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Signing Premier League duo would improve Liverpool’s title chances

 • by Sam McGuire
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Another Premier League raid might be on the cards for Liverpool this summer. In the past year the Reds have spent in the region of £120million on players plying their trade in the top flight of English football and that figure is set to swell as soon as the Champions League final has been played, if recent reports are to be believed.

Miguel Delaney of the Independent revealed Jürgen Klopp had identified Newcastle United captain Jamaal Lascelles and Burnley‘s breakout star James Tarkowski as Liverpool transfer targets with the German tactician was keen to bring one of them to Anfield.

Klopp and the Anfield recruitment team aren’t averse to shopping in England despite the fact the market in the Premier League was, is, and forever will be, so volatile. The fact these players are proven seems to hike their price tag up by tens of millions. However, as shown countless times in recent seasons, if the player fits the profile, where they play their football isn’t that important.

Of the two aforementioned players, it’s likely that Lascelles is Klopp’s first-choice target. The Reds were linked with the 24-year-old when he was at Nottingham Forest and, in December 2016, the Sunderland Echo claimed the Newcastle powerhouse was wanted by the Merseysiders once more. A move didn’t come to fruition but the links have been persistent meaning it’s more likely to have truth to it.

The centre-back recently spoke out about how happy he was at St James’ Park amid Chelsea transfer rumours“This is the happiest I’ve been. I’m playing week in, week out. And I’m the captain here, the fans love me, and I’ve got a good relationship with them because I love them. And we’re doing well, too.

“I’m very happy here. You hear things, you hear rumours and stuff, but I’m a young player and I need to be playing football at a good club – and that’s what this is.”

The Derby-born defender only penned a new deal in October 2017, tying him to the club until 2023, but, unfortunately for fans, contracts mean very little these days.

If reports were accurate during the summer of 2017 and the Reds did hold talks with Aaron Cresswell, then the Merseyside club already have an existing relationship with Lascelles’ agent and this could work in their favour.

Tarkowski had a year to remember with Burnley. Drafted into Sean Dyche’s starting XI to replace Michael Keane, he took to the Premier League like a duck to water.

The England international signed a new deal in January to extend his stay at Turf Moor until 2022 but Burnley have shown in the past that they’re a selling club if the money is right.

However, the 25-year-old is a bit of an unknown quantity. He’s had just one season in the Premier League and could be seen as a high-risk target because of it. The mooted fees represent a huge outlay for a player with just a single season of top flight football under his belt and it’s not the sort of move Liverpool usually make.

Would either be at home beside Virgil van Dijk? Here, we take a detailed look at the stats behind the two centre-backs.

How Lascelles and Tarkowski compare to Liverpool’s defensive options

It’s hard to judge due to the systems the pair are used in. Burnley and Newcastle defend deep, protect their centre-backs and are very rarely exposed, while Liverpool are the complete opposite. The Reds keep a high line and, if their press is bypassed, the centre-backs are vulnerable with a lot of ground to defend. Klopp has tweaked things this season so it’s now a rarity as opposed to a regular occurrence.

The stats in the graphic above are important for a Liverpool defender. With opposing teams often going long to beat the press it’s important both centre-backs are powerful in the air.

Tarkowski comes out on top in terms of aerial duels won per 90 with Dejan Lovren not far behind. Lascelles is just shy of four while Joël Matip languishes in last place.

However, the former Schalke man comes out on top when looking at long ball and passing accuracy. His ability to play incisive passes through defensive lines is one of his strengths. No-one else manages to complete 50 per cent of their longer passes.

Forward passes are key to the way the Reds build from the back. Sterile possession isn’t the way to break down defensive teams so analysing the percentage of passes forward is a good way to see who the progressive centre-backs are. Being the last man most of the time it’s a misconception that the majority of their passes go forward.

Both Liverpool defenders in the graphic play roughly a third of their passes forward while Tarkowski and Lascelles’ percentage is closer to 50. Would this remain the same if they saw more of the ball, though? It’s worth taking into account that Matip and Lovren play 100 per cent more passes.

The persona model, exclusive to Football Whispers, compares player styles. It’s clear the Liverpool duo have a similar profile with both characterised by build-up passing. Their radars spike slightly in terms of passive defending, too.

Lascelles’ radar is Lovren’s but mirrored. There’s a bit of build-up passing in there but it’s primarily passive defending. Again, the system he’s being used in dictates his style. Tarkowski is defined in his radar by the amount of long balls he plays per 90.

What’s clear, however, is that both targets would need to tweak their style to fit in at Liverpool. But moves are still feasible, especially as they’d be arriving to supplement the squad.

One of Lascelles or Tarkowski might eventually find a long-term home alongside van Dijk but, initially, they would be the third-choice centre-back. But given how unreliable Lovren is in terms of fitness they would get 25/30 starts in a season.

Since moving to Liverpool, the Croatia international hasn’t started 30 Premier League matches in a single season. Ragnar Klavan was signed as a fourth-choice option but due to injuries he’s started 20 matches across all competitions and appeared in 33 matches in total during the 2017/18 season. There’s enough playing time to go around. 

On paper, neither may seem perfect right now but both tick many of the boxes for a Liverpool target. They are young enough to be shaped but experienced enough not to be considered a rookie, they have huge potential to improve down the line, especially when they’ll be playing alongside van Dijk. There’s also an argument to be made that the pair are on the brink of taking their game up to another level.

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