Liverpool need to find a deputy for Trent Alexander-Arnold but suitable players are in short supply.
Even with an industry-leading team of data analysts at your disposal, it is not easy to sign players who can be successfully integrated into a football team. Liverpool do this better than most, but there is one position for which they have an almost impossible task.
The Reds’ full-backs have redefined what it means to play that position. Prior to 2018/19, there were just two instances of a defender assisting at least 11 goals in a Premier League season, yet Trent Alexander-Arnold has reached that mark three times and Andy Robertson will match him if he creates one more league goal in 2021/22.
While those players have assisted a goal every 211 and 226 minutes respectively in this campaign, Kostas Tsimikas – on 248 – is not too far behind. The Greek Scouser has shown that it is possible for the Reds to sign a deputy left-back, but it will be even harder to secure a player who can replicate what Alexander-Arnold brings to the team from the opposite flank.
Neco Williams has done a decent job of filling in at times, but it isn’t clear if he will remain with the Reds or perhaps join Fulham, whom he recently helped to promotion from the Championship while on loan. Joe Gomez is in a somewhat similar boat, as he recently assisted the opening goal from right-back against Watford to show he can deliver there, but he is a centre-back by trade.
While they provide valid options, someone in the Tsimikas mould may be better in the long term. With that in mind, here are four suggestions for who might fit the bill as a stand-in for Alexander-Arnold.
There really aren’t very many right-backs in Europe’s biggest five leagues who can come close to Liverpool’s number 66 for assists. Arguably there’s just one, and if we disregard set-plays for the sake of argument, then Rennes’ Hamari Traore has set up more goals than Alexander-Arnold this season.
The 30-year-old’s underlying creative numbers are not as strong, suggesting he’s been fortunate to collect 10 assists in Ligue 1. However, he is good at progressing the ball up field and counts Robertson as one of the 10 full-backs to whom he is most statistically similar (per FBRef).
Jonathan Clauss, Lens
If that veteran from French football doesn’t appeal, how about Jonathan Clauss at Lens? He too has 10 assists this season, albeit his manager Franck Haise tends to use a back-three system with the 29-year-old stationed at right wing-back.
But unlike Traore, he appears on Alexander-Arnold’s list of most similar players. Clauss has been in the top 10 Ligue 1 players for both passes and crosses into the penalty box for the last two seasons, suggesting he would offer many of the same skills that the greatest right-back in the world currently provides to Liverpool.