Premier League this summer, don’t be surprised to see Raphinha’s name near the top of their list.
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