Transfers

Liverpool have no need for Azmoun – the 'Iranian Messi'

 • by Sam McGuire
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Sardar Azmoun is back on Liverpool’s radar. 

He only made the switch to Zenit St. Petersburg in February but his fine form since the move has resulted in the Reds sending scouts to watch him in the Russian Super Cup. The 24-year-old didn’t disappoint, either, netting twice in the 3-2 defeat to Lokomotiv Moscow. 

Despite the defeat, Azmoun continued his remarkable run in front of goal since trading Rubin Kazan for Sine-Belo-Golubye. He’s scored 14 goals in 17 games, comfortably his best single-season return since the 12 he scored in 41 games during the 2016/17 campaign. 

The move to the Gazprom Arena seems to have been the spark needed to get Azmoun back on track. 

Once dubbed the ‘Iranian Messi‘, the 45-cap international appeared to have hit a ceiling in Russia. He’d found a level and he wasn’t doing anything remarkable to warrant a big-money move, despite his reputation. 

Liverpool’s interest in Azmoun was brief. 

He was named as a target in late 2016 as a potential signing to bolster the team’s attacking ranks with Sadio Mané off to play in the African Cup of Nation. However, a move failed to materialise and Liverpool weren’t active in the January market that year. 

Azmoun has since claimed he turned down a move to Anfield as the club couldn’t guarantee him first-team minutes. They viewed him as a squad option and his playing time would’ve been limited.  

It could be different this time around if the Reds follow up their scouting with a bid. Jürgen Klopp undoubtedly has his preferred XI, one he turns to for the big matches but, away from those, there’s scope to rotate to keep players fresh. It means Azmoun could possibly be in the group of 16 the German tactician uses on a regular basis.

There are question marks, however, about how well he’d fit in at Anfield. After all, the Reds are only as dangerous as they are because of how flexible their forward line is. Azmoun’s numbers paint a picture of a poacher. Though he is much more than that, it is tricky to picture him being as fluid as Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Mané.

He’s a penalty box predator, scoring all of his 14 goals for Zenit inside the area. Azmoun averages an extraordinary amount of shots per 90 and his 8.29 touches in the box put him amongst the elite for this metric. For added context, Salah averaged 8.9 in Premier League and only two players could better that.

The Iran international seems at home in a more attacking side, and there’s no reason he couldn’t replicate that sort of return on Merseyside.

He’s about much more than just goals.

Azmoun has the work rate of a player like Jamie Vardy, the pace of Diego Costa, and the heading ability of Didier Drogba. But unlike the latter two, he lacks the strength and aggression to be a direct comparison to them.

He’s a real handful and he regularly terrorises the opposition. He’s deceptively quick and isn’t averse to dribbling, attempting close to two per 90.

Russian Football News editor David Sansun told Football Whispers the Zenit forward is a bit of an all-rounder.

“Having spent his early career playing for defensive-minded sides like FC Rostov and Rubin Kazan, he has taken really well to operating in Zenit’s more dominant style of play,” Sansun said.

“Often playing as a second striker off target man Artem Dzyuba, Azmoun has really thrived as the pressing and running forward, scoring 14 goals in 17 appearances since joining the club.” 

Sansun did raise concerns over whether he’d be the right fit for the Reds but given he shares similarities with cult-hero and club legend Divock Origi, there could be a place for him in the squad.

“At Liverpool he would probably play a role not too dissimilar to that of Divock Origi’s. Azmoun is an out and out forward, and would not be as versatile as some of Liverpool’s other attackers. But he works hard and is a threat in the air and with his feet. 

“It’s long been wondered whether Azmoun could step up to the Premier League. This burst of form at Zenit has certainly made it seem more likely that he could adapt quickly to the English game.

“Russian Premier League strikers in England have had mixed results, with Salomón Rondón doing very well, Roman Pavlyuchenko doing OK, while Oumar Niasse and Ahmed Musa struggled.” 

While there could well be a place for Azmoun, it’s difficult to envisage Klopp making a move for him this summer. Origi is expected to pen a new deal, Rhian Brewster is reportedly going to have more involvement in the first-team, too.

The Reds do need to bolster their attacking ranks but with a versatile forward capable of playing out wide. They’re currently in possession of five players who can lead the line. However, if certain players depart in the near future the need for a player of his ilk could well change.

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