Liverpool have arguably one of the best forward lines in Europe. Mohamed Salah is in the form of his life, Sadio Mané is a match winner and Roberto Firmino, he’s the facilitator.
They’ve got the ability to tear teams apart and have done so already this season. The first half against Sevilla was a clinic in counter-attacking football. Despite having an embarrassment of riches, Jürgen Klopp is reportedly in the market for attacking reinforcements.
According to recent reports in Italy, the Reds are looking to rival Juventus’ bid to sign Sporting Lisbon’s Gelson Martins. The 22-year-old was a Liverpool transfer target in the summer and at one stage looked to be an alternative to Salah when negotiations with Roma hit a roadblock.
It now appears as though the Portuguese winger wasn’t an alternative to the Egyptian forward but was actually targeted to supplement his arrival.
The alternative to the alternative
Bayer Leverkusen’s Julian Brandt was reportedly first choice for Liverpool but rejected their advances in favour of staying in Germany with guaranteed first-team minutes. Salah was revealed to be the alternative and during the summer it was thought that Martins was an alternative to the alternative.
Portuguese outlet A Bola believed Klopp and staff on Merseyside were impressed with what they seen during scouting trips to the Estádio José Alvalade.
Martins has a €60million clause in his contract and Sporting are open to kicking off negotiations around the €50million mark. The report in the summer claimed the Leões believed they could get close to that with the Reds “having a lot of money to invest this summer”.
What does Gelson Martins offer?
He shares similarities with the wide forwards who have previously been linked with the club. He’s got pace to burn, he’s direct bordering on aggressive when in possession and he has an impact in the final third.
The 22-year-old played exclusively down the right for Sporting this season but his actual position varied from right midfielder to right forward depending on the formation manager Jorge Jesus went with.
Sadio Mané occupied that role for Liverpool whenever he was available and the former Southampton man was a revelation. With him in the starting XI the Reds were in fifth gear, without him they rarely got out of second.
It’s clear with just how many similarities Mané, Salah, Costa and Martins share that Liverpool have pieced together a clear profile for any incoming attacker. Three of the main traits for any potential arrival seem to be having an attacking output (in terms of goals and assists), being able to beat a man and have a burst of acceleration.
When you compare Martins to Salah and Mané you see why exactly he might fit the profile.
He was involved in a goal every 184 minutes which, of the three compared players, is the worst but by no means is having a hand in a goal every other game a bad thing.
He completes more dribbles than Salah (2.1 to 1.2) which puts him close to Mané. The way the Senegalese star took the attack to the opposition with his direct play was more often than not what aided the Liverpool attack. Having more players with a similar style, which Martins has, can only be a positive as the Reds look to solve the problem of breaking down compact, deep lying teams.
One stat to note is interceptions. It’s not the best way to judge an attacking player but it does help identify which of them are good positionally meaning they’re intelligent enough to execute the Klopp press. Martins won possession in the attacking third (26) more than any other attacker in the Portuguese league last season.
He may have only found the back of the net on six occasions last season but a couple of his goals are similar to what Liverpool fans saw from Mané.
In the series of pictures above he starts in a wide right area and holds his position as Sporting retain the ball on the left. As play progresses he dips back inside and arcs his run to ensure he stays onside. He drives centrally and gets onto the end of a clever ball over the top.
His finish isn’t the most accomplished – he attempts to lob the ‘keeper but skews it up into the air before chasing it and tapping it home – but the movement before it is what is worth noting.
He’s by no means perfect, but at 22, who is? His first touch can be a little heavy but his quick feet often makes up for it and gets him out of danger. His decision making could improve in the final third but the raw tools are there for him to be crafted into quite the weapon by Klopp.
He’s kicked the 2017/18 season off in fine form. He’s scored six in 20 appearances in all competitions, just one shy of his career best, as well as assisting a further three. He’s likely going to be part of the Portuguese World Cup squad and interest in him from many clubs will intensify. If the Reds do have legit interest in him then it may well be now or never.