For all the media coverage and social media hype they generate, the impact of transfers is often overrated. In acquiring new players, most fans and pundits presume that a team is automatically improving, failing to consider how a signing complements the existing squad both on and off the pitch.
Perhaps no club is more aware of this than Liverpool. Their loss of the Premier League title on the final day of last season could have given way to a summer of frantic spending, especially with Man City splashing the cash on talents such as Rodri and Joao Cancelo.
The Reds took a different path. They focused on maintaining the delicately balanced squad cohesion Jurgen Klopp has engineered and elected to sign no senior players. With the capture of their first Premier League title a formality, it is hard to argue they were wrong to do so.
Yet if reports are accurate, recruitment attitudes are shifting for the European champions, as the club has been heavily linked to 23-year-old RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner – something the attacker has welcomed publicly.
Werner is one of the most recognizable players in German football. Many will be aware of his searing pace and lethal goal-scoring for an upwardly mobile RB Leipzig side in recent seasons.
Yet under the tutelage of Julian Nagelsmann, Werner has made further strides in his game and cemented his position as one the best players in the Bundesliga and as one of the most prolific young strikers in world football.
In 24 Bundesliga appearances, this campaign Werner has scored 21 goals, five more than what he achieved in the entirety of last season. His XG of 18.12 for the season suggests that Werner’s rate of extremely clinical finishing is sustainable, as he is overachieving his expected goals tally but not by a significant amount. That Werner could presumably replicate this level of output is indicative of his unique quality.
He is far from a pure goal-scorer either. He has seven assists this season, averages 1.9 completed dribbles per 90, and makes 1.5 key passes per 90, illustrating his capacity to create opportunities for both himself and his teammates. Off the ball, Werner is an astute presser and leads Lepizig’s aggressive counter-press.
🗣 Timo Werner: “There’s one of the best managers in the world with Jurgen Klopp.
“Many things speak for it that I would maybe fit in there [Liverpool] very well with my playing style.” pic.twitter.com/09PnyLunBw
— Goal (@goal) February 22, 2020
For Leipzig, Werner excels in counter-attacking situations in which he can burst beyond the defensive line or isolate a defender with his combination of skill, pace, and movement. Working in tandem with a more physically combative and aerially dominant striker, he can exploit the space created by either Youseff Poulsen or Patrick Shick by making intelligent runs in the channels.
For Germany, Werner leads the line in a team with a vastly different tactical approach predicated on slower build-up play and the control of possession. During the World Cup, the 23-year-old failed to be a significant goal-threat, leading many to label him as a one-dimensional goalscorer who can only play for counter-attacking sides.
This season, however, Werner has shown such criticism to be inaccurate. While Leipzig still looks to profit off of counter-attacks and play directly at times, Nagelsman has imposed a more possession-based approach in which the team looks to build patiently from the back and use quick interchanges of passing to generate chances. Werner’s prolific goalscoring for Leipzig this season belies the idea that he can only score on the counter.
Werner is also extremely tactically intelligent. He has worked with some of the most innovative coaches in German football such as Ralph Hasenhuttel, Ralf Ragnick, and now Nagelsmann, and his ability to excel under all three highlights his tactical acumen. His intelligent off-ball movement and awareness of when and how to press also showcases the sort of astute thinking that will enable him to become among the best players in the world.
If he were to make the switch to Merseyside, it’s unlikely he would play as a centre-forward. It’s well-known that in Liverpool’s 4-3-3, Roberto Firmino plays as a false-nine while wingers Sadio Mane and Mohammed Salah pose as the team’s primary goal threats.
Werner would be better suited to the left-wing berth. It’s where he first burst on the scene at Stuttgart, and it would allow him to utilize his skill and pace out wide as well as his movement to arrive in the box and finish chances. He would be behind Mane in Liverpool’s pecking order, but opportunities would surely come his way.
Liverpool has been fortunate to steer clear of long-term injuries to key players, but it’s unlikely this will occur in the future. Further, Liverpool possesses sufficient squad depth but in comparison to the likes of Bayern Munich, PSG, Real Madrid, and Manchester City, it is still lacking. If they are to maintain their primacy in English football, they will need to bolster their squad with higher quality players. Signing Werner would be an excellent way to provide Klopp with more options in attack.
However, Werner may demand a starting position. In this case, Klopp could revert to the 4-2-3-1 he used for a sustained period last season. This could see Liverpool’s current attacking line play as an attacking midfield trio behind Werner. With a high amount of positional fluidity and a plethora of dynamic, skillful attacking players, Liverpool’s attack could maintain – or even improve – its productivity. It would require Klopp to make adjustments defensively and in their pressing, but it is an option for the Reds.
Either way, Werner is an ideal tactical fit for Liverpool. His astute movement, pace, pressing, and of course, finishing would allow him to excel in Klopp’s dynamic attacking team.
As always, intangibles have to be considered as well. How would Werner’s arrival affect Liverpool’s squad cohesion? Signing a relatively untested talent such as Takumi Minamino is one thing. Signing one of Europe’s most prodigious attacking talents is another.
For the first time, Liverpool’s famed front three would have a viable candidate to regularly replace them in the starting XI. That could galvanize them into performing even better. It could also perturb them. Werner himself would be arriving at Liverpool with high expectations and he would be expected to hit the ground running. How would he deal with such pressure? Would he be able to adapt to English football if he was only used off the bench?
These are questions Liverpool must consider before acquiring the German. The Liverpool recruitment team is rightly hailed as among the best in European football, and they will surely be cogent in their analysis of whether the Reds should acquire Werner. Should they purchase him in the summer, they will be adding an exciting, productive attacking player to their already stellar squad.