There are many ways to assess players, none of which are definitively correct or without flaws. Some people will form an opinion based on a video compilation of highlights; others will prefer to look at statistics which can illustrate strengths and weaknesses.
If you have faith in the latter, chances are you regularly see data visualizations on social media which show how a multitude of footballers compare with one another. A favored graph is the scatter chart, which plots two statistics against each other.
Some players will excel at the first metric, with others naturally stronger at the second. But if these are important statistics, get someone who can do both. Fortunately for Liverpool, they have two men in their squad for 2022/23 who displayed their abilities in two key areas last season.
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This won’t have been an accident, of course. It is well established that the club have one of the leading analytical set-ups in the game, with astrophysicists and chess champions using their skills to exploit inefficiency in the market whenever possible. Their advanced work will have helped Liverpool maintain their record of transfer success which stretches back half a decade or more.
But relatively basic statistics can paint a very compelling picture too. The ‘Crab Stats’ Twitter account recently shared a chart which showed how players aged under 25 in Europe’s big five leagues, plus Portugal, Belgium and the Netherlands, performed for expected assists (xA) and non-penalty expected goals (npxG).
There were only five men above the 0.4 per 90 line for the first stat, and Trent Alexander-Arnold was one of them. Ousmane Dembele, Cody Gakpo and David Raum, a trio all linked with Liverpool in the last few months, were also in this elite quintet for creativity.
Far more players breached the 0.4 barrier on the expected goals axis, with former Red Taiwo Awoniyi and reported target Martin Terrier among them. In this field, 0.6 separates the top performers from the rest of the pack.
Nobody on the chart hit those heights while also providing over 0.4 expected assists per 90 minutes. However, if we look for forwards who had at least 0.6 npxG and were good for over 0.2 xA per 90, we find a quartet of very familiar names: Luis Diaz, Darwin Nunez, Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe.
What makes the findings even more interesting from a Liverpool perspective is that their duo each led a category as far as these four players are concerned, with their Colombian forward the leader for expected assists while his new Uruguayan teammate was the best for expected goals. This is not to say that Diaz and Nunez are the better pair by any means. There is far more to consider than two underlying statistics, no matter how important they are at predicting future performance.
But the findings highlight that the club have secured two players of broadly similar quality to Haaland and Mbappe for a much lower total cost. The challenge for Jurgen Klopp will be to get such levels of performance from his numbers 23 and 27 when they are playing for the same team. They were the top two players in Portugal in 2021/22 for goals per 90 minutes but that was easier when they were each a key man on either side of the Benfica-Porto rivalry.
There is evidence that the Liverpool manager can keep more than one player at an elite level. According to Statsbomb’s data there were seven players who recorded at least 0.5 npxG and 0.2 xA per 90 minutes in the big leagues last season, and the Reds were the only club to possess two of them.
As Mohamed Salah was one (with Diogo Jota the other) and he will be at Liverpool next season, the chances of two further players reaching such heights for the club are slim. What matters for now is that both Diaz and Nunez have shown that they can be this productive and have performed at very similar levels to the two most highly rated young forwards in the game.