Back in January 2016, Jürgen Klopp’s first transfer window in charge at Anfield, the Guardian linked the Reds with a £15million move for the versatile forward. At the time Williams had a release clause rumoured to be around the €20million mark and his deal was set to expire in the summer of 2017.
However, the player then signed a new five-and-a-half-year deal with Athletic Bilbao before the January transfer window came to and end, hiking his release clause up to the €50million mark.
To those looking in from the outside, It appeared as though Williams’ representatives had used Liverpool’s name to negotiate a new, better deal which saw his salary rise from a reported £17,000-per-week to closer to £35,000-per-week. He wouldn’t have been the first player to do so and he won’t be the last.
If there was a lingering interest in the Spanish forward the club didn’t make their move in the summer, instead Sadio Mané arrived from Southampton. That wasn’t the end of it though and in October of 2016 reports once again resurfaced linking the red half of Merseyside with a club record bid for the player.
A move never materialised in January but Spanish publication Marca now claim Klopp and the recruitment have already got plans in place for a summer transfer.
— LFC Transfer Room (@LFCTransferRoom) April 17, 2017
It’s a persistent link and moreover, it’s one which makes sense.
The Reds are seemingly in the market for a wide forward and over recent weeks have been linked with moves for Bayer Leverkusen’s Julian Brandt, RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner, Leicester City’s Demarai Gray and Spartak Moscow’s Dutch attacker Quincy Promes.
There’s a clear profile in mind and a peculiar type of player the club are looking for when recruiting in those wide areas.
The player profile dictates whoever the club signs needs to be quick, they need to be a goal threat even when starting wide, they have to be comfortable when drifting in to central areas and they have to be able to beat a man when isolated. See Mané for further details.
More often than not Liverpool have a club profile in mind too. The owners, Fenway Sports Group, and Klopp have the same ideas when it comes to player recruitment. Neither want readymade stars. They want players with untapped ability and unharnessed potential.
The German manager wants to develop players and FSG, as cynical as this may sound, want investment opportunities like 99 per cent of club owners do. Players who after three or four years at Anfield could be sold for triple what the club paid.
You only have to watch his goal against Espanyol in November 2015, which has drawn comparisons to the one Paul Gascoigne scored against Scotland at Euro 96, to realise just how much potential Williams has.
If the 22-year-old was able to develop into a player who did that on a regular basis instead of intermittently then he’s a potential Ballon d’Or winner.
It’s clear to see why rumours suggest Liverpool are interested. He ticks the boxes for both player profile and club profile. But what else does he have to offer?
Let’s address the elephant in the room first.
Over the past two seasons in LaLiga the versatile attacker, who is capable of playing not only anywhere behind the striker but as the man leading the line, has 12 goals and nine assists to his name. He’s not the most prolific when looking at his stats.
During the 2015/16 season, Williams was involved in a goal every 149 minutes of play. However, this season has seen that average increase to every 241 minutes. For context here, Brandt, who isn’t having his best season in Germany in a Leverkusen team struggling for consistency, is involved in a goal every 216 minutes.
To put it bluntly: Williams has got everything but his end product is erratic at best. It’s a mixture of poor decision making and bad luck.
It’s why his performances don’t seem to match up with his actual stats.
He’s got an abundance of them. He’s quick, he’s got great vision, he’s creative and he’s a grafter. All key things if you want to be part of the Liverpool attack under the former Borussia Dortmund manager.
With regards to the latter, he’s averaging 1.1 tackles per 90 minutes this season. The same as Philippe Coutinho and 0.2 more than Mané. Of those in the Liverpool attack only Roberto Firmino (1.6) averages more.
It’s a similar story with Interceptions. Williams comes in at 0.4 which puts him behind the Brazilian pair (0.6 for Coutinho and 0.7 for Firmino) but ahead of Mané (0.3). In that sense he manages to hold his own.
Vision and Creativity
In the two pictures above you get to see Williams’ ability and composure on the ball. He’s squared up by two Osasuna players and looks fairly isolated as the pair in red look to suffocate him of any room in the hope the move peters out.
The attacker bides his time, works the ball and the players, all three of them, before threading a pass through into the space he’s created by working the channels. His teammate arrives from deep and drives into the area. The move doesn’t result in a goal but Williams’ play deserved an assist.
This time it’s an example from an under-21 match for Spain. He picks the ball up on the left hand side of the pitch and drifts centrally. He plays a pass between right-back and right centre-back and into the path of his teammate making a run into the area.
Like in the scenario above the chance he creates isn’t converted but it goes to show with movement ahead and around him, which he’d get at Liverpool, he’s able to carve out openings.
One on One
A couple of weeks back, Real Madrid legend Roberto Carlos claimed Marcelo was the best left-back in the world. In the pictures above you see the world’s best left-back chasing shadows as Williams puts on the afterburners to breeze past him down the right hand side of the pitch.
Aside from Mané, Liverpool lack that electric pace in the final third.
He initially picks the ball up in a deeper position and has time to turn on it with Marcelo standing off. He then runs at the Brazilian, knocks the ball ahead of him and powers past him before skewing the cross into the grateful arms of the Real Madrid ‘keeper.
A bit more composure from Williams there and he’s able to pull the ball back for his unmarked teammate in the penalty area.
Here we see Williams influencing the match in central areas. He picks the ball up on the right and drifts into the middle looking to capitalise on the space presented to him.
In the second picture he plays a pass out wide, shown by the white arrow, before continuing his run into the penalty area, highlighted by the red arrow.
He started the move just inside his own half and it culminates in him firing straight at the ‘keeper when unmarked in the penalty area. Again, it points to his erratic end product more than anything. Everything before the shot is exactly what you want from a wide forward. Its positive, decisive and incisive.
The picture above is taken during the build-up to the equaliser. He’s once again one vs one with Marcelo and this time he uses his quick feet to create space when it looks as though he’s ran out of it all together.
All he needs is that yard of space and he’s able to cross the ball into the area. Athletic win the ball in the area and it’s headed back across goal by Raúl Garcia for Aritz Aduriz to head home. The former Atlético Madrid man is credited with the assist but it’s Williams’ hard work which creates the goal.
Spending £40million on such a player would be a risk but the rewards, if it pays off, are high. Patience would be required but you never know, Williams could turn out to be Klopp’s new Aubameyang project. Many may doubt the likelihood of such a move given the German’s frugal nature in the market.
However, It is worth noting that reports recently claimed FSG will back their manager with as much as £200million in the transfer market. Further fuel has been poured on that particular bonfire with Spanish reports claiming the Reds recently offered £42million for Real Madrid’s Marco Asensio.